How to assign a 360 video in a multimedia reporting class

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UNM IFDM instructor Elan Colello, center, helps UNM students Kyra Begay, left and Ben Yazza with the settings on a 360 video camera during an exercise on immersive storytelling April 6, 2017.

As more news outlets wade into immersive reporting and prices drop for 360 cameras and storytelling equipment, it makes sense that journalism educators begin to experiment with such technologies in the classroom.

That’s one reason I decided to assign a short 360 video to students in a 300-level intermediate multimedia reporting class this spring at the University of New Mexico.

The idea was to spend one day introducing students to the history and the technology of 360 reporting and to spend another day having students try out beginner level equipment and produce a short video in a journalism context.

For the background on immersive storytelling, I called on Elan Colello, a colleague in the Interdisciplinary Film and Digital Media program who teaches a Virtual Reality Cinema class. Colello, who also is the CEO of ARVRUS, a 360º video distribution management platform, brought students up to speed in an hour and 15 minutes. His talk focused on the history and the current trends in virtual reality, using examples that showed various ways the technology can be used to present different types of stories.

To make the assignment’s production day go as quickly as possible, I preloaded the students with some homework and gave each student group a specific assignment that fit with a larger student reporting project on criminal justice being done by the New Mexico News Port, an online student publication. Each group of students had to produce a short video about a recent crime. Students had to use police reports to first write a broadcast script based on what the report said as well as add other additional information they could find. The reporting topics included a car burglary, criminal damage to property and an alleged sexual assault.

Here’s the wording of the assignment:

You’ll create a short (minute or so) 360 video that shows the viewer a place on campus where a crime occurred. You’ll shoot and edit the video this week, upload to YouTube and then upload the link to Learn. When you upload, write a few paragraphs about your role, what you learned and how you think you could use this technology for your journalism in the future.

The idea is to allow the viewer to look around the area where a crime has happened and to learn more about the incident. Team members will play various roles, including using video equipment as well as appearing on camera to narrate important parts of the story. Other students will research a story and use broadcast writing skills to produce a script.

The goals and objectives were:

Through a lecture on the history and trends in immersive journalism, students will use research, broadcast script writing and video recording and editing skills to practice 360 video technology to produce their piece.

I divided the class into teams of four or five and assigned various roles:

One member of your group will research your incident and write a short script BEFORE class time.

One of you will be the on-air reporter.

One or two of you will run the equipment (camera and audio).

At the start of the second day, students were given an overview of the cameras we had available, borrowed from the IFDM program. These included the Insta 360 4K and the Ricoh Theta S and M15 models. The overview was brief, but the models are pretty straightforward. Students also checked out lavalier mics and Zooms or Tascams to record the audio and used $40 monopods to hold their cameras.

Overall, the students in the class, who at this point in the program have experience in broadcast reporting and video editing but no previous experience with immersive storytelling, were able to quickly pull in their videos and edit and produce something short. This took some editing guidance in the lab and Colello helped install the right plugins for the spherical video formats. In the end, two of the five groups were able to produce stories that day while others did so shortly after. We used Premiere Pro CC to edit and YouTube for hosting.

I would do this assignment again for sure, but with more time and additional cameras so that each group member could experiment with the equipment. Student feedback overall was positive, but included some comments that more time for the work would have been beneficial.

Here’s a wrap up of tweets that students produced during the assignment, and a little more information on how the exercise went overall.


How to assign a Snapchat story in a journalism class

University of New Mexico students Savana Carollo, Arianna Sena and John Acosta created a Snapchat My Story on Feb. 11, 2016 as part of an assignment aimed at learning how to use the app as a storytelling platform.

University of New Mexico students Savana Carollo, Arianna Sena and John Acosta created a Snapchat My Story on Feb. 11, 2016 as part of an assignment aimed at learning how to use the app as a storytelling platform.

As journalism educators, we can’t ignore the emergence of Snapchat as a storytelling platform. With news outlets and Snapchat itself hiring reporters to cover major news like the presidential elections using the app, I feel compelled to talk with students about Snapchat’s potential to tell stories and connect with the audience. During a 300-level multimedia journalism class this semester, I tried an assignment where students worked on deadline to create a short story on campus.

When I mentioned the assignment at the start of the semester, students immediately were interested in how it might work in a news context. About half of them said they use the app on a regular basis.

I wouldn’t describe myself as a frequent user, although I do spend more and more time looking at how news organizations use the platform. So to prepare, I focused on the My Story function, where journalists can create stories of an event that can be shared for 24 hours (unlike Snap photos or video, which are shared with friends for up to 10 seconds and then disappear.)

I didn’t focus as much on the other features of Snapchat, including filters that are added to people’s faces. When I showed filters that put your city name on a photo based on your geolocation, a few students excitedly piped in and said I should try the “face filters.” Sure enough, you can take a photo and then add a filter that looks as if you are breathing fire. Or swimming underwater. Or have purple eyes. I wouldn’t use those in a news context of course, but that’s the interesting intersection we’re at with social platforms that can be used as journalism tools but that largely are used for more lighthearted topics. I made everyone laugh as I projected my fire-breathing selfie onto the large screen in the front of the room — a moment captured in a video Snap by a student. I am a little bummed that the student sent the video to her friends instead of saving it to her My Story, as that moment is gone forever. Of course, that’s part of what Snapchat is.

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To start the lecture, I talked about the history of Snapchat. I showed the first Snapchat resume and then went through the basics of using the app.

Students seemed well versed in the how tos of using the app to communicate with friends, so we also talked about the Discover section of Snapchat, where news organizations like CNN and the Wall Street Journal are presenting news. A quick survey in the room showed that students were equally interested in news topics as much as content from outlets like Cosmo and people like DJ Khaled.

My goal was for students to think about using a tool they already understand and enjoy as a platform for journalism. I wanted them to practice their interviewing skills using the video Snap option, and I wanted them to practice producing something on deadline. So I gave them about 30 minutes to do five interviews and five photos with at least two titles.

I tied their interviews into a project we have on campus where journalism students ask the public what they are curious about and then report on those questions. For this assignment, students were to ask people what they want to know about Albuquerque or New Mexico.

The results were pretty good. In their work, I saw my more shy students open up on camera. I saw my more visual students show their talents. And I saw the students who were newer to the app take an interest in how they could use it for reporting. Along the way, they produced a story that could be used to complement other reporting. They also seemed excited, and many of you know that getting students excited in the classroom can be a challenge.

One student tweeted:

I would try this assignment again for sure, maybe as a component to larger story that students are producing using more traditional multi-media approaches.

Here are my takeaways for other journalism educators considering a Snapchat assignment:

Assign groups and team captains.

Chances are, one-fourth of your students are experts in Snapchat and can show others. They also can help you during your demonstration if you aren’t a Snapchat pro.

Explain the limitations of the app.

For video, there’s a 10-second limit in Snapchat, so students had to prep their sources that their answers had to be succinct.

Have a specific content focus for the assignment.

Newer students will be focused on learning how to use the app, so directing them on the content side lets them focus on learning the tool.

Explain that there might be a disconnect between the tone of Snapchat and the subject of the story.

For example, students don’t want to be lighthearted and using all kinds of emoji if they are covering something serious.

Remind students that accuracy and good cutlines still matter.

I asked students to get the same kind of cutline information they would get if they were publishing a photo online or in a news outlet.

Journalism students at the University of New Mexico recently completed a Snapchat story as part of a class assignment aimed at having students explore the popular app's journalism potential.

Journalism students at the University of New Mexico recently completed a Snapchat story as part of a class assignment aimed at having students explore the popular app’s journalism potential.

Remember to have students save their My Stories so you can see them later on for grading and class critique.

If they don’t, you have nothing to see.

Have fun.

Many of my students this semester are in the middle of learning the technical aspects of professional video cameras and audio recorders, which are unfamiliar and can be complicated. Allowing them to try storytelling with something a little more familiar allowed them to relax a bit — which is what Snapchat is all about.