Video journalism in the palm of your hand: Making the most out of Flip and cell phone video

If you have a cell phone – and I highly doubt you are reading this if you don’t – you can probably shoot video with it and, if you’re into gadgets or have young children, you may have a Flip Video camera.

This is good for journalism.

More of us, which means more journalists and more of our audience, are able to shoot video almost anytime and anywhere.

These small devices allow us to capture news as it happens, allows novices to get acquainted with shooting basic video and allows citizens to contribute, too.

The quality of the video is improving, making it more acceptable for use in journalism.

When I began using a Samsung Blackjack more than three years ago at WFAA-TV in Dallas we were unsure if the video quality was good enough for a major broadcast station, even though we were planning to use the video only in breaking news situations.

We were pleasantly surprised.

The quality was good enough for on-air in the country’s fifth largest media market and for our website when getting video on fast mattered much more than the quality. We had success with this during severe weather, a gas tank explosion, elections and a terrorism trial. We won two Advanced Media Emmy Awards for our breaking news coverage in the process.

It was a novelty back then (not quite the old days, but 2007 does seem like a distant memory sometimes).

The point of the back-story is that I was recently asked to do a workshop on using Flip Video cameras for the Texas Center for Community Journalism. Using a cell phone with a good video camera works essentially the same.

Here are my top tips for getting the most out of your Flip:

  • Get close for interviews. There is only the attached microphone and no connections for a hand held or clip on microphone. If we can’t hear what the person said it doesn’t matter what they said.
  • Steady the camera. We’re not trying to make folks seasick. Use two hands or put the camera on the ground or on a table, etc.
  • Move around. Variety is the key to good video storytelling. You need this when you edit.
  • But don’t zoom. Video will get very shaky the more you zoom! Get physically close.
  • Take us where we can’t go with larger cameras.

    You probably have free video editing software on your computer (iMovie on a Mac and Movie Maker for Windows). Here are tips for when you go to edit:

  • You are telling a story visually. Have a beginning, middle and end.
  • Put clips in logical flow/sequences. You can’t magically get from one place to another.
  • Match the video to what you/your subjects are saying.
  • Shots shouldn’t be too short or too long. About 4 seconds is good.
  • Fine tune audio.
  • You can do your narration right into the editing program (if it’s quiet).
  • Use transitions sparingly.

    Here is what your Flip and phone are good for:

  • Quick, informal interviews.
  • Raw video.
  • Basic feature stories.
  • Reporter debriefs.
  • Getting something done fast.
  • Adding diversity of content to your website.
  • Experimenting.

    Now get going. It’s easy… and fun.

  • About Aaron Chimbel

    Aaron Chimbel, a five-time Emmy Award winner, is an assistant professor of professional practice at TCU.

    Before returning to TCU in 2009, Chimbel worked at WFAA-TV in Dallas, where he won five Emmy Awards and a national Edward R. Murrow Award. He was hired, likely, as the first person at any local television station to produce original video content for the Web. He was the station's "MoJo" or mobile journalist before becoming the station


    1. I agree with most of your tips, but not this one:

      “Shots shouldn’t be too short or too long. About 4 seconds is good.”

      The first sentence, yes — but the second, no. Here’s why:

      If you are recording for only 4 seconds you are likely to have shake or jerk at the beginning and end of the clip that leaves you with 2 seconds or less of usable video. So always count (silently) to 10 before you stop recording.

      Some shots need to be longer than 10 seconds because of the movement of your subject, but in many cases, 10 seconds will cover it.

      That’s a tip sheet for new video shooters.

    2. Aaron Chimbel says:


      I agree completely. Always hold shots for 10 seconds when shooting.

      The four seconds is for editing and only a basic guide.



    3. We’ve been through this before in our work to expose the deceitful tactics employed by the health insurance industry (see: When we send our reporters into the field we typically use audio recorders but the growing availability of small sized video cameras may change that. Thanks for the tips; I’ve saved a copy of this to pass around to our media group for their use