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.

VJO chats to… Broadcast Magazine’s Michael Rosser

Michael Rosser (Courtesy of BroadcastNow.co.uk)

By Toby Coaker

This week VJO spoke to Michael Rosser – Web Editor at ‘Broadcast’ magazine. Michael holds responsibility for the operation of Broadcastnow.co.uk, managing the daily news content and overall strategy for the site. He has been in the job since 2007.

Trying to paint the ‘big picture’ of VJO, we asked him the key questions:

Michael, how well are broadcast institutions making use of online video journalism?

The BBC are leading the way with this as always. All you have to do is look at how they’ve approached the recent earthquake in Japan – on the web page you’ve been able to find the latest  reports, interviews and other video from the ground. They’ve also been running a live stream as well as their news channel. I think this combination of streaming what is being broadcast digitally via cable and satellite, as well as furnishing users with pre-packaged reports – that is why the BBC is the strongest. ITV – not so much. Something they have significant problems with is ITV Player, where they have still got technical speed bumps to overcome there. All you have to do is go on Twitter and type in ITV Player and you’d find an absolute litany of complaints and criticism for this piece of technology. As devices such as iphones and ipads become more widely used, video online from major broadcasters is going to become increasingly important – it’s just a natural progression – but, again, it’s clearly the BBC that are leading the way with this.

How much does citizen journalism fit in to the online broadcasting market?

Hugely. I think that in general it’s going to be professionally produced content that will find it’s way on to major broadcast news sites. But for major incidents, citizen journalism has become an increasingly useful tool – from the 7/7 bombings, when citizen video journalism came to the fore for the first time, to again what we’re seeing in Japan with people shooting the most significant raw footage, because they are there first. This can be packaged together professionally with a voiceover. A combination of the two provides the most compelling footage.

Are these new forms of online video journalism a threat to the big broadcasting corporations?

At the moment, there is no significant threat to the major news organisations. It’s fair to say that, as technology improves so that anybody can have a camera that can shoot HD footage, and as people become savvier to how you shoot and present this sort of footage then, sure, there is an emerging sub-culture of video news outside of the major organisations. But traditional broadcasters have the resource to be able to cover everything. It’s the big boys that have got seemingly bottomless pockets; that can send their journalists around the world; that can buy in the library footage; that can attend the court cases or the inquests… They also have the proper training, the proper skills. It’s very easy to look unprofessional on camera. Just one tiny slip and that completely negates your professionalism. You only have to look at how a major news broadcaster could slip up on one shot and suddenly its all over youtube and everyone’s tweeted about it. Citizen journalism provides a service, but a cheap one in comparison.

Is the trend for online multi-platform journalism diminishing the role of broadcasters?

News brands have to move towards a multi-platform approach as print continues to decline. And they have done. While its not at a level that an organisation like the BBC can provide, it is at a strong level. But, for something like The Telegraph or The Times, their core product remains the newspaper. Times are changing and who knows how things will change. Yet do I think that Telegraph TV will eventually provide a rival service to BBC News? No. What The Telegrah’s core offering could be, going forward, is the Internet. It’s a newspaper still, its a source of news. But thinking about PDAs and apps… these could become the primary way in which their content is consumed.

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?

And the award goes to…Citizen Journalism

CNN iReport’s Lila King announces the winners of the first-ever CNN iReport Awards

By Chris Creegan

Yesterday’s inaugural CNN iReport Awards show how far mainstream news organisations have come in embracing citizen journalism as a source of online video content.

Launched in August 2006, CNN iReport is an initiative that encourages people around the world to act as reporters, covering events via mobile or digital camera and sending in their footage.

CNN saw the value in such a system after both the 2004 Indian Ocean Earthquake and the 7/7 Bombings in London in 2005. The power of citizen journalism became clear, with people at the scene able to obtain key pictures and video before mainstream news even gatherers arrived.

And so, fast-forward five years. Technology has improved and now it is increasingly easy to become a makeshift reporter.

Here are the winners from the video section of the CNN’s first iReport awards, and their footage highlights the ever-increasing potential of citizen video journalism.

Breaking news: Michael Roberts (Early images of Deepwater Horizon fire)

Original reporting: Percy von Lipinski (Bison as pet)

Interview: Tristan Macaraeg (16-year-old interviews classmate on living in foster care)

Community Choice Award: Samantha Bolton (Clearing cluster bombs on the Ho Chi Minh Trail)

The variety of stories, the quality of video and the diversity of contributors involved all highlight just how much citizen journalism has developed in the past five years.

As it becomes easier and easier to capture and upload high quality video, more avenues for original journalism like this will open up.

It is refreshing to see these citizen journalists getting the credit that their work deserves. We are living in an era where much of our news is sourced in this manner, and so broadcasters could stand to benefit by following in the footsteps of CNN and recognising this fact.

The battle for Zawiyah – professional journalism trumping online video content

By Phil Georgiadis

Many of the posts on this blog have been looking at how powerful user generated videos have been at documenting the unrest throughout the Arab world.

Clearly, the power of social media offers a glimpse into events which otherwise would go undocumented, as mobile phones and digital cameras become powerful tools at offering the outside world glimpses of events.

But some of the professional journalism which we have been watching throughout the unrest has highlighted the flaws in citizen video journalism.

Youtube clips of demonstrations and atrocities do not offer a coherent picture- instead they are snapshots into events, often presenting a dislocated narrative which it is hard to form a clear picture through.

Recently, Sky News has been showing a report by its mulit-award winning Asia correspondent Alex Crawford, which documents the battle for the Libyan town of Zawiyah with extraordinary clarity and power.

If you haven’t yet watched it I recommend you click on the video below- it is a brave and compelling piece of journalism.

Most importantly, this is a rare opportunity to gain a full idea of what was happening on the ground. Instead of snatches of footage from the protestors, this is a linear narrative of a full weekend in the town, as it came under relentless assault from pro-Gaddafi forces.

The fact that it is also presented from a personal perspective, the first person narrative is particularly striking, adds both to the coherency, and also verifiability of the piece.

Crawford is a trusted journalist, we know when watching the report that isolated incidents are not being hyped upped- it is instead a sober and realistic view into life under assault in Libya.

It is a staggering piece of journalism, and although online video content delivered via social media has essentially been the heartbeat of media coverage of regime crackdowns in the Middle East, this report should make us all take stock, step back, and remember that on the rare occasion that it is possible- professional journalism from the scene remains the most powerful way of reporting global news events.

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.

The Libyan Dilemma

By Chris Creegan

Why citizen video journalism will play a far greater role in Libya than in Egypt

Citizen video journalism has been useful in providing us with information during the recent uprisings in the Middle East. With Egypt in particular, it has supplemented the reports of mainstream news media organisations around the world.

Now, however, attention has shifted to the protests in Libya. This African nation is very different from neighbouring Egypt, and it poses far greater challenges when it comes to reporting.

Crucially, Egypt allowed Western journalists significant access to the country. Even those that reported from the safety of their hotel balconies were able to cover the uprising with a degree of detail.

Libya, on the other hand, does not permit foreign journalists within its borders. It also appears to be clamping down on citizens who attempt to relay information with greater force than we saw in Egypt.

Added to this, the country’s internet has effectively been shut down. Libya is truly cut off from the rest of the world.

News organisations have therefore had to rely solely on the eyewitness accounts of a small number of Libyan citizens for information. ‘Unconfirmed reports’ and inflated death tolls have become an inevitability.

The lack of reliable, newsworthy information coming from the ground in Libya means that citizen video journalism is more important than ever before.

Whilst anti-Kaddafi protesters may report distorted numbers of those who have died, there is at least an assurance of accuracy with the old adage “the camera doesn’t lie.”

Footage shot by Libyan citizens on camera phones has been making its way onto the internet over the past few days, despite the attempts of Colonel Kaddafi’s regime to limit communication with the outside world.

This footage, secured by ITN, appears to show members of Libya’s security forces opening fire on crowds of protesters.

Whilst the reporter points out that it cannot be independently verified, the amateur video provides some of the best (and only) picture evidence of what is happening in the country.

As the situation develops, footage like this will continue to play a vital role in telling us the story of Libya.

Without it, we are completely in the dark as to what is happening in the country.