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Santa Cruz Indymedia's Guide to Writing News for Indymedia: (2 page .pdf pamphlet)

BEFORE YOU START WRITING

Think about what youre going to write about and how youre going to write about it before you start writing it. Whats your angle? How long does the story need to be? How in-depth does your reporting need to be to tell the story youre trying to tell? Whos your readership and how much background do they need? Write a simple outline to help organize your thoughts if you think that will help.


INFORMATION: WHERE DO YOU GET IT?

Theres lot of ways to get background information. With a few minutes of intensive Google-searching you can usually gather enough information to use as background for your article. If youre writing about an event, make sure you bring some pens and paper to take notes at the event.


INTERVIEWING

Interview methods will differ depending on what you need from your interview and what kind of article youre writing. Sometimes you will have an article mostly written and you just want to support a statement with a quote (although this is the way that corporate media does it using quotes only to support articles which are basically pre-written - so this should be seen as a last resort). Quotes are important and help add personality and legitimacy to an article. On the other hand, the content of some articles can be mostly quotes, with all that you end up writing is a small amount of text for context and to move from one topic to the next.

When interviewing, let the subject know what youre writing about. If they know your angle, it will help put them at ease and let them know that they can trust you. You should present yourself differently to the CEO of a large corporation than to a union organizer.


THE INVERTED PYRAMID STYLE OF WRITING

Most research papers often start by posing a problem or thesis statement, then building upon that by giving reasons and details, gradually building up to a conclusion or recommendation. The inverted pyramid style turns this upside down to start with the conclusion.

The inverted pyramid story contains just two parts: a lead and a body, usually divided into at least six short paragraphs. There is no fixed ending or conclusion to the story. When you run out of story to tell, you just stop. The lead contains the most important information for the reader to know; if a reader only reads the headline and lead, they will get the main idea of the story. Most people dont read the entire article anyways.


WHAT ABOUT OBJECTIVITY?

Theres one important thing to note about objectivity: it doesnt exist. Indymedia isnt an objective source of information, were just more honest about our biases than the corporate media. Indymedia utilizes open publishing which means that anyone (including you!) can post your stories to the newswire. There are no filters beyond a minimal editorial policy. Indymedia not only allow users to post to the site, but also to add their own comments to what has already been posted. In this way a many-voiced narrative emerges, more accurate than a corporate news article.


OTHER SUGGESTIONS

In all of newswriting, it is best to keep your paragraphs short. As a general rule of thumb, keep your paragraphs confined to just a few sentences. This is vastly different than youve been taught in your composition classes where you write a theme sentence and build on it.

Your sentences should have an average of 20-28 words. The number varies based on who you talk to, but you get the idea. Dont spend forever counting words, though. That is an average. You should have shorter sentences/paragraphs and every once in a while you are going to have longer ones. If you have shorter sentences, there can be more than one in a paragraph.

Vary your sentence structures. A short sentence that comes after a long one will have more emphasis.


WHAT IS HTML AND HOW DO I USE IT? AND WHY?

Indymedia articles are often short with lots of links. This is because most people dont usually read more than a few paragraphs from a news article anyways. By linking certain key ideas to other articles or websites, we can transmit the basic idea of an article, and users can follow links to get more information if they have the time or desire to do so.

HTML is the main language used to write webpages. You can use HTML to make your articles look more interesting, adding links, or making text bold or italic. Below are some examples.

*NOTE* When writng HTML, you will need to leave out the _ in the examples! < > should not have a space before and after letters.

text you want bold. will look like... text you want bold

text you want italic. will look like... text you want italic.

to make a link, use the example below:

text that will be the link

you will end up with text that will be the link being clickable and it will link to the site you specified.


TIPS

bring two pens

dont take this guide too seriously.

its only an attempt to explain some of the basics of how to write news, with the goal of making you feel more comfortable having what you write be read by lots of people.

the power of Indymedia and other forms of participatory media is that it allows for a much wider range of voices than other types of media.

so dont feel limited by what you read in this pamphlet.

write how you feel like writing, in your own voice, from your own experiences.


Questions or comments?

Send an e-mail to: scimc (at) indymedia.org
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Guide to Do It Yourself Audio and Video Journalism

Audio/Video Encoding Recommendations
This guide provides recommendations for the capture, encoding, and publishing of media on the internet. This is a work in progress. If you would like to contact Santa Cruz Indymedia with questions or comments, please send an email to scimc (at) indymedia.org.

Web Tutorial Links
Transom.org has lots of helpful audio info, from choosing a good microphone to working with the latest audio applications. See also Ron Dexter's film/video/audio production tips.

MP3 Audio
Dozens of audio applications are on the web as freeware. Even the top-of-the-line audio workstation software Pro Tools is a free, allbeit huge, download.

When recording sound onto your computer, it is important to adjust the output volume of your source so that it doesn't "clip," or overload, your computer's audio input. Simple sound recording freeware such as Coaster (mac) can help you set your levels; Coaster also allows you to chop the recording into separate files as you record. However, Coaster does not support Mac OS X. If you are using OS X, then you may want to try Audacity 1.2.0-pre3 for realtime audio editing and processing. It is free, open source, easy to use, and it looks nice!

For best results, MP3 audio files containing voice-only material should be encoded in Mono at a bitrate of up to 64k. Stereo and a higher bitrate of 128k can be used for files that include music. When encoding streaming MP3 files at modem-bitrates (such as 16k), choose a low sampling rate (such as 16 kHz). For best results (higher quality sound and a smaller filesize), turn on VBR (variable bit rate) encoding. You should also remember to type in the title and any other information for the "ID3" fields. On the Mac side, the free iTunes is excellent for encoding MP3s.


RealMedia
First of all, you will need an audio or video file that is compatible with RealProducer, Media Cleaner, or any other program that can encode RealMedia files. The better the quality of your source material (for example, uncompressed audio), the better the quality of your RealMedia file. RealMedia clips can be encoded as single-rate or multi-rate (SureStream). We serve RealMedia via the real time streaming protocol (RTSP), so make sure to choose SureStream; the file will be larger, but re-buffering will be reduced to a minimum, and image and sound quality vastly improved.

If you are using the free version of RealProducer, you can only choose two SureStream rates. We usually recommend 28.8k and 56k, as the majority of internet users have slow connections. Those using Media Cleaner Pro, RealProducer Plus, or other software can choose 28.8k, 56k, single ISDN, and dual ISDN. Additional higher bitrates are an excessive waste of disk space and bandwidth.

If you are using Cleaner 5, use the Settings Wizard to set up your RealMedia encode: WWW > Real > Realtime Streaming > 28.8k, 33.6k Modem; 56k Modem, ISDN (Single); ISDN (Double) > etc. Click on the frame to crop your movie as desired.

QuickTime
We do not serve QuickTime via a streaming server; instead, progressive download allows full-quality QuickTime video to be viewed even by those with slow connections. Users may have to wait for most of the QuickTime movie to download, but it will often be of higher quality than a streaming RealVideo. The Sorenson codec offers the best quality (choose "Fast Start - Compressed Header"); the Cinepak codec is more cross-platform compatible (choose "Fast Start").

If you are using Cleaner 5, use the Settings Wizard to set up your QuickTime encode: WWW > QuickTime > Progressive Streaming (high quality) > T1, Cable Modem, xDSL, LAN ('Broadband') > etc. Click on the frame to crop your movie as desired.

Other Formats
You can also upload Flash (.swf), MPEG (.mpg), and SMIL (.smi) files. Flash movies can include animation, interactivity, and sound. MPEG video includes the Video CD (MPEG-1) and DVD-Video (MPEG-2) formats. SMIL ("smile," Synchronized Multimedia Integration Language) is similar to HTML, and is compatible with Internet Explorer 5.5, QuickTime 4.1, RealPlayer 8, and other software.

Shooting for the Web
Before you start shooting video for the web, it is important to understand that most video codecs work by creating a series of "delta frames" - packets of data telling the viewing application how the current frame differs from the previous frame. The more the image changes from frame to frame, the more data will have to be crammed into each delta frame. This means that fewer frames can be sent, and less image detail can be described for each frame.

So, your goal is to make each frame almost exactly the same as the frame before! How do you do this? There are four simple techniques:
  • Use a tripod. By avoiding shaking, the background will be almost identical from frame to frame.
  • Avoid unnecessary camera movement, including zooms. Every time you pan or zoom, your web video will drop frames and image quality will degrade.
  • Turn off autofocus, unless you need it. On many cameras, autofocus will perform slight changes on the focus almost constantly. Each change of focus will probably change every pixel on the screen - it's just as bad as zooming. So, if you can, set focus manually and keep it there.
  • Turn off auto iris (aka auto exposure), unless you need it. Likewise, your camera's slight changes in the iris will cause every pixel in the image to get lighter or darker - it's just as bad as auto-focus. So, if you can, set the exposure manually and keep it there.
Encoding Web Video using RealProducer
If you are using RealProducer, you will definitely want to turn on several video codec options to improve your image quality: RealVideo 8 (which offers superior video quality compared to RealVideo G2), 2-pass encoding, variable bit rate (VBR) encoding, and loss protection. Combining 2-pass and VBR (see definitions of these terms below) delivers a huge improvement in video quality, but don't be surprised if it also doubles your encoding time!

Professional (that is, not free) encoding software allows you, among other things, to re-size your video from full 640x480 pixels down to more web-friendly sizes such as 160x120. If you are using the free RealProducer, you will have to export your clip at the final intended ("postage stamp") size in uncompressed .avi or .mov format before importing it into RealProducer. Remember to choose horizontal and vertical resolutions that are both divisible by 4 (e.g. 176x132 but not 180x135), and in a ratio of 4:3 (or 16:9 for widescreen DV) - see Horizontal/Vertical Resolution, below. QuickTime Pro, $30, is useful for exporting video - see Exporting an Uncompressed QT movie, below.

Media Cleaner
Media Cleaner encodes streaming audio and video faster and better than other programs. We recommend acquiring it yourself, or visit Media Alliance in San Francisco and use it there; then you can upload your video over their T1 internet connection.

Individual captured clips (for example, from an iMovie project's Media folder) can usually be imported directly into Media Cleaner. This will save you the trouble of exporting from your capture program, unless you need rendered transitions or titles.

Horizontal/Vertical Resolution
Higher resolutions will give you more image detail but lower frame rates (jerkier motion). Talking heads should be smaller so the image has finer detail and the lips move smoothly; long shots with signs that need to be readable may require higher resolutions and jerkier motion. Higher resolutions render as a "slide show" effect.
 4:3 (standard) 16:9 (widescreen)
144x108 192x108
160x120
176x132
192x144 256x144
208x156
224x168
240x180 320x180
256x192
272x204
288x216 384x216
304x228
320x240
These are the standard resolutions. But if you're using Media Cleaner Pro, don't be afraid to crop your video to a different aspect ratio! Before compressing for the web, always get rid of any excess frame real estate - for instance, turn your video into a dramatic widescreen presentation by cropping off the top and/or bottom.

Exporting an Uncompressed QT movie
The free RealProducer cannot resize video down to a web-ready "postage stamp" size. You may be able to use the $30 QuickTime Pro to export video created by your video capture or video editing application. Or, such an application may be able to perform a QuickTime export itself (in iMovie, for instance, click "expert" in the quicktime dialog). Here are the options to select in the QuickTime export dialog box:
  • File menu > Export...
  • click Export: Movie to QuickTime Movie
  • click Options...
  • the Video, Allow Transcoding, and Sound boxes should be checked; the Prepare for Internet Streaming box should not be checked.
  • click Video Settings...
    • set Compressor to None and Millions of Colors
    • set Quality to Best
    • set Motion to 29.97 Frames per second
    • click OK
  • If you need to adjust the brightness, color balance, or contrast, click Video Filter...
    • set the filter you would like to apply, or None, and click OK
  • click Video Size...
    • click Use Custom Size; Width: 160 and Height: 120 (or other resolutions in the Horizontal/Vertical Resolution section above)
    • click OK
  • click Sound Settings...
    • Compressor: None
    • set Rate: to the sample rate of your source material - for DV this will usually be 48.000 kHz
    • Size: 16 bit
    • Use: Mono unless your clip could benefit from stereo sound
    • click OK
  • click OK
  • type a .mov file name and click Save
At "postage stamp" size, a video clip will take up about half the space of the same clip in DV format - about 1GB per 10 minutes. It can now be imported into the free RealProducer for creation of a RealMedia (.rm) file.

Definitions of 2-pass and VBR
Two-pass encoding increases quality of output video by analyzing video data for transitions and overall complexity before encoding the input video. VBR encoding enables the video codec to vary the bit rate throughout the clip; more bits are spent on high-action scenes, taking away bits from low-action scenes. This drastically improves quality for both narrowband and broadband video. For best results, turn on both of these features, as they complement each other to greatly improve video quality.

Questions or comments?
Send an e-mail to: scimc (at) indymedia.org


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