It's easy to forget video rules in breaking news: Don't

I’ve been looking at a lot of video footage from the tornado outbreak that devastated vast areas of the southeast United States. Some of the footage of the tornadoes from Alabama (like this and this) has been absolutely breathtaking.

Second day videos have attempted to capture some of the scope of the destruction the tornadoes left in their wake. That’s a good use of internet video. But in the rush to show the destruction, reporters seem to lose sight of some of the basic principles that help make for strong video – especially Internet video. Watch this short clip from showing devastation from Concord, Ala.:

There are some powerful images in that video.

The destroyed car.

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The people picking through the rubble of their house.

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The woman comforting the child.

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The frustrating thing is that you never get to feel the impact of these visuals, because the video is constantly panning from side to side. Even as the video is panning, you only get fractions of seconds to view the scene as it passes by.

One of the first “rules” I hear from newspaper videographers about Internet video and I repeat ad nauseum in my multimedia classes is this: Don’t pan or zoom. Shoot steady shots. If you are trying to capture the extent of a horrible scene, shoot a wide establishing shot – steady, and then shoot a series of medium and closeup shots – snapshots of the devastation.

I don’t want to single this reporter out – I’ve noticed this frequently with breaking news videos. It’s easy to forget the basics when you’re staring at an event of a lifetime, or even of the year. Time is of the essence. Editors are tapping their feet for the latest images from the scene. Don’t forget the basics. If it helps, write Don’t Pan or Zoom on a strip of tape and tape it to the back of your video camera/mobile phone/whatever so you’ll see it every time you get ready to press the record button.

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