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Flights with Two Local Groups Get Reporter to Uses Skype for Communications, Video from Haiti

When The News-Press at Fort Myers decided to send reporter Rachel Revehl and photographer Andrew West to Haiti following the massive earthquake Jan. 12, we knew communicating with them and getting stories, photos and video back to Florida would be tough. Electricity, Internet access and cell phone service would be scarce at best.

We chose several options, including Skype. It ended up being one of the most beneficial tools we used.

Before Andrew and Rachel left, we set up Skype accounts on each of their computers and set up a main News-Press account. We ensured they were all connected on their computers and on three computers at The News-Press. We gave them about 5 minutes of training and sent them on their way.

We began testing Skype before they even left the Miami airport. We knew there must be a way to record the video and put it in Brightcove. Then we could put it on our site and share it with all.

Although Skype does not have a record feature, there are several applications that allow you to record audio and video from Skype calls. We needed one that worked on the Mac and allowed us to upload the video into Brightcove. There were several choices, but the best one we found was Call Recorder. You can download one copy for $19.95 or three copies for $39.95. It comes with marker editors that allow you to mark certain points in the recording and converters that allow you to convert for the Internet or to MP3.

We first downloaded a trial version of the software and tested it to make sure it would work. We filed a mock report from inside the newsroom, converted it and posted it in Brightcove. We did learn that you must use the “Convert for Internet” feature for the audio to work properly in Brightcove. However, you do not get “Convert for Internet” until you purchase the download.

When it came time for the first call, we were confident everything would work.

Andrew and Rachel called at a time we had pre-determined. During the first call, Rachel did a video diary. Then we started recording the conversations we had with them, which ended up being more natural and more compelling.

We had one person who kept Skype running constantly and three people trained to record and post the video call. During the calls, we would turn the recording on and off as a way to edit clips so we could post them quickly. For longer videos, we edited and added photos or slides to explain what Andrew and Rachel were talking about. We would post a few clips within about 10 minutes of the call.

Andrew and Rachel used Skype each morning and evening when they had Wi-Fi access. We avoided using it out in the field because they had limited use of the satellite phone; we had only 50 MG data, and their battery power was valuable. There were also concerns about the quality of video we would get over the satellite phone.

The Skype video provided an invaluable way to tell the story. Rachel and Andrew were able to share their experiences. In fact, the Skype video and audio was so compelling our TV partner played it on every newscast.

It also was a way for them to stay connected to us. We used Skype not only for video reports, but also to communicate the events of the day. It was also a comfort to them, and us, to see and talk to them every day to gauge how they were feeling physically and mentally.

From a reporter’s perspective, Rachel praised the use of Skype for audio and video service. “We brought satellite phones and regular cell phones, but both were ultimately useless once we crossed the Haitian border, with communication lines at a standstill,” she said.

“Skype became our sole means of verbal correspondence with our editors. Additionally, we were able to record segments of those discussions to post for our Internet readers — something unique that no other media outlet was utilizing. It provided readers with a more conversational take on what was happening.”

The Skype videos were also helpful, she said, because recorded video reports took a long time to transmit, and often, they could send only one at night, as opposed to several Skype clips recorded each morning and evening.

Some tips:

* Test ahead of time to gain confidence
* Allow the team to play with it before they head out
* Record even casual conversations because you can get some great descriptions and candid responses
* Have Skype set up with recording capability on multiple computers
* Train several people in the office to record and post in Brightcove
* Designate one person in the office to have Skype open at all times in case they call.

Skype Haiti video example 1

Skype Haiti video example 2
The News-Press Haiti coverage

Last Modified: February 2010