ECSJ Training Highlights: Shoot video — speak Gibberish — detect Astroturfing

Journalistic Trainer Alex Gerber: On building your own trademark (c) Goede

Gibberish and Astroturfing were two key words during a bar camp-like training session at the European Conference for Science Journalists ECSJ 2017 Copenhagen. All in all, with various other elements, the event was geared to empower participants to develop their own trademark and to leave specific footprints in the journalistic landscape.

Or, as Alex Gerber, professor for science communication at the Rhine Waal Campus teaches, not rely on jobs offered by others, but become entrepreneurial, establish your own branch as an independent science journalist. To achieve this, the session focused, among others, on two principal skills. To learn how to produce own videos and how to present yourself in public.


Jari Mäkinen, a Finn based in France, is a professional in the video production. Here he explains why it pays off to specialize on videos, the basics and which equipment is needed:

Video Expert: Jari Mäkinen. Just do it! (c) Goede

Some figures: 55% of people watch videos online every day. 65% of video viewers watch more than 3/4 of a video. 85% of Facebook video is watched without sound. Including video in a landing page can increase conversion by 80%. Nearly two-thirds of consumers prefer video under 60 seconds. 45% of people watch more than an hour of Facebook or YouTube videos a week.  Among millennials, YouTube accounts for 2/3 of the premium online video watch across devices.

According to some forecasts, the vast majority of online media will be mostly video in 10 years – some people, like the US president, don’t read practically anything and prefer visuals and videos.


Principally: Everyone making (science) videos should think their audience: what is the purpose of every video they’re doing?

In my audience, most of people want to watch longer videos going deeper in the subject. Therefore I do mostly that kind of videos. But I do increasingly shorter videos that basically show the setting for an article: When visiting an particle accelerator, it is good to show the place, machinery and instrumentation on video – it’s more than a set of photos. That’s also why I’ve been experimenting with the 360° videos, though not published yet more than just for fun.

I also would like to encourage journalists to use video more than now and also lower the bar. Everyone can shoot video – and sometimes a shaky video shot with mobile phone on location at the right moment is much better than pre-planned, produced video shot by a whole TV crew.


Jari’s video equipment (c) Jari Mäkinen

Technology is also now so small, that I carry always with me the set of equipment that would have filled a truck just a decade ago. I modify it according to mission and subject, but the demo kit I had with me at the university was like this:

Some things that I have found really useful are a pop-out reflector (circular one) as it is small and can be used easily for reflecting light to place/person that is in the image, small Gorillapod tripod with magnetic legs, small LED light, external monitor and an extension cord. Especially I recommend a gimbal and a GoPro (or mobile phone head) – it’s a stabilizer that removes almost totally the shaking and makes the videos smooth. If you use an attachment for a mobile phone, use a good one and not a cheap selfie stick sold everywhere – the ones designed for attaching phone to bicycle are good!


  • Using an SLR as a video camera is super practical, because you can take photos at the same time. As most of the laboratories and places science journalists visit are inside and usually small, remember to buy a good wide angle lens. GoPro – having a wide angle as default – is here also a good addition.
  • Sound: I use a lot a Røde tie microphone for iPhone. Phone can be used for audio recording or as an additional microphone when using a “proper” wireless/wired microphone (not included in the photo above).

All these are also allowed to cabin when flying, that is also important when traveling a lot.


Experts on own experience and exposure: the audience (c) Goede

And finally about the shooting and editing. Simple rule: shoot everything. Especially if you’re in interesting place, with scientists on location, it’s good to use video for recording the talks. If you’re in hurry with editing, remember to take also short specially made interview videos – soundbites – than can be quickly mixed to B-roll material (i.e. shots of the surroundings, details, people in general, possible animations etc).

All this equipment, which not long ago filled a truck, fits now easily into a backpack. Jari unpacked it for us. The content does not cost you a fortune any more. With the investment of 7000 Euros you can become a professional video producer


Angela Posada Swafford: How to connect with your audience (c) Goede

Angela Posada Swafford, from Colombia and based in Miami, introduced the art to present yourself well and convincingly in public, based on TED and TEDx talks. Invented by Richard Saul Wurman in 1984, TED is above all emotional. Personal. Sentimental. People watch not so much for the content, as for how the conference makes them feel.

The objectives: To amaze, in order to awaken curiosity, and then to teach. To explore what makes us human (our incredible ability to socialize). To transfer an idea to the audience. If communicated properly ideas can shape human culture. Give the audience a reason to care.

Methods of a TED and TEDx talk: An opening of direct address. A narrative of personal stake. A research summary. A précis of potential applications. Who does this idea benefit? A revelation to drive it at home.


Points to consider about TEDx talks and also in general talking to the public about science:

The connection does not take place unless you get tuned to the people you are talking to. When you tell the audience something, understand or imagine where they are in their minds at that point, so you can go onto the next idea. And you have to look at their faces to know that.

  • Build just one idea in the mind of the audience to convey and explain properly, give context, give examples. Awaken their curiosity. Use intriguing questions.
  • Build the idea with the language of the audience: Metaphors. Go for the heart. TED borrows from theater: the way people move on stage, how they look into the audience’s eyes.
  • You can tell people things that are amazing. People like to be thrilled, not patronized. Don’t be reverential or pompous. Don’t be boring.


Very important: the CADENCE. Don’t process works, don’t just read, if you are reading from a slide. Speak spontaneously. Communicate, with meaning, with intent with emotion. Be inspired with what you say. We have been speaking spontaneously for 200,000 years. We have been reading for less than 5,000 years. The circuits in the brain devoting to socialization, to reading a face, speaking in a tone of voice that carries meaning beyond the words, emotion with it, that happens during spontaneous speech.

Mico Tatalovic, New Scientist: When you pitch a story, find new angles! (c) Goede

Are the circuits in the brain that are active in reading bypassing the social parts of the brain? When we just read words on a page out loud we are giving up the connexion with an audience. That which makes us human.

Angela’s part of the workshop was to include a few exercises for theater actors, borrowed from the famous Viola Spoling. What is the secret for achieving this warmth of conversation, this being human not robotic, when you tell something to an audience and win their hearts over to you?


The secret is called IMPROVISATION (Improv). It works with actors. It is not making things up. It is making contact with the other actor (in this case, the audience). Improvisational exercises for theater actors, invented by Viola Spolin (60 yrs ago). She changed acting: “body, mind, intuition”, to make students feel more natural on stage. This is not a matter of memory but intuition and emotional intelligence. Step on the stage as you don’t know what is going to happen tonight. A trip to the human spirit.

ECSJ organizer Jens Degett (r) on fundraising (c) Goede

Gibberish introduction: Not just a bunch of nonsense noise. The fun is audience knows what is being said. Animates the speaker; forces expressive intonation and expression; focuses the speaker on really communicating. Verbal agility (translating). Excercises:  Say something in gibberish. In groups: have an argument in gibberish. Explain to the other something with gestures.


As a very practical means and as related to one of the main topics of the conference, faked truth, Satu Lipponen, introduced astroturfing to the training and how to much out for it. Satu is EUSJA president emeritus and head of the strategy department of the Finnish Cancer Society.

Satu Lipponen (r) on how to lie with statistics and AstroTurfing; with Georg Dahm (l.), expert for video, audio, text, blended to story scrolling (c) Goede

Astroturfing is the practice of masking the sponsors of a message or organization to make it appear as though it originates from and is supported by grassroots participants. It is a practice intended to give the statements or organizations credibility by withholding information about the source’s financial connection. The term astroturfing is derived from AstroTurf, a brand of synthetic carpeting designed to resemble natural grass, as a play on the word “grassroots”. The implication behind the use of the term is that there are no “true” or “natural” grassroots, but rather “fake” or “artificial” support.







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