Does Quality Matter?

By Phil Georgiadis

One of the most striking aspects of the surge in user generated video appearing on TV news broadcasts is the effect that this has had on the quality of footage used.

We’re currently living in the high-definition age, and across television there is an obsession with detailed, high quality pictures to strike the audience, grab their attention, and keep them tuned in.

But while the HD age is going to become an accepted and indeed expected part of the broadcast news landscape in the coming years, the rise in user generated content seen on news channels, especially video snapped on a smart phone or camera, seems to stand in contrast with the search for clean, impressive quality professional footage.

Think back to the past few momentous weeks in Egypt. The Western media were often stuck broadcasting from their hotels in a story that was quickly dubbed the ‘balcony revolution’ by the industry. The images which defined the Egypt affair, apart from the live Reuters static shot of Tahrir Square, were the ones sourced from the protestors themselves. Shakily shot on mobile phones or amateur equipment, they told the story of the Revolution from the inside.

By Thursday February 3rd, all of the major UK news broadcasters were in place, anchoring live from Cairo. Watching the opening packages from the BBC, ITV and Channel Four evening news, a single sequence stood out. There was of course well filmed, striking footage across all three broadcasters, filed by the cream of the world’s cameramen. But one sequence stood out, found on Youtube by Channel Four News and filmed on a protestor’s phone, it shows Egyptians being run over as they try to demonstrate.

This shaky, chaotic and utterly shocking video captures the essence of the Egyptian revolution. Similarly the defining image from the student protests last year in Milbank was the grainy footage and pictures of Charles and Camilla’s car being mobbed.

These examples sum up the new juxtaposition between polished, high quality video journalism on TV, and raw footage ripped from the web. Televison news is a picture led medium. And in the internet age, the quality of the footage is a secondary priority. Whoever filmed it, however grainy and shaky, the best pictures always tell the story best. And increasingly, they are being sourced through unconventional means, as the world’s newsgathering process becomes more diffused and less linear.

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