Lessons I Learned about Hyperlocal Coverage

My coverage of the Conway SC mayoral election continues. Yesterday I posted at Grand Strand Bloggers the video of the mayoral debate. Today I emailed every newspaper and TV station that covers this area to let them know about its existence, as well as all four candidates. I’m desperately trying to figure out what else I can do to get the word out to my fellow citizens of the city of Conway. Today I figured out how to burn a DVD and created a few of them and am trying to get them distributed so that people can watch it before election day.

The short window between the debate and the election put some extra pressure on me, and let to a few mistakes I could have mitigated. I should have worked with iMovie more, particularly in the audio handling so I wasn’t learning on the clock. Same thing for how blip.tv works. I made a really bad mistake with it that could possibly have been avoided if I had worked with it more. The general advice is when you are working on this kind of timetables, try to not be learning anything. Take some time beforehand to do all the work you are going to later. It really sucks to be googling to figure out where to click in an iMovie project, all the while watching the clock tick and you still don’t have the work done.

I got home Monday night, got the video from the camcorder onto my laptop and started working on it. The audio needed some help and it took me a really long time to figure out how to extract it from iMovie 08. I thought at one point I’d have to get the video into the old iMovie to work with the audio. Turns out the Quicktime export has the ability to export just the sound as a WAV file, which was perfect. I ran it through the Levelator to get all the candidates to the same audio level. That worked fine but it also left the ones who were adjusted upwards with audio full of really loud room noise. I ran that through Sound Soap which cleaned up most of that.

At this point, I was ready to put on some minimal credits and go forward. Things were not perfect but since a perfect video that takes until after the election to be ready is worthless, I opted for a “non-perfect but good enough” version that was done. At lunch on Tuesday I finished all that work and then set about exporting the final video. This was a many hours process. I took my laptop to work Tuesday afternoon and left it on my desk doing nothing but exporting the video to Quicktime. When it finished, I opted to upload it from work, where it happens about 60 times faster than from my home cable modem. I pushed it up to blip.tv and let it start its flash conversion. By the time I got home from dinner, it was done and ready to go, and I made my post with the embed tag. Late in the evening I realized that I had made one error, putting up the wrong name in the thanks at the end. It’s a livable error but one that really sucked. I made the correction in my iMovie project and mulled my options.

This morning I emailed all of the news outlets and went to the day job. Since I had the correction in the end credit card, I just exported again and once more let it run on my desk while I worked. It finished around lunchtime, so I uploaded it again. This is where I really screwed up. It turns out that when I did that, I wiped out my embed until the flash conversion was done all over again. That mean for about 75 minutes from 11:30 AM to 12:45 PM today, my embed wasn’t actually working. I was really sweating the downtime and hoping this was not the period that the reporters and news directors chose to look at the video.

At lunch today, I also created an iDVD project and set it up. This too I should have worked with before. I got the DVD mastered in about 20 minutes while sitting at a Dunkin Donuts. It wasn’t wildly intuitive and what I have is actually kind of screwed up. The DVD works and plays in a DVD player, and autostarts the debate video. However, I couldn’t figure out how to set up the menu, how to not have a menu or whatever. Now, at the end of my video it rolls into an empty DVD menu that you can never leave. You have to eject your DVD and reinsert it to make it work. Now, this might not be a huge issue. We have 6 more days of relevance for this DVD, but I really should have figured all this out at my leisure weeks ago, instead of learning it all in a panic.

So, none of these tips are rocket science. Learn your tools when the clock is not ticking, think ahead, plan ahead, gather emails and do all this stuff as far ahead as you can. I’m really enjoying doing the hyper-local coverage and think both the online debate video and the DVD turned out pretty well but I could have done much better if I had prepared more ahead of time. Live and learn. I’ll be doing this again, so I hope to do more in less time for the next election.

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Dave Slusher is a blogger, podcaster, computer programmer, author, science fiction fan and father.