An Evening With Guardian Films

By Emily Craig

Jacqui Timberlake was emphatic. ‘We are a broadcaster’, she declared to the assembled audience. And the Production Manager of Guardian Films has good reason to make this claim. Guardian Films’ 2006 production, Baghdad: A Doctor’s Story, which screened on the BBC and HBO, won an Emmy.

The film is a 45 minute offering and, in the days before many people uploaded or streamed video online, it was made for TV. It’s possible to find excerpts of Baghdad: A Doctor’s Story on the Guardian’s website, but it wasn’t designed as an internet documentary.

Back in 2006, the Guardian Films team had pitched their idea to the BBC. Now, says Maggie O’ Kane, the Editorial Director of Guardian Films, they’re competing with the same broadcasters that they relied upon before.

Broadcast journalists are not the only ones out on the street with a camera (Creative Commons)

Maggie O’ Kane had pushed for the creation of Guardian Films in the days before video journalism had become an online phenomenon. As one of the newspaper’s foreign correspondents, who spent time in the likes of Burma and Afghanistan, she says broadcast journalists would come to her and her colleagues, after they’d been working on a story, and expect to be handed a list of names and contacts so they could follow up with a film piece.

When the BBC’s Fergal Keane did just that after she’d endured the discomfort of the Burmese jungle as part of her research for a G2 feature, Maggie O Kane asked the question of Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger: ‘Why aren’t the Guardian making films?’

As a result of their conversation, Guardian Films was created. And, with the development of Internet technology, its focus has shifted from TV features to the newspaper’s website. Now Guardian Films produce videos to tie in with articles that appear in the newspaper and, simultaneously, on guardian.co.uk.

Many of their videos could be described as investigative. As Maggie O Kane put it, by incorporating video into a piece of journalism, ‘It’s a way of saying ‘This is important”. Their undercover report into the racist violence of the English Defence League is an example of this theory in action. The video appeared on the Guardian’s website as the print edition went to press with the story in article form on the front page, above the fold. And the newspaper ensured maximum coverage by publishing the story on the day that the EDL planned to stage another demo in Newcastle. The video has had some 195 000 views – and counting.

Sometimes, the Guardian Films team will write the article accompanying their video. The rest of the time, they link up with journalists on the paper. But Maggie O’ Kane admitted that ‘it can be a case of the left hand not talking to the right hand’. Recently they were forced to work solidly for 48 hours in order to make sure that their Wikileaks Iraq log video could be uploaded alongside a print story due to be published.

The Guardian Film team insist that video media is not only a compliment to online copy, but it can be a way of introducing the viewer to a story. In other words, the video can come first – it’s not a badly-produced afterthought.

And the other bonus of making videos exclusively for the paper’s website – and not for a broadcaster – is that the videos exist in ‘web perpetuity’. Newspapers own this distinct advantage over the likes of the BBC and C4.

And, whilst this was an event promoting the output of Guardian Films, more and more newspapers (the New York Times, for one) are eager to draw attention to their investment in multimedia journalism and their successes in pursuing it. Their message? Broadcasters beware.

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