Editing is a much unappreciated part of the sports reporting process.
You can have all the great shots in the world on your raw tape, but if you can't edit them together in the right way, you can't tell an effective story.
For print photographers, much of the editing decisions are out of their hands. The photographer may suggest one picture over another as being better or more appropriate, but the decision of what picture to run in the paper, how to crop or resize it, and its location and layout are often determined by editors or other newsroom personnel. The use of digital photography has drastically speeded up the transmission of photographs and the ease with which they can be cut, cropped, and arranged for layout.
From a broadcast standpoint, recent advances in technology have drastically improved the editing process. Not too long ago, all shooting and editing were done on film. The tape had to be physically cut and spliced together, which was an extremely time-consuming and difficult process that often made it impractical to get same-day highlights of events. The advent of videotape in the 1970s was a tremendous leap forward and helped speed up and simplify the editing process. Now, new digital tech nology promises to streamline the process even further. As stations begin the switch to digital equipment, the editing process will become more like home computing, with an emphasis on "cutting and pasting." The final product will not even exist on tape, but rather be sent in digital form to a central computer for playback.
In most large markets, editing (and photography) is a union job. That means you can't touch a camera or any editing equipment. But just about everywhere else, you'll be doing you own work. And whether you're working with videotape or digital equipment, there are some essentials to good editing for any broadcast sports story.
1. Don't let the highlights go too long or too short. So many times, because of time constraints, video is cut off just before the conclusion of a play. Nothing is more frustrating to the viewer than to hear, "Trust me folks ... he eventually gets into the end zone." The average length for a single highlight play is between 10 and 15 seconds, so make sure you give yourself enough time. At the same time, don't give too much time to highlights. Remember, viewers can see the exact same thing on ESPN, CNN, and countless other outlets. Nothing is more boring than watching 2 minutes of highlights from a game you may have just watched on Tv. Let the viewer see what's important, but save your real time for things that matter to the audience.
2. Don't be afraid of natural sound. The cheering crowd, the excited announcer, the coach yelling instructions to his players, all add something to the final presentation. Not too long ago, most sportscasters used either silence or canned music behind their stories. But natural sound adds something to the story that interests the viewer. Witness the popularity of "behind the scenes" sports films and putting a microphone on players during the game.
3. Cutaways can help, but don't overuse them. Some sportscasters (and especially news directors) fall in love with cutaways. Such shots always have a special place in sports stories, but remember what viewers want to see. Too many side shots lead to clutter and the story loses its momentum. In some cases, it's almost like the commercials between news stories.
4. Let the pictures tell the story. Truer words were never spoken. Good pictures can make or break a story much more so than narration or excessive writing. When the print picture is especially powerful, it is blown up on the front page of the sports section, signifying its importance in relation to the accompanying written material. For television videographers, if you have good pictures, editing becomes easy. But when a story doesn't have that knockout photography, then you have to get more creative. This could include things such as natural sound, graphics, music, and the like.
5. Get the story on the air. This really should be the first and great commandment. All the pretty pictures and narration in the world don't do any good if the tape is still sitting in editing at deadline or if the still picture doesn't get in the newspaper. Some sportscasters make the mistake of trying to be too perfect and
do too much, especially with feature stories. Make sure you get a complete, coherent story ready for air and then worry about the rest. Clean the suit first and then press the lapels.
6. Make sure the style of editing matches the tone of the story. Modern technology allows for all kinds of fancy edits, such as wipes, dissolves, and fades. But make sure you use these in accordance with the story. For example, dissolves and fades work better with slower or more serious feature stories. For highlights or game stories, it is better to stick with traditional hard edits.
7. When done correctly, the editing should complement the photography. Many shooters will "edit in the camera," which means they shoot certain sequences and shots with a specific idea of how it will look in the edit booth. Ideally, the photographer should have tremendous input in the editing process, and vice versa. Obviously, this becomes much easier when it's all done by the same person, but if not, it's important for the reporter to collaborate with the photographer during the shooting process.
Brad Schultz is an assistant professor and head of the broadcast sequence in the journalism department at the University of Mississippi. Prior to entering academia, he spent fourteen years in local television and has experience as a sports anchor, producer, reporter, photographer, editor and writer. He covered the NFL, NBA, major league baseball, PGA, NCAA, and Indy 500 among other events. Dr. Schultz is the editor of the Journal of Sports Media and has published several articles and conference papers on local sports broadcasting.