“Being able to edit in the field with Final Cut Pro X on a MacBook Pro with Retina display was essential to turning around my raw footage quickly.” — Patrick Dell, videographer/editor

The Globe and Mail - Making Video News

When a recent court decision threatened to oust Toronto’s controversial mayor Rob Ford from office, 169 years of journalistic muscle memory kicked in at the Globe and Mail, Canada’s largest-circulation national newspaper. Reporters, photographers, and other staff scrambled to prepare a series of written stories that appeared first on their news site, then in the paper, each story marked by the daily’s signature deep reporting and analysis.

Flexing newer muscles, the newspaper also sent videographer/editor Patrick Dell to City Hall to capture video of the historic decision using a handheld Canon video camera. After getting his shots, he was able to quickly edit the footage onsite using Final Cut Pro X on a MacBook Pro. Within hours, Dell’s video story was published on the Globe and Mail website as part of the digital reporting that led the coverage.

Follow the Reader

The newspaper’s ability to augment its reporting with video is the direct result of a strategy initiated in 2010 by Globe and Mail editors to hold on to news readers who indicated that they clearly preferred to watch. “Video has been a huge area of expansion for us, and it’s accelerating even more quickly than we expected,” says Globe and Mail executive editor Jill Borra. “We can barely keep up with how much our readers and advertisers want video. So we try to find ways to present and integrate it in everything we do.”

The Globe and Mail’s move to video mirrors efforts at other prominent newspapers, where much of the news that’s fit to print is regularly shot and posted. And the strategy has paid off in readership and revenues. In just two years, the Globe and Mail has become a video force, publishing 200 videos a month on the Globe Digital Network, which includes the paper’s website, mobile site, and news app for iPad and iPhone. The network gets over 4 million unique visitors per month — more than any other individual newspaper site — and nearly 107 million monthly page views.

DIY Video

Just as impressive is how the newspaper achieved its video results. After briefly considering partnering with a video content provider, the Globe and Mail decided to grow its own flexible in-house video team. “When we relaunched our Life site two years ago we needed to create all of these cooking and health videos,” says Borra. “There was a pivot moment when we realized we had all the talent to do them here. So we decided to go for it and expand our video operation.”

As part of that expansion the Globe and Mail hired more producers, videographers, and editors, many capable of both shooting and editing video. And because the paper’s strategy relied on using traditional newspaper reporters and photographers to complement its veteran video talent, it required cameras, apps, and a workflow that would accommodate multiple skill levels.

Key in the mix was Final Cut Pro X. “We needed a tool that was flexible enough so reporters and photographers could use it,” says executive producer Angela Pacienza. “Final Cut Pro X enables our professional journalists to create videos quickly and easily. The interface is so intuitive that even new editors can assemble pieces fast.”

“Here it’s all about speed and accuracy, and I know I’m cutting faster in Final Cut Pro X.” — Robin Dwarka, editor

News Travels Fast

In video-reporting Toronto’s vacillating mayoral controversy, Patrick Dell found workflow advantages at every turn. “Speed is always a key challenge when there is a breaking story,” he says. “I’m competing with TV, other publishers, and other video providers to get my own content done and out as quickly as possible. Then there are the general challenges of working in a big media pack where everyone wants that same moment, same comment, same quote, all at the same time.”

Editor Tim McKenna skims clips in Final Cut Pro X.
Photo credit: Micheal McLaughlin

Anticipating that scenario, Dell used a Canon HD camcorder on a monopod camera support with a directional shotgun microphone mounted to the top. That allowed him to lift the camera over the heads of other media to capture good sound and footage of the mayor entering his office. For the news conference that followed about an hour later, he used the same camera and monopod combination with a Sennheiser wireless microphone set.

But Dell found his biggest leverage after he had his shots: “Being able to edit in the field with Final Cut Pro X on a MacBook Pro with Retina display was essential to turning around my raw footage quickly. After capturing the shot of the mayor entering his office, I loaded that footage on to the MacBook Pro while still at City Hall, cleaned it up in Final Cut Pro, added our branding graphics, and uploaded it to the Globe and Mail in no time at all.

“Likewise, as soon as the mayor’s news conference was done, I rapidly edited his comments on location into a complete package. Being able to quickly skim the raw footage in Final Cut Pro X made picking relevant clips an easy and fast process.”

“The China Diaries”

Globe reporters and photographers have found that using accessible tools like Final Cut Pro X and iPhone has significantly extended their reach. For a sweeping story about cultural change in China, Globe photojournalist John Lehmann, working with Globe China correspondent Mark MacKinnon, rode a train from Chengdu to Xining, retracing the path of Mao Zedong’s Long March.

To stay focused on capturing the right details in a story of such enormous scale, Lehmann followed a very simple workflow. He used iPhone to shoot anything inside or outside the train that he found interesting and uploaded the footage to the Globe and Mail video team for editing in Final Cut Pro X.

Whatever delays he experienced in the transcontinental upload were ultimately made up for on the back end. Says Julian Liurette, a senior video production editor who edited their first video installment: “With Final Cut Pro X, we don’t have to convert footage. We just grab the video files and begin editing. For us, that’s a huge advantage.”

Speed to Edit

Most of the shooting and editing demands on the video team come from a fast, relentless stream of popular business and lifestyle videos. Globe and Mail reporters and videographers capture footage on location or in their newsroom studio using as many as four cameras shooting simultaneously. The mix-and-match video acquisition is easily handled by the new multicam capabilities of Final Cut Pro X, which helps the team organize and sync their footage. “We couldn’t use an application that didn’t support multiple-camera editing,” says editor Robin Dwarka. “The multicam support in Final Cut Pro X is more intuitive and efficient than anything I’ve seen.”

Dwarka, who edits two to five videos a day, notes that the momentum carries through the editing process: “Here it’s all about speed and accuracy, and I know I’m cutting faster in Final Cut Pro X. Dropping a clip down and having the rest of the timeline shift out of the way makes things so much easier, and I don’t need to worry about closing up gaps.”

Branding in Motion

Editors also finish faster because they can simply open their custom Motion-built branding templates in Final Cut Pro X. “Branding’s a big issue for reporters and even videographers because we put our logo at the bottom of each video,” says Liurette. “Now editors can open the Globe and Mail custom lower-third templates in Final Cut Pro X and immediately change the text right in the viewer rather than going out to a text editor.”

Liurette, who created the Motion templates for their current branding, is helping the design team with a refresh. He likes the fact that the new motion graphics tools in Motion 5 and Final Cut Pro X let them integrate projects using templates, which helps enforce design discipline across hundreds of monthly video projects.

With a bigger, more experienced video team, Globe and Mail videos are verging on television quality. And video effects requirements have ratcheted up along with production standards. Using advanced Motion features such as rigs and build markers, three graphics-savvy videographers are able to create all of the needed motion graphics. “In general, our people find that Motion is much more approachable than other programs,” says Liurette. “It’s better suited for our daily workflow.”

Taking the Long View

Along with news, business, and lifestyle videos, the video team also creates longer documentary-style investigations, for which they’ve received multiple Emmy Awards and nominations. Editing these projects requires working with much larger amounts of footage. For that reason, Liurette used Final Cut Pro X to edit the news site’s lauded documentary “Breaking Caste” as a test case before moving the group from Final Cut Pro 7.

“There were about 1000 video clips when I started the edit,” he says. “Using Final Cut Pro X, I could skim through my footage and find things really quickly. That was a major time-saver, and a big advantage compared to what we had been able to do before in Final Cut Pro 7.”

Liurette also used range-based keywords and Smart Collections to organize the material. “With so much footage, these features provided a very practical way to quickly find clips by day, location, and subject.”

Final Cut Pro X also helps large documentary teams collaborate effectively. For a recent cross-media feature, “The DNA Dilemma,” the team used the application to edit five related videos. “It’s about genetic testing, so we’ve been shooting personal stories with people out in the community,” says videographer/editor Amanda Lowe, who worked on the project with producer Hannah Sung. “The challenge was the amount of footage we were working with, and how to piece it together efficiently.” Lowe created multiple Final Cut Pro X events so Sung could find and mark clips she wanted to include in one interview while Lowe edited another. “The markers Hannah left helped us communicate,” says Lowe, who used this collaborative workflow throughout the editing of the series.

Looking Ahead

With a team and tools in place, the move-forward strategy for the Globe and Mail is more video in more places. The goal this year is to produce 200 video pieces a month. Eventually, the Globe and Mail hopes to produce six hours of video a day for everything from mobile devices to connected TV to live video programming.

A recent upgrade of its mobile video site allows iPad and iPhone users to watch video there, resulting in more consistent mobile traffic. “We’re seeing very strong growth,” says Angela Pacienza.

The team anticipates that all those new videos will require creative solutions as different as the devices on which they’ll be watched. “We don’t just want to keep increasing the number of two-minute clips that we do,” says Pacienza. “We’re actually rethinking the whole model for what video means to a news reader today.”

Pacienza believes much of that rethinking will happen on the fly in the hands of flex journalists who are as comfortable with video tools like Final Cut Pro X and Motion as they are writing for the page. “As people become accustomed to watching video on different devices and in different places, increasingly we need to use it in our news gathering and reporting. Telling a story in only one medium is not going to cut it anymore.”