“A fantastic tool for telling really short stories” – Tom Chown

By Umar Farooq

Last week, I met up with Tom Chown (@DigiTomTV), a BBC-trained freelance video journalist with 13 years of experience in the industry. Tom’s career is a great story in itself which has seen him spend 5 years at the BBC, before working on an Online TV channel (Ten Alps IPTV) and freelancing for several news agencies (PA, AFP). He’s even traveled to the North Pole to produce a series of features for BBC News 24 (beat that!).

Tom’s observations are fascinating because he started out back in the early 2000’s, a time when the internet was reletively new. Since then, he has seen it develop and utilised it as a powerful tool for video journalists. He is, in his own description, a “self-shooting journalist” and looking at his work, a pretty good one. Here’s the interview.

A quote that stands out from the from Tom is his description of video journalism online as “a fantastic tool for telling really short stories.” I think the key word is ‘short’ and Tom is spot on in his elaboration that “people are searching for short bite-size bits of content.” These words reflect the biggest advantage of video journalism online, flexibility, allowing producers and broadcasters to create content solely for the ‘online’ audience.

There are, in my view, two ways in which content is being made for a definitive audience.

All in all, the web is great for implementing the classic business model of “doing more with less” and for any enthusiastic video journalist, it’s a brilliant platform to build a profile. Tom Chown’s wise words highlight the impact of the web on video journalism. It’s all about flexibility and opportunities.

* The links in this post can be accessed and shared on the VJO delicious page.

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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.