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Written by Phillip L. Harris   

Minimum Standards for Maximum Quality Programs

Teachers try to hammer into student’s heads how to produce the best program possible.  Unfortunately, there are so many things that go into a really good production that sometimes some of the simple things get overlooked by both the students and the teachers. 

Often, those simple things can really ruin an otherwise great production.  As someone often called in to judge video contests, I’m going to try to concentrate on the most common technical errors I see in contest entries.  Nearly every time I see one of these errors, I just shake my head at how easily the error could have been avoided.  This article will try to offer some simple things to do during pre-production, production, and post-production which can truly help make a production an award winner instead of just running in the rest of the pack. 

Keep in mind, however, that most of these errors or points of attention regard technical issues and not journalistic issues.  This is not to diminish the importance of the journalism.  This just underscores that without the medium, the message can’t get out.  And without the message there is nowhere for the medium to go.  The relationship between the two is truly symbiotic.  In broadcast journalism, the technical and equipment aspect of the news program are like the engine and other mechanics of an automobile.  The journalism is like the people.  Without the mechanical, the people have no way to get from point A to point B no matter how important the story they’ll tell when they arrive at their destination.  Likewise, without the people, the car sits idle and has no purpose.

 First of all, do not misspell anything!!!
 Use a TV friendly font and color. Do not use fancy letters. 
 Avoid red at all costs.  Most of your audience will still be watching on an analog television set.  Analog television has a very difficult time reproducing the color red.  The web often makes red bleed horribly. 
 Make the font large enough to be read easily on a small display screen such as the one used by SchoolTube.”  After you create a graphic on your screen, get up and move at least 10 feet away from your computer screen.  If it is difficult to read at that distance, re-create the graphic until you can see it clearly from 10 feet away.
 Any graphic should remain on screen long enough for the producer to read every word aloud twice. 
 Place no more than 5 words per line and no more than 5 lines per page. 
 Put an edge or border on letters to help them stand out from the video in the background.
 Make sure the letters are not lost in the background because their color does not contrast enough with the background.
 Writing anything with a pen on a piece of paper is going to be unsatisfactory and unreadable.  If the audience cannot read what is written then it is a waste of time to write it and just frustrates to the audience. 
 If you must handwrite, use a dark marker and write big enough for
the audience to read what you've written.  Remember that viewers will not be as close to their TV’s as you are to your monitor when you’re editing.
 If you must have words on a piece of paper, create them on a word processor with a large bold font that looks professionally done.
 Lastly, do not misspell anything!!!


 Rarely does the "artsy" black and white image “work” in modern day television - stay away from it unless there is an overwhelming reason to use it. 

 When editing, be careful not to cut off the beginning and ending of words.  Re-edit until it is right.
 Music should fade in and fade out.  It should not end abruptly
because a video edit needs to occur or the time limit has been exceeded .  Many a PSA has been ruined by music that simply stops. 
 When background music is used with spoken words, the music must be significantly lower in volume than the words.  A good rule of thumb is for the music to be ¼ the volume of the words.
 Avoid using music with lyrics.  The lyrics will compete with the spoken audio. 


 Speak slowly and clearly enough for anyone to understand.  Let a selected few view your piece before sending it out and ask them if they can hear clearly every word spoken.  An audience who has never seen it before and offers constructive criticism can help make average entries winning entries.


 A fade is not a good idea to use on a PSA - it slows the pacing and wastes valuable seconds when you could be delivering your message.
 Never shoot with a bright object in the background of the shot - (Window, sky, white wall).  This pops the contrast ratio of the camera making the
talent in front of the bright background look too dark.  If the talent happen to have dark skin, they may become totally black silhouettes.
 Try to shoot in front of neutral to medium-dark backgrounds - not bright backgrounds. 
 If there is not enough light in the location you are using, then either shoot somewhere else or set up lights.  Shooting in the dark is a waste of time.
 Understand that dark images cannot be lightened in post production without serious side effects.
 Understand also that if the image is viewed over the internet, the actual transmission through the internet itself will make your image darker than you actually shot it.  You must compensate for that fact when you shoot.

Many teachers have requested a quantitative method of evaluating a program that a student submits for a grade.  What follows is a checklist of technical attributes which any student should be able to meet.  Therefore, it might be used as a minimal threshold list of things that every program must answer in order to be submitted.  If a program is lacking any of the items on the checklist it can be returned to the student for “fixing.”  This checklist does not really address the issues of content.  Even in the industry, if a program does not meet technical requirements, the program never sees the light of day.

Checklist for Program Acceptance

o Program proposal, outline, script approved.
o No Vulgar language
o No Inappropriate Music
o Copyright issues (if any) resolved

o Good Lighting
o Iris open or closed appropriately

o Video quality at or above minimum standards
o Video supports audio
o Audio supports video

o Audio at appropriate level – analog: -3 to +3 Db, Digital: -25 to -25 Db
o Audio synched with video

o Tripod used - steady picture
o Handheld – steady picture
o Video white balanced (no bluish or Orangish tint)
o Contrast ratio appropriate (no deep blacks or glowing whites)
o Camera angles meet Class defined shot standards
o Shots in focus
o Glitches not evident in program
o Multiple camera angles with many cutaways to make the program visually interesting
o Jump cuts/errors of continuity not evident

o Color bars on front of program followed by
o 5 seconds of black before and after program
o All CG and Credits spelled correctly in appropriate font and color
o Final credit that says “Production Company and Date”

Interviewing and Research
o Appropriate identification of stakeholders and/or experts
o Presents in-depth information from valid research and interviews

News Writing/Reporting (as applicable)
o Follows elements of broadcast style
o Brief SOT’s provide perspective through  opinion, prediction, experience,  reaction
o Accurate
o Balanced
o Delivery communicates story effectively

o No significant deviation from approved script
o Program has clear understandable flow
o Program has clear message or purpose--high interest/relevance to intended audience
o Program meets minimum and maximum length requirements for the assignment
o Observes legalities and  code of ethics

Firm Rule
o The director is not in the program