Journalists explain how freelancers can add audio, video to boost pitches – and income #AHCJ16

Joseph Burns

About Joseph Burns

Joseph Burns (@jburns18), a Massachusetts-based independent journalist, is AHCJ’s topic leader on health insurance. He welcomes questions and suggestions on insurance resources and tip sheets at joseph@healthjournalism.org.

Photo: Pia Christensen/AHCJ

Photo: Pia Christensen/AHCJ

Seeing Spike Lee’s 2006 documentary about how Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans was transformative for independent journalist Andrea King Collier.

“When I saw Spike Lee’s Katrina story, I said to myself, ‘That’s the way I want to tell stories,’” said Collier (@andreacollier) during a panel at Health Journalism 2016 on multimedia skills for freelancers.

An award-winning independent journalist and author, Collier’s work has appeared in O the Oprah Magazine, Essence, Town and Country, The Washington Post, and other publications.

Andrea King Collier

Collier is the author of two award-winning books: “Still With Me… A Daughter’s Journey of Love and Loss,” and “The Black Woman’s Guide to Black Men’s Health,” the later she wrote with Willarda V. Edwards, MD.

At the time she was first inspired by Lee’s work, Collier only had a cell phone for photos and video and no multimedia production skills. Without experience or equipment, she knew she needed both and so applied for and won a grant to buy video equipment. She also received a Knight Digital Media Center fellowship to attend a week-long course in multimedia production at the University of California, Berkeley.

Today she supplements her writing with videos and slide decks. “And I make really good money,” she said.

As Collier was expanding her platforms to multimedia,
Heidi de Marco
, now a multimedia reporter and producer for Kaiser Health News (@heidi_demarco), was beginning her career as a photographer, eventually adding other multimedia skills.

Just as print articles require a beginning, middle and an end, so too does video storytelling, said de Marco, who was a freelance video journalist and photographer before joining KHN. Shooting video allows journalists to tell parts of the story the written word cannot convey.

“Video works best when it evokes emotion,” she said.

De Marco provided several practical tips to panel attendees. When editing video or slides, she turns off the sound to ensure that her scenes tell the story without the need for a spoken word or caption. Journalists should not try to report, take photos and shot video all at once, because it’s best to carve out time for each segment even if a second or third visit is required.

To get the most from sources, make them comfortable by going to their homes or where they work, she said. When sources talk, de Marco listens without comment. As an example, she showed this video about the challenges a mother faced raising an autistic adolescent boy. Also, check out this other video about Devin Payne of Palm Springs, Calif., who had gender reassignment surgery paid for by her health plan, which also covers her hormone treatment and other care.

Katti Gray (@KattiGray), an award-winning independent journalist and adjunct professor of journalism in the Hunter College Department of Film and Media, agrees with de Marco about the value of listening. “Don’t talk when recording as you would during a print interview,” she said. Words uttered in between a source’s comments can ruin your audio or video. Being quiet also allows sources to finish their thoughts. If the subject stops talking midway through a provocative comment, it may be lost to history.

“You have to let people finish their sentences,” she said.

Using a good quality recorder and microphone is essential to producing a high-quality story with audio or video, she also advises. Check out this list of equipment and resources that Collier, de Marco and King use.

While the panel also attracted staff journalists, Gray directed this last bit of advice particularly to freelancers: If an editor asks for photos, always charge an additional fee. Do not give them away, she said.

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