This is how Euronews trains journalists in 360

At Euronews, 360 journalism is a collaborative effort. We do not have a specific team tasked with producing immersive journalism. The more than 95 videos we have published are the result of an organization-wide effort, diligently spearheaded by Thomas Seymat.

This has made knowledge sharing imperative. Since our first 360 video was published in February 2016, more than 45 different journalists have produced 360 content. Even more have been trained to do the job.

In this post, I would like to share how we currently train journalists at Euronews. I hope it can be useful for others to see what we have learned over the last year.

At Euronews, we encourage experimentation as a great way to learn, both for individual reporters and for the organization as whole. We have learned by doing, and our hard-won knowledge is reflected in what we tell reporters before we send them off on their first 360 video shoots.

The tools that our journalists must get (re-)acquainted with. Not pictured: the Zoom H2n. For more on why we chose this setup, consult Thomas Seymat’s guide to choosing the right 360 camera.

Over the last months, I have trained more than 30 Euronews reporters on how to use our camera of choice, the Samsung Gear 360, and how to think stories in 360. The training touches on three main areas:

  1. Shooting in 360
  2. Audio
  3. How to use the Samsung Gear 360

As our journalists often do interviews, I also touch on the practical aspects of doing interviews in 360, a subject I will be covering in another post.

Our training sessions are short — about an hour. That’s enough time to give reporters the basic understanding, built on our previous experience, that allows them to go out and learn from their own mistakes.

I will start with the general lessons applicable to all 360 shoots and end with the more specific challenges that the Samsung Gear 360 gives our journalists.

Shooting in 360

“Think of the camera like an eye” has almost turned into a VR cliché. But we stand by it.

That means the camera should be placed at the same height as the thing that the reporter wants the user to focus on. We recommend a distance of about 1 meter, or even closer if the object or area of interest is small.

Going very close was not something we recommended in the beginning. Instead, we emphasized the need for a minimum distance to the camera, so as not to invade the viewer’s private space. But we have realized that this is mainly an issue for viewers who use head-mounted displays — and it’s safe to say that most of our users do not.

Our general approach can be summarized as “Experiment. But please do not…” We want to enable our reporters to use their creativity and we do not claim to know everything. However, below are the basic rules that they should know, at least before they start breaking them (and really, they probably should not break them).

  • Do not tip the camera. Some reporters are intuitively tempted to do this to get closer to something interesting, but it skews the horizon and completely messes up the user experience.

The picture below shows one of the few exceptions to the rule.

A shot we wouldn’t do without: Avalanches can be deadly. At Courchevel, they are triggered artificially, when there are no skiers. The method shown in the picture involves throwing ignited dynamite sticks. Screen capture from this video.

It is possible to fix the horizon using Kolor’s Autopano Giga, but few people at Euronews have the necessary expertise. In addition, we are a news company — where time is always a factor — so we do all we can to avoid this kind of time-consuming postproduction need.

  • If your camera has two lenses, make sure not to have an extreme light difference between the two. If there are very strong light sources, make sure the light reaches both lenses. We had an example of this problem in a video from a Hungarian festival. Here one lens was aimed directly at the big fire, which resulted in glowing artifacts near the stitch lines.

We could not use this otherwise fine shot in the final video, because all the light was gathered in one lens.

  • Don’t move. No running or walking with the camera, at the very least, and no yaw, pitch or roll. Steady movement, for example with a camera mounted in a car, can be A-okay. As with the horizon, movement can be stabilized in post, but doing so rarely brings enough to our stories that we spare the time.
  • Check the resolution. And double-check it. Just because a camera can shoot in 4K does not mean that it will. We have at times received footage shot in 2560 x 1280 or even 1920 x 960. Unless there are very good reasons to use such footage, we will probably discard it.
An actually both funny and useful guide on how 360 video should not be done.

Audio

The Gear 360 does a surprisingly good job of capturing audio. It has captured concerts on stage without any problems. But as it captures sound in multiple directions, it is very insufficient for interviews. Even when you think you’ve found the ideal quiet spot, a dog 30 meters away will bark and ruin your audio.

So when journalists do interviews, our rule is simple: Never count solely on the Gear 360. Always record interviews on a separate audio recorder. It doesn’t have to be a dedicated audio recorder or an expensive clip mic setup. We often rely on the iRig Mic Lav, which costs 60 euros and connects to any smartphone.

Our thinking on this issue has evolved. In the beginning, all our focus was on getting good video footage. But getting good audio is also essential, if our viewers are to actually feel immersed.

We equip our journalists with audio recorders that capture spatialized or spherical sound (such as the Zoom H2n), but we do not insist that they use it to capture spherical ambiance. Though we have begun experimenting with spatial audio in selected videos, we still see it as a “nice to have,” not a “need to have.” That view will probably continue until we figure out how to apply spatial audio in a workflow across the dozen different languages Euronews broadcasts in and publishes in online.

How to use the Samsung Gear 360

Euronews has over 300 staff journalists, whose experience and skills differ greatly from one another. Naturally, some reporters are more tech-savvy than others. Thankfully, using an entry-level camera has its perks. To quote one of my seasoned colleagues: “Good news first: The Gear 360 is REALLY EASY to use. And there are just three buttons to push.” Mind you, this from a journalist who started the training by acknowledging that he does not know what Wi-Fi is.

In fact, the camera is so easy to use that I will skip elegantly over how it works. Instead, I will simply point out some of the things that we had to learn the hard way, and which we emphasize to all our journalists.

1) Overheating. The camera typically manages 10 minutes of uninterrupted shooting before it overheats and shuts down automatically. All recorded footage is saved, but it will take a couple of minutes before the camera is ready again. Highly unpractical when you are covering an event and waiting for a specific moment.

2) Battery life. Throw a decent-sized micro SD card into the camera and you can shoot for hours. But battery life will be an issue, and a spare battery is indispensable. Our experience: A full battery lasts about 60 minutes.

3) Check the exposure. The Samsung Gear 360 app conveniently allows journalists to add or remove exposure from a scene. Unfortunately, even though this function is controlled only through the app, the camera will remember. It keeps settings that have been adjusted through the app, whether you are currently using it or not. If you go shooting with the camera without checking the app beforehand, you run the risk of returning with footage way over- or underexposed. This is again something we have learned the hard way.

4) Clean the lens. Often. The Samsung Gear 360 is operated by turning and twisting, and, invariably, dirty fingers will touch the lens. This is at least inevitable whenever I operate the camera. An example:

A dirty lens isn’t pretty, especially around light sources. Screen capture from this video.

Finally, before we send the journalists off, we provide them with a 14-point checklist aimed specifically at the Samsung Gear 360. You can check it out here: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/euronews-tips-filming-samsung-gear-360-duncan-hooper

Et voilà, that is how we train journalists in 360 here in Lyon. The sessions always end with a plea: Go out and experiment. Make your own mistakes and learn from them. The most important thing is and will always remain telling a good story.