The future of video journalism online (Part 2)

By VideoJournalismOnline

On VJO we’ve been looking ahead to the future. What’s in store? And how will the latest developments prove to alter the direction of online video journalism?

In the second part of VJO Interviews, Ross Cullen asks Alex Dibble, Umar Farooq, Chris Creegan and Phil Georgiadis where they see the industry going:

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Being Smart With Phones

By Alex Dibble

Some news media are missing a trick when it comes to gathering citizen journalism

The image above shows the iPhone apps for BBC News and Sky News. They’re both designed well, with a ‘user friendly’ interface which makes navigation easy and brings the top stories to smartphone users in an instant.

Another interesting feature of these two apps can be seen here:

Both include an option to send your own story to the newsroom. But, crucially the Sky News app allows you to attach a video (as the image below shows), while the BBC equivalent facilitates just photos.

Does this give Sky a significant advantage?

It’s difficult to tell. So far, 2011’s been the year of citizen journalism (in terms of video at least).

The uprisings in North Africa, as well as the natural disasters in New Zealand and Japan have made for some incredible footage being filmed on mobile phones.

But if you’re on the rooftop of a building in Ishinomaki filming the tsunami as it engulfs the city, where would you post the footage?

These days, if you want the world to see what you’ve just recorded, your best bet is either TwitVid or YouTube. If the footage is ‘good’ enough it’ll be seen by news media and used for broadcast.

So for Sky to provide a video uploading facility on their iPhone app doesn’t pay off when major events are occuring overseas.

But what about happenings within the UK?

We all know that when it comes to consuming news most of the public have one provider they tend to stick with.

Whether it be the BBC, Sky, ITV, Channel 4 or any other, loyalty keeps most consumers consuming from one source.

So if, for example, a newsworthy event was captured on an iPhone belonging to a Sky News fan, there’s a good chance they’d want to give Sky News exclusive access to that footage. And so the video uploader on Sky’s app would come in handy.

When it comes to loyalty and news consumption though, the public is ‘defined’ more by the newspaper they buy.

But despite being increasingly concerned with online video content in recent years, none of the major daily’s in this country provide a platform for user generated content on their smartphone apps.

On the Guardian’s app, for example, you can’t upload a photo, let alone a video.

With user loyalty such an ingrained part of news consumption in the UK, the BBC as well as the newspapers are missing a trick.

When Sky’s given that one clip – the exclusive video that transfixes the nation – the BBC and  daily papers will regret they haven’t provided their own consumers with a means to send similar footage from their smart phones.

Citizens on Citizen Journalism

By Alex Dibble

The growth of citizen journalism has been one of the major developments in online video journalism in the last decade.

VideoJournalismOnline’s documented this evolution in previous posts.

But here, in the second VJO challenge, Alex Dibble asks members of the public their opinions on online video, and whether they’d watch amatuer footage.

With a 3 minute time limit and no editing allowed, what’s the result?

Local News – The Future

screenshot courtesy of Ledger Live

We’re all familiar with a newspaper’s ‘comment’ section. Or, as some of them like to call it, their ‘opinion’.

These have been stalwarts of print journalism for many years. But, as Toby Coaker outlined for videojournalismonline back in January, The Times is the only UK based paper to transfer this type of journalism onto the web in video format.

In the States things are a bit different – one example of local political opinion transforming into online video is Ledger Live, from New Jersey’s The Star-Ledger.

Here Brian Donohue gives an often sarcastic/satirical take on the affairs of local government.

A good example is this not too complimentary assessment of Govenor Christie’s selective economic policy.

How does this relate to the UK?

Donohue’s producing something that doesn’t really exist in the UK, because national broadcasters (the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Sky) have to be impartial and national newspapers just haven’t got on board with the idea behind Ledger Live.

The Future

David Cameron’s been a champion of local government since his time in opposition.

As Prime Minister he’s devolving power and says he wants to create more vibrancy in local politics – to get people interested in the affairs of their local councils as part of his ‘Big Society’.

And Jeremy Hunt’s plans for local TV news slip nicely into line with this ideal.

But if the whole plan works and political activism flourishes once again in the boroughs and constituencies of the UK, you can bet that intense frustration will be kindled in the general public when it comes to local TV news.

Local output’s required to be impartial too. As a result Council failure won’t be reported with the angst needed to reflect the voters’ views.

In this political climate there’ll be an opportunity for partial ‘comment’ or ‘opinion’, and the websites of local newspapers will be the platform capable of supporting such a development.

Could they afford it?

On one hand it’s unhelpful to draw comparisons between state newspapers in the USA and their British ‘equivalents’ because New Jersey, for example, has a population of about 9 million and the Star-Ledger’s circulation is about 220,000.

Each UK constituency has an electorate about 66% smaller than the Star-Ledger’s readership, and local papers would reach dramatically less than that.

But print journalism’s suffering in the US in the same way it is here.

Sponsoring online video is now an option – adverts screened prior to the content beginning – and could bring in valuable revenue.

And if Ledger Live shows us something else about the future, it’s that you only need basic equipment to bring politics alive for the next media generation.

Here’s The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank proving this very point. Can you imagine a similar video poking fun at 4 or 5 candidates in Garston and Halewood?

Can Local Get Vocal?

By Alex Dibble

Can we make any predictions about the future of local TV news using current video trends?

Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt’s got big plans.

He wants to create ‘Channel 6’ – a terrestrial television option which would provide local news to around 80 different areas in the country.

Everyone within the industry’s keen on the idea. The problem is, they just don’t see it working – financially or editorially.

At the moment the BBC can’t get involved because their presence would suffocate a local media already gasping for breath.

So that leaves commercial organisations to step up to the plate, which would require small businesses in your area to buy advert spots to fund the whole thing. But small businesses don’t have any money.

At a conference on local TV at City University back in November, former Sun editor Kelvin MacKenzie – who helped Trinity Mirror launch local news network Live TV in 1995 – summed up the general feeling in the room. He said: “The idea of local TV is a complete disaster and anybody going into it is completely nuts.”

When asked if there was any way in which Hunt’s dreams could become reality, he answered that the content would have to be provided by the viewers: citizen journalism, user generated content, people sending in video.

It would look “amateurish” and nobody would want to watch it, but to balance the books that was the only possible avenue.

Is there currently anything that resembles this kind of production?

Well, maybe, but it’s not TV.

Local newspapers are operating on a shoestring budget today, yet many of them still produce video content.

Small papers published by Archant are so underfunded that one photo of an ambulance accompanies every ‘hospital’ story. But even the Islington Gazette found a way to imbed footage of ‘chaos’ at a council meeting.

At the 2009 Newspaper Awards, Cambridge News was commended for its video content, and if there’s a video organism capable of evolving into what Hunt imagines, it’s probably this.

Videos are short – mostly around a minute  – and give viewers a simple overview of what’s going on in the area.

It’s nothing special at all, but provides exactly what Cambridge residents would want it to.

But under current Ofcom guidelines it wouldn’t be allowed on a news broadcast because of it’s promotional slant, and many other videos on their website fall into this category.

For this reason Jeremy Hunt’s got more issues to think through than he initially envisaged.

Another example is the Yorkshire Post.

Again, it’s not rocket science to produce something like this. And, with it not being time-specific (i.e. not needing to be broadcast on the same day it was filmed), it lends itself perfectly for local TV news.

But is it interesting enough? And on a station covering a larger area would it make the editorial cut? Probably not.

It’s hard, then, to disagree with Mr MacKenzie.

Modern Media’s Multitask Task

By Alex Dibble

Doing the broadcast splits is too big a stretch for some

Traditional news media’s being forced to branch out. As the amount of news content consumed online increases, both newspapers and television news departments are adapting and taking their material onto a new stage.

The problem for newspapers is they’re having to do something that wasn’t in their job description until ten years ago – producing video for their websites.

But if a major demand of the internet viewer is video content surely TV channels are laughing when it comes to online supplements?

Not so.

The problem for TV is similar, yet (crucially) different. Channel 4 and ITV have, like the rest, produced news websites to accompany their television output.

But ITV News doesn’t have a huge budget – it’s around the £35m mark. That pot used to fund just its TV service, but now has to pay for the website as well.

It’s not a big surprise, then, that the ITV News website is relatively poor. More than this, the website’s video content is lifted straight from the main television broadcasts. In the process of transferring news from one medium to another, nothing changes in the way it’s presented.

Contrast that to the BBC, who’s budget’s in another stratosphere. Not only is their news website vast, it offers an alternative method for viewers to consume content – it’s not just a re-hash of BBC News at 6, for example .

Stories (almost always) appear in written form (despite the fact that the BBC has never been a newspaper), and these articles are supplemented with video (Paul Bradshaw calls this the ‘Daily Prophet approach‘ after the newspaper in Harry Potter).

The two aspects combine to produce a news experience that reflects the unique demands of the internet as a new medium.

Channel 4’s online offering seems to find some sort of middle ground. No editing’s done on TV packages before they’re uploaded, but video’s still accessorised with written content.

Expert Opinion

VJO asked award winning video journalist David Dunkley Gyimah why the multitask task is proving such a challenge.

“The relationship between video content and online news output is such a recent development that broadcast media are learning an awful lot very quickly.”

For Gyimah though, the key is maneuverability:

“You want to watch news, get directed to somewhere else that contextualises what you’ve just seen, and then come back.”

“The nearest thing we’re getting to this at the moment is PBS in the States. They imbed video in a way that facilitates wider consumption.”

Organisations like ITV literally can’t afford to experiment in this field – their funding is to produce television.

The “newbies”, as Gyimah calls them, can play with the platform because that’s the market they’ve entered. Their principle objective is to master it.

Paul Bradshaw agrees, and offers Rocketboom as an example of how it looks in practice. A new kid on the block can grapple with online video journalism without the baggage of a print or broadcast history.

Censorship Kills the Video Star

photo courtesy of graciolli, via Flickr

By Alex Dibble

Recent revolutions reveal the danger posed to authorities of citizen journalism finding its way online.

The issue of internet censorship’s been thrust once again into the limelight. As thousands of Egyptians take to the streets in protest against President Hosni Mubarak the authorities have taken special care to restrict communications.

Al Jazeera have been ordered to stop broadasting, and web access has been severely stunted. Internet monitoring organisation Renesys have reported that all routes to Egyptian networks have been withdrawn.

It’s not the first time such an action’s happened. In Iran, for example, the regime implemented an extensive filtering operation at the time of Mahmoud Ahmedinejad’s disputed presidential election victory in 2009.

Disabling communication is the primary motive in these cases, as much of the protests are organised via the web.

But there’s a second advantage – removing the ability to easily upload video footage.

On December 9th 2010 thousands of students took to the streets of London as MPs debated whether to raise the tuition fee cap to £9,000. As the scenes got ugly, one protester filmed policemen tipping a teenager from his wheelchair and dragging him across the street.

The footage was uploaded onto YouTube, made the national press and provoked widespread condemnation of the police officers involved.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) later said it would oversee an investigation. The footage also led to further protests against the use of violence by police.

With criticism of the authorities abounding, it’s easy to see why the Egyptian government would like to prevent those on the streets of Cairo, Alexandria and Suez from accessing the internet.