The future of video journalism online (Part 1)

By VideoJournalismOnline

What’s in store for online video journalism? It’s a question we’ve had in mind as we’ve researched and written about the topic.

So here Alex Dibble asks Ross Cullen, Emily Craig and Toby Coaker for their predictions about the future of VJO:

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Non-Citizen Journalists

By Emily Craig

A US government press conference - the type of event to which only a professional journalist can gain access (Creative Commons licence)

The term ‘citizen journalist’ has become part of the media lexicon. Citizen journalists are those non-professional people out on the street who report information. And many of their reports are in video form, with their footage then uploaded online. ‘You might not be inclined to trust me’, they may as well be saying, ‘but you can see for yourself what’s going on’.

These journalists specialise in showing us what other professional journalists haven’t seen, many of whom are constrained in how they can practice their trade. Whether it’s a case of filling in a 40 page employee risk assessment or compromising on a story to maintain a working relationship with a press office, the professional journalist is not always a free agent. As Channel 4 reporter Jonathan Miller describes, officially-registered journalists are often corralled into attending dull press conferences or herded en masse to staged events. Meanwhile the real story, the news, is happening somewhere else out of sight.

That’s often the time when citizen journalists, with light equipment and local contacts, can get on with their reporting. At the very least, they’re more likely to be in the right place at the right time – and not on the coach tour. In such circumstances (a conflict zone, a foreign country, a remote or closed community), the local, citizen journalist probably has contacts that the professional journalist lacks.

So is the professional journalist a dinosaur doomed to extinction? There are scenarios when citizen journalists are able to showcase the best of their work and, by comparison, the professionals appear lost. But whilst at one level we are witnessing the ‘democratisation’ of journalism, many of the events reported as news are closed off to citizen journalists. A press pass means that you’re a member of an exclusive club – and big events like a national political debate or an entertainment awards ceremony are members-only. In these situations, citizen journalists find themselves ‘disenfranchised’.

Broadcasters are confident that by default they own the monopoly rights to sports and entertainment video journalism and the huge commercial investment that accompanies it. A broadcaster can guarantee stars and sponsors high-quality footage and maximum viewers. What is more, only a professional journalist will be cleared by security. The same broadcasters and agencies are then able to share their videos socially on internet sites like YouTube and UStream where citizen journalists also go to upload content.

For national politics, sport and entertainment, there are different rules for video journalism in comparison to other forms of online media. Anyone can sit at home and live-blog whilst watching a political conference or a football game on the television, but video requires someone to be there on the ground and in sight of what’s happening. The superbowl, the Oscars, the UK political leaders’ debates – people want expert footage of these events, with slow-mo replays or reaction shots. This kind of occasion calls for (more) expensive equipment and a team of journalists to film different angles on the shoot. There’s not much point hanging around at the back door or lingering on the sidelines.

So the big broadcasting beasts are getting social. They’ve paired up with the likes of YouTube for the Oscars and the US political debates. What’s a citizen journalist to do? There’s always ‘the alternative view’ – not from inside the tent, but outside it. A search for ‘political debate’ on video-sharing website Vimeo offers a variety of spoof takes on the format. And there’s always the need for analysis and interpretation…

At the moment, it looks like video journalism is not quite the democracy it might appear to be.

Next Generation Journalism?

By Emily Craig

First generation phone technology? (Creative Commons licence)

At the beginning of this week, the UK communications regulator Ofcom announced that it would be auctioning off sections of the 4G mobile phone spectrum in 2012. Most mobile phones currently operate using third generation or ‘3G’ technology, allowing users to check their emails and surf the Internet. But it’s easy to become frustrated – 3G coverage is patchy and websites frequently drop their connections. Streaming or uploading video on a 3G phone is a particularly thankless task. So will the new 4G technology liberate video journalists?

When 4G mobile phones arrive on the scene next year, networks will be able to offer an Internet connection that is 25 times faster than the average home broadband. In the US and Germany, the 4G spectrum has already been divided up and the development of next generation phones is continuing apace. The iPhone 4, which boasts two separate cameras, allows you to shoot video in HD at up to 30 frames per second.

So what will next generation technology mean for video journalism? There is certainly the potential for more quality footage to appear online, in the sense that we’ll be looking at higher resolution films. However, it’s less clear what the impact will be on the content of video journalism. In theory, more people will be able to shoot and upload their own videos and it will be easier to live-stream. But will new gadgetry necessarily produce better video journalism?

At one level, it would not be surprising if 4G technology enabled the proliferation of citizen journalism in the UK. Yet citizen journalism is a phenomenon that’s been celebrated most fervently for the role it’s played in the Arab Spring. Would 4G technology make a difference to citizen journalism in these places?

For a start, there’s no sign of 4G technology being introduced in countries like Egypt or Libya. But, even if it did exist, what would be the use of owning a phone capable of uploading HD video if the authorities succeed in blocking access to the Internet (as has happened across the Middle East)? Furthermore, is it logical to expect a country without a free press to be eager to develop 4G technology?

British newspaper journalists observing the Egyptian uprising earlier this year described (not without nostalgia) how they were forced to dictate their articles via satellite phone. When the Internet is down, broadcast journalists can send back their footage via satellite. By contrast, citizen journalists without professional tech support can find themselves in a position where they can’t share what they’ve seen and heard.

There are 5.3 billion mobile phone users in the world and 90% of the global population is in range of a mobile network. But as more countries develop their 4G capabilities, there’s a danger of assuming that improved communications technology will inevitably result in ‘improved’ journalism.

4G technology could enable more varied, more interesting and more immediate video journalism. But occasionally technology fails or is sabotaged – and when it does, it’s important the journalism doesn’t disappear with it. Sometimes there can be no substitute for a professional journalist with a camera.

Monetising The Market


A graphic demonstrating the growth in the video journalism online market (Creative Commons licence)

By Emily Craig

The Internet has opened up huge opportunities for journalism, but it has also exploded our understanding of what journalism is. Now print editors and broadcasters alike are trying to figure out how they can monetise their online operation. The problem? How to get people to pay for what they have up till now been enjoying for free. Advertising is one way of making money. So the question is – can video journalism pay for itself and, beyond that, even turn a profit?

Ad revenue has yet to exploit the online video market

Video journalism of all different types is attracting people online, but it appears that advertisers are not yet willing to bank on it. This means – as a general rule – that online advertising is currently cheaper than the print equivalent.

To put it another way: advertisers don’t yet want to abandon the full-page ad in the national daily for a banner ad around the edge of a video; at least, they’re not going to choose the latter in place of the former. This is despite the fact that it’s much cheaper to advertise online – it’s tens of pounds for an online newspaper ad and thousands of pounds for a print equivalent.

In a discussion about the future of newspapers on Newsnight last month, Alan Rusbridger, editor of The Guardian, claimed that video is becoming more and more important to newspapers. But he also said that the newspaper’s print edition (with a circulation of approximately 270 000) brings in more advertising revenue than guardian.co.uk (boasting more than 2, 250,000 daily users). For broadcasters and newspapers alike, there is still more ad revenue in the ‘old’ media.

But as more and more people opt to visit a newspaper’s website instead of buying its print edition and as the number of online news outlets increases, advertisers might express greater interest. In fact, video journalism presents advertisers with a particular opportunity. Whilst it’s easier for someone reading a website article to scroll past advertising, video can offer advertisers a better chance of securing a captive audience. A pre-roll video advertisement, screened before a video, can’t be skipped. Alternatively, adverts can be embedded around a video – so-called banner ads – and the viewer can’t avoid these adverts without the video disappearing from view.

YouTube earns most of its advertising revenue via these display banners and it claims that 35% of its visitors have purchased something they’ve seen advertised on the site. The likes of YouTube and Ustream also allow their video producers to sell ads around their content.

Video advertising is not without its risks. As Ashkan Karbasfrooshen, who set up video entertainment website WatchMojo, explains, ‘when it comes to ad-supported models, marketers will never feel 100% comfortable advertising alongside user-generated content’. 50% of YouTube videos have been commented on – and nobody seems to be defending the standard of contributions.

So the idea is that advertisers want professional content. And whilst most of YouTube’s videos don’t fit this description, the business of professional journalism is in a position to benefit. The more that newspapers and broadcasters spend on producing interesting, informative and entertaining video content, the more likely it is that advertisers will want to target their audience.

The New York Times offers advertisers the chance to sponsor its ‘latest and most newsworthy’ online videos. Perhaps most importantly, one advertiser is guaranteed 100% SOV (Share of Voice) so their advert will be the only one to appear in front of the viewer. The advertiser’s monthly sponsorship includes a 15 second pre-roll video advert before the  first and fourth videos on nytimes.com. They’re required to produce more than one version of an advert, so the same adverts will not appear back to back.

With this approach The New York Times recognises that its online readers do not expect to be exposed to a barrage of competing adverts when they view video content. But in this case, less can mean more. With fewer adverts, there is less danger of the viewer becoming bored and distracted. The thinking is that the discerning consumer of high-quality video content is a potentially valuable customer – the typical NYT reader is educated, well-travelled and wealthy. A case in point, the car company Jaguar is currently providing adverts for video.nytimes.com.

Newspapers and broadcasters are in a strong position to monetise online video, as long as advertisers are assured that they’re attaching their brand to professional content. But at a time when most newspapers (and some broadcasters) are facing an uncertain future, crippled by financial losses, how many will take the risk and spend money to make money?

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.

Watch What’s Happening

By Emily Craig

More and more people are directly streaming their own video online. Not all of it’s journalism in the traditional sense, but some of it is – by design and by chance.

Citizen journalists (and in some cases ‘people in the street’ would be a better way of describing them) are going out armed with nothing more than a mobile phone and with this technology they’re streaming content for others to consume. The Guardian’s website, announcing the fall of Egypt’s President Mubarak in live time, embedded on its homepage a Ustream video of the protests in Tahrir Square.

This type of reporting requires planning – establishing contact with someone on the ground in preparation – but it means a newspaper can play at being a rolling news provider. The Guardian’s Ustream channel has attracted more than 1 million viewers in the 2 months since it was set up.

Ustream describes itself as an ‘interactive broadcast platform’ that ‘enables anyone with an internet connection and a camera to engage their audience in a meaningful, immediate way’. Minus the PR speak, it’s a Californian dotcom company that allows people to stream video content live on their own channel. With the proliferation of 3G phones, websites like UStream are capitalising on the number of people uploading and consuming video content.

Qik.com, justin.tv and YouTube all offer a similar service. Justin.tv sees 300 million visitors per month. Rival Ustream has 2,000,000 registered users and 5 times as many unique hits so it’s hardly surprising that it now wants to expand into the Asian market with the help of a Japanese investor.

Some of these streamed videos could be described as journalism in the old-school sense. For instance, Ustream provided coverage of certain debates in the 2008 US Presidential elections. But a lot of these videos are socially valuable, rather than newsworthy; in other words, you might think you’ve arrived at a social media site rather than a news portal.

But, crucially, can a website be both? The likes of Ustream and justin.tv are undoubtedly democratic in their approach. People, rather than television networks, decide what’s popular and what’s worthy of being shared (although users can opt to share their videos privately with a select group).

All these video streaming sites emphasise the importance of allowing people to ‘engage’ in a ‘social’ way by sharing video. But with the quality of video content varying widely, will the best videos be the most popular and the most shared?

It’s difficult for Ustream to argue that its service is ‘all about premium content’ when there’s no editorial processes at work. And it’s important to remember that people are streaming their videos live – they’re not editing their footage . This can make for raw immediacy or CCTV-type wallpaper.

In the words of qik.com, ‘Interesting moments can happen anywhere’. The challenge for these video streamers is to be in the right place at the right time.

Co-Operation Or Competition?

By Emily Craig

Press journalists are being forced to adapt to the new media environment and now they’re almost as likely to be dispatched on a video assignment as to be penning copy at their desks.

We’ve talked previously about how UK newspapers – even local ones – are increasingly using video to attract, or at least retain, their readers. And, as the price of video equipment continues to fall sharply, it’s now far cheaper for newspapers to cut and shoot more of their own video.

But how does a press journalist become a video journalist? After all, whilst some newspapers want (and, crucially, have the money) to recruit experts from the field, many are relying on their staffers to create video pieces. At a time when editors are seeing their budgets slashed, most of these newsroom journalists are now expected to go out, get the story, write it up for the print and online editions whilst also, on top of it all, shooting and editing a video feature for the website. And they’re probably doing all of this for more or less the same pay.

But who is training these newspaper journalists to film and edit video content? Are there enough people out there with the expertise? And how is that expertise being shared?

There’s one fact that answers a lot of these questions and it is this: it’s becoming more and more difficult for journalists to get staffer jobs. And, if you’re a freelancer, you’ve got to do all you can to show you can provide content for different platforms – and that includes video. It’s surely no coincidence that all the Frontline Club’s training courses currently being advertised focus on helping journalists master video techniques and Final Cut Pro editing software.

A video screening at the Frontline Club in London (Creative Commons)

These Frontline Club courses will set you back £125/day or £650/5 days (on average). A 5 day video journalism course at the European Journalism Centre costs most than £1000 (at the time of writing). Some lucky journalists (maybe those on staff jobs) will have their costs covered, but freelancers will be funding their self-improvement out of their own pockets. The message? Adapt or die.

So at some level the industry recognises that journalists need to be (re-)trained. But, according to several high-profile journalists who work in both print and video, the training on offer is normally too limited. And this means the quality of the video journalism on most newspaper websites is, in fact, quite poor. A lot of the best stuff is, perhaps unsurprisingly, the work of American journalists (more on that at a later date).

In an article for the American Journalism Review, Charles Layton sums up the situation: “The bulk of online news video occupies a broad, gray middle ground in terms of quality, as the industry stumbles toward a goal it cannot yet quite perceive or articulate.”

However, help is at hand with the likes of findingtheframe.com. This website describes itself as “a gathering spot where multimedia journalists can receive feedback on their videos, audio slideshows and multimedia projects from industry professionals and fellow visual journalists”.

Through initiatives like this, the experts are sharing their wisdom. Perhaps it’s less a case of Darwinism in action (different species of journalists competing for survival) and more a case of journalists of all kinds collaborating. After all, in this unfamiliar and continually evolving technological landscape, no group is guaranteed survival.