Sips from the Firehose
A blog that seeks to filter the internet into a refreshing, easily-gulped beverage


May 14

Teaching video techniques at Addis Ababa University

Posted: under journalism, television, Video.
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My students wanted to make sure to capture the conversation around the roundtable discussion we had on the subject of press freedom, so they set up the bagttered (but still serviceable) cameras outside the journalism department offices, and brought in all the accountrements of the formal coffee ceremony … the glowing coals in the brazier, the clouds of thick incense, and platters of roasted barley and chewy bread.

Dave LaFontaine standing with students at AAU

So far, everyone is still in a good mood....

It’s always difficult to figure out what the settings should be on a prosumer video camera, particularly when the opaque menus are written in a foreign language.

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Nov 10

Ukrainian Professors Play with New iPad 2s

Posted: under Digital Migration, new media, Online Video, Ukraine.
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…in the courtyard of the Institute for the Digital Future of Journalism

I’ve got great video of everyone having a blast, experimenting with the new guerilla-style video production tactics I’ve been teaching them — I showed them how to use the front and rear-facing cameras on their iPads to shoot video. Here, they are working on producing “establishing shots” using whatever equipment is available to you at the time; in this case, it means holding the iPad up in front of your face and doing slow 360s, talking to the camera, so the audience can see for themselves what the landscape around you looks like.

journalism professors playing with ipads

They absolutely loved their brand-new iPad 2s. It was like seeing little kids getting handed Magic Mirrors. They were polite enough for most of the day, but about mid-afternoon, I just lost them in the wilds of the App Store. Also - I will never understand how the Ukrainian women manage to walk down these uneven, treacherous ancient cobblestone streets in stiletto heels.

I also taught them the basics of shot selection, framing, the Rule of Thirds, and some basic stuff about editing and shot sequencing as a means to create emotion. It was about a semester’s worth of material crammed into a one-day lecture, but at least I opened them up to what is possible, and where they can go to try to learn more on their own.

This is still a beautiful city, even if the sky in unrelenting slate gray, and the wind from Siberia knifes right through you after the sun goes down…

At night, the streets of Kiev are filled only with the rumble and clatter of Dr. Zhivago trolley cars, and the whistling north wind. The architecture here is like the people; kind of battered, but still full of character. Resilient.

I haven’t gotten to see as much of this city as I would like; I’ve always been working too hard, or pretty much exhausted & creaking from the demented flight schedule it takes to get here from Los Angeles. Still, the little I have been able to discover on my own has been delightful.

ukrainian student concentrates on the screen

This time around, my students arrived in my classes with significant New Media skills. Some of them were already creating infographics, and this girl is already ghost-blogging for big financial companies. As you can see, she is quite determined; meanwhile, behind her, another of my more active and vocal students gasps in horror at the convoluted assignments I have inflicted on the class...

One of the greater joys of this class was seeing my students help each other out. When they got stuck with some of my more technically challenging exercises, they reached out to each other, and shouted advice back and forth across the classroom.

There is no better feeling for me. I am only here for such a very short time; I keep wishing that I had an entire semester to really reach deep into these young people, to help them draw out their skills & refine them. But seeing their willingness to follow me down these strange multimedia pathways, and to help each other out along the way … leads me to believe that they will continue to help each other out after I am gone.

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Jul 06

Tbilisi Journalist Training: Graduation Day

Posted: under Digital Migration, journalism, new media, Online Video.
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Tbilisi Journalist Graduation, originally uploaded by Wordyeti.

These are the journalists from the smaller cities & towns outside of Tbilisi, Georgia. They’re all grinning happily, because they’ve managed to survive my intense one-week course, where I set them all up with their own blogs, and then sent them into the field to shoot, edit and post online news videos.

A crucial part of every learning process is making mistakes. They learned not to try to take on too ambitious a project when using makeshift multimedia tools. I learned not to use Adobe’s Premiere Elements 8. That has got to be the buggiest video editing system ever inflicted on an unsuspecting public. I use Premiere Pro all the time and love the rest of Adobe’s various iterations of the Creative Suites … but Elements is Satan on a CD. My students were throwing their headsets across the room in frustration as it crashed … lost work … necessitated a hard reboot of the system … crashed again … corrupted the footage … (rinse, repeat).

I finally installed Sony’s Vegas Video on their systems; not as user-friendly for beginners as the “Grandma-ware” that Elements is known as … but it at least would make a J-cut or an L-cut without locking up the system. Unfortunately, Vegas Video wouldn’t import the footage from the Flip cameras with the audio attached. So we had to export the audio tracks from Premiere, and then import them into Vegas and sync the audio with the visuals.

I was told that this was actually a quite valuable experience, because real-world conditions for indie journalists in Georgia are pretty much like this. Working on cobbled-together secondhand equipment in sweltering offices, where the electrical power is subject to sporadic outages. And when the wind shifts to blow in over the nearby market … well, you want to close the windows, no matter how hot & humid it is.

I just noticed – my arms look inordinately long in this photo.

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