Phyllis Stephen - lawyer, publisher and now VJ

Critiquing The Editor of The Edinburgh Reporter

Posted May 24, 2017
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Phyllis Stephen was a lawyer in Scotland with a very successful practice.

Then, in 2010 whe founded The Edinburgh Reporter, a hyper local online news site for the city of Edinburgh. She is also the editor.  

The site is, to my mind, where the future of journalism is headed - local, entirely digital, comprehensive and thorough.  It must be prettty successful, it has 50K followers on Twitter.  

I found Phyllis because she had posted a video news story about Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister of Scotland a member of the SNP. It was a classic election story, and she shot it on her iPhone, by herself, which I found most intersting.

I offered to critique the story for her, and having sent her the critique, asked if I could run it here on TheVJ. She gracioulsy agreed.

So here is the video piece, followed by my critique. 

Critique for:  #GE2017 SNP Leader visits Liberton Bowling Club

In find it interesting because it is done entirely on an iPhone, and it is done by a ‘freelance video journalist’.  It is good reporting, but it could be better.

 A few observations:

  1. The world of video, particularly online video, is extremely competitive. People have very short attention spans. You opening shot should grab them by the collar and drag them into the screen. IT should say ‘this is interesting’.  Your opening shot here is of an empty field. This communicates exactly the wrong idea to start.
  2. Your second shot is also deadly. A static shot of what looks like a cemetery headstone (I know it is not, but it seems that way). There is no need to prove that you are at Liberton Bowling Club. I believe you if you say it.

  3. The piece actually starts here, at 0:09.  Here we see Nicola Sturegon and company on their way to somewhere. This is good. It catches your eye right away. Something is happening.  More importantly, you are laying the groundwork for what we call an Arc of Story.  She is on her way to somewhere. The viewer, naturally, asks, - where is she going. This gives them a reason to stay with the story, to find out… what is going to happen.  This is important.

  4. She is going into the Bowling Club. Why is she going in there? (You have t think of your reporting as a kind of little movie.  It has a plot. It has charcters, it has motivation.  At this point, I would have inserted a cut away of some of the people waiting for her to arrive.  Maybe even a short nat sound. THEN you cut back to her coming in, signing shirts, etc.  A few close ups of people’s faces helps lend a sense of 3 dimensions to the story visually.

  5. When you interview her, (or anyone) have them talk directly into the lens.  You WANT the subject to make eye contact with the viewer.  You did not spend your time with her staring at her ear, why would the viewer want to do that?  Here’s an experiment you should do.  When you get home, tell your husband (or whomever), ‘I have something really important to tell you’ – then star 30 degrees to their left. Don’t make eye contact with them. Look at something on the wall behind them. See how well it works.  Same here.

  6. These generic cut- aways don’t work.  They are almost schizophrenic.  When you were talking to her, did your eyes suddenly dart across the room and stare at some amorphous person sitting there, and then suddenly dart back to her? Of course not. So don’t do it in the film either.  If you want to leave the interview SOT and go to an ‘event’, then by all means to so. People will keep listening. But it is one or the other. But not back and forth, back and forth.

  7. This is rather nice as you pick up the thread of a visual story line as opposed to talking head interview. Again, a few reaction shots from the crowd, cus on faces, would have given it more feel of being there.


 Overall, the reporting here is very good, but the film making aspect of it could be improved a lot. One of the great advantages of working with an iPhone is that is it so small, it gives you enormous mobility.  Try using the phone as a photojournalist would use a Leica. Work the crowd. Look for details. Small things are important. 





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