Start from scratch

Pursing master degree in America is a commitment.

Oh, especially for journalism.

Let me start from why I choose to study abroad.

The reason is simple: It is a dream and of course, a privilege. Regardless of whether it’s duo to my dear mother’s wicked brainwash of smuggling her unfulfilled checklist on me or my personal volition, I’ve been carried this dream for years and didn’t carry out until my senior year in college.

The main reason drives me all way down here is I can feel my emptiness after college. I didn’t mean that I wasn’t equipped with basic skills after 4-year education. I was and, as a matter of fact, learned a lot. What I mean is when I examine myself—yes, I love evaluating myself once in a while and taking notes on what I am lacking of—, when I look up to those I revere, and when I envision what kinds of life I expect 10 years after, I can feel the sheer shallowness and hopelessness in both my depth and broadness of knowledge.

I want to learn more, see the world, and expand possibility.

Where to begin?

Application for graduate journalism programs in U.S.A. requires TOEFL and GRE. To me, scores of standard test, however, are the least representatives to assess one’s qualification. Determination and reasoning ability matter. By saying this, I mean that asking yourself questions as to why you choose to pursue master degree abroad, why not just jump into the workplace, what do you expect yourself after getting the degree…. These reasons are great testimony to determination.

After this post, I will start sharing how I evaluate myself, how I prepare and finally what I learn in America.


How to Improve The Drawback of Covering News with Mobile Devices Rather Than Traditional Reporting Tools?

To be honest, covering news story with mobile equipment is way more convenient than I thought. The quality of the finished videos is high; the editing process especially by using iMovie is intuitive and smooth. However, covering news with smart phones still has some drawback. For instance, without a tripod, it is difficult to remain steady while filming. Also, smart phones are not capable of dealing with complex editing. Last, covering news with a smart phone would weaken the authority of a journalist. When carrying a professional video camera, people instinctively assume and authorize the legitimacy of shooting on the spot. However, now everyone owns a smart phone.

Before elaborating on how to improve those drawbacks, there is one thing worth addressing first: mobile devices cannot replace traditional reporting tools, but under specific circumstances, mobile devices are extremely useful.

When I was doing my second mobile assignment, I leaned my phone against something firm and steady so that I won’t shake the camera under moving. This really helps a lot. The next improvement is that once I realize the capacity my smart phone has, I choose not to edit too complicated videos, which means that I need to keep my storyline simple and direct. This in turn elevates the clarity and succinctness of the story.

These two improvements are the most useful I found after finishing mobile assignments.

New Ideas for Journalism

It’s been a nearly inevitable trend that world leading news agencies stress vast emphasis on the digital and gradually switch their business model so as to gain profitability and utilize integral technologies to tell stories in more innovative way. 2 ideas of how journalism can maximize audience are addressed.

First is the combination of new outlets of stories. News agencies are trying to penetrate news into everywhere people can get access. Audiences can consume news stories through smart phones, tablets, watches, and so on. How to incorporate the stories into these outlets becomes extremely critical. Neither would one intend to consume a 2000-word story on his/hers IPhone, nor watch a 5-minute micro-documentary on his /hers watch. Features of outlets and patterns/habits of human behaviors should be taken into account to increase page views and optimize the reach.

The other idea is produce news with auxiliary, interactive graphics and visualization. People long for efficiency. If one can understand an issue through clear explanatory graphics in 3 minutes, those who are still willing to read through loads of texts would certainly decrease. The New York Times is an expert of this. It’s phenomenal interactive storytelling skills are an aggregation of texts, audio, videos and graphics, which not merely successfully elevate the reach of stories, but elevate the aesthetics, interactivity, comprehensiveness, and depth.

As a multi-journalist, realizing this transformation and an incessantly attempt to polish storytelling skills is utterly vital.

The New York Times-2013: The Year in Interactive Storytelling

What did I do the video story differently?

My biggest challenge in doing my first video story is the lacking of transition. Between sequences, transition clips can help add the flow into the story and logically connect two sets, avoiding unflattering jump cuts. In the beginning, I had no clue how to do that and what materials I can utilize to gather jump cuts. After discussing with Professor Stern, I found that close-up cutaways could serve as great transitions, which indeed enhance the fluidity of the story.

The second thing that I would do differently is to select a specific, narrow topic and work on that. My first story—how Armand Schmitz managed his life and disciplined in vocal practice in winter—didn’t have a clear blueprint until I dragged all clips into editing software. It’s risky and totally not organized in that planning in advance can significantly make the filming and interviewing process efficiently. Moreover, without drafting in advance, one might miss filming some necessary clips and that could drag down the quality of the story.

The last thing I did differently is to keep the interview short. If the reporter can better paraphrase what interviewees said, then it would be unnecessary to put the whole chunk of interview into the story. Let the interviewee conclude a point, and utter the core spirit. This made the story more succinct and down to the point.

The Marijuana Divide

The Marijuana Divide

“The Marijuana Divide” from the New York Times gravitates my eyes from the beginning as I click on it. Two reasons can best explain why I see it as a successful journalistic video.

For starter, speaking of the disputable use of marijuana, it would be less connected to the viewers by means of merely texts, and graphics, which appear stiff and lacking of emotional and humane appeals. In order to add the sense of the real world, the director wittingly shoots lots of street scenes of two towns, Gunnison and Crested Butte and interviews local citizens to not merely guide the audience to better know both towns but to highlight the dichotomous use of marijuana. This is the advantage of the visual because when you see the real people, and you see the real world, it deepens the sense of how you view this topic.

I think this story would be also phenomenal in the form of texts; yet, it would draw less attention from the viewers. Why? Because provided that there is a video and news in print on the same topic, people, as a matter of fact, are more likely to watch the video in an attempt to understand that subject. Videos simplify complicated issues and provide vicarious feelings of sympathy, agony, thrill, joy, trepidation or melancholy. Also, people are lazy. Videos manifest themselves to be a quick and emotion-driven shortcut to catch people’s attention.

Last, the only thing I think this video can improve is that I want to know the viewpoint from the students in both towns. Even though one of the interviewees, Mathew Kuehlhorn, utters the changes of how teenagers perceive marijuana, but there’s no student’s voice or related scientific research justifying the statement. That’s the one I think could be improved.

What did I learn from doing videos and how could I improve?

  1. Light: It’s always crucial and difficult to find a place with ideal lighting in doing interviews and capturing news event. Particularly close-up interviews, lighting plays such a critical role. When I was at Second Chance adoption center doing the interview, I was confronted with a hard situation: there is windows on each side of the wall, making the lights unfairly scattered upon interviewee’s face. How to deal with it? In the end, I asked the interviewee facing the window where sunlight came in. Since sunlight is the best and strong lighting source, it is optimum for interviewees facing sunlight.
  2. Time: In terms of doing news video, timing is key to everything. Once you miss it, it never comes back. To me, in my elementary phase of video shooting and with the language barrier, time management has been my biggest pressure and a barricade hard to cross over. Interviewers should not let interviewees wait, nor should interviewers do the interview again and again. This is hard. Because every time when I was editing or going through all the footages I shot, I always felt like I could have done it better. All I need to tackle this is preparation, preparation and preparation. Also, don’t feel embarrassed to speak out and adjust when I saw something unsatisfactory on the scene of shooing.
  3. People: Last but not least, the interviewees. Interviewees are the souls of the video or souls in all reporting. All the ideal lighting, clear audio and right focus are complementary foils to highlight what interviewees had said. Even though the setting is flawless, without genuine and sincere voice, it’s all in vain.

Plan B and Keep It Simple

What did I learn from the audio slideshow assignment?

Doing the audio slideshow is a massive challenge and I was doing it with a mix of excitement and a bombarded sense of insecurity. Since it is difficult to take photos and do the interviews at the same time, I need to take notes on what the interviewees had said and flipping through my picture afterwards making sure that the photos match the audio, particularly under the time-limited circumstances.

But, here is how I manage to tackle it.

Preparation. There is no such thing as well-prepared or fully-prepared in that something unexpected always occurs out of the blue and that can trigger a destructive nightmare.

All I can do is to have a Plan B, or like my mother always tells me: “Always have a plan B.”


After I did the audio slideshow assignment A, I realize that it’s better for me to schedule the interview at least twice in case that something missing in the first interview. In order to edit Armand’s slideshow into a logical sequence, I had shot him for two and half days. I went to Jefferson City, to the church where the homeless can get free meal every night, to the roof he usually sleeps in and to the corner he performs. In the end, I didn’t use the photos and interviews taken in Jefferson City, which took me the longest time, but I know that it is an unavoidable process and I know that it is this process that can help me sift through and filter the best part of the interview.

The other lesson I learned from the audio slideshow assignment is that keep the story simple. I think I kind of overdo the first one. I am too pushy and tend to convey too much information at the same time, which could confuse the viewers. Therefore, when I did the second one, I focus on one thing and keep it simple.