Live event blogging: when text and video come together

screenshot courtesy of guardian.co.uk

By Phil Georgiadis

Live event blogging was originally conceived as  a substitute for video coverage- a way of keeping web users up to date in the absence of any pictures.

It started in the mainstream sphere through sports coverage- a chance for people in the office or without Sky to access some form of coverage.

Its success is clear- a simple look at the Guardian Sport website shows that whenever live sport ‘minute by minute’ coverage has been available on any given day, it invariably is one of the most read items. As you can see from the image (right) – today’s live coverage of the India vs Pakistan cricket World Cup match is the most viewed page in the sports section.

More recently the phenomenon has moved to news coverage. Staying with guardian.co.uk, they are currently running Middle East daily live blogs, as well as their regular politics live feed.

But, crucially, video content and live blogging do no have to exist entirely in separation; particularly in journalism, where holding the rights to various sports’ is not necessary to stream video content.

This screenshot from bbc.co.uk demonstrates how successfully text and video can be integrated into live event coverage

Here, text, graphics and tweets are used to augment video feeds from BBC World and the BBC News Channel, to add an extra dimension to the news coverage. Additional reports and viewer feedback further build on the video journalism.

Sky News’s ‘Live Plus’ service, available via skynews.com offers a less text rich service. Instead of a timeline of text updates for major events Sky tends to use tweets from their own journalists to build up a picture of the news to add to their video content.

As is visible from Sky’s screenshot, they also offer users the opportunity to ‘Chat’ via Facebook during political events- further incorporating social media into the experience.

It is clear, therefore, that the recent developments in the online coverage of live events have blurred the divide between traditional web journalism and live video content.

They exist not in separate spheres but instead in symbiosis- with each adding to the others’ strengths.

 


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.

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.

Read about it or watch it? An analysis of the BBC News website

By Chris Creegan

With over 14 million unique users a week, the BBC News website is one of the most popular online news sources in the world.

Amongst its many features, the website allows users to see which of its stories are most popular. A box at the bottom of the homepage shows the top 10 most read articles and the top 10 most watched videos (as well as the top five most shared stories).

At a time when there are so many major international stories unfolding (such as the Libyan uprising or the aftermath of the Japanese tsunami), I decided to take a snapshot of the BBC’s most popular stories and compare them.

Here are the most watched videos (left) and the most read stories (right) on the BBC News website, on Saturday the 19th of March 2011 at 13:49:

Even at first glance there is a noticeable difference in the make-up of these two lists. The leading story in both is different, with a Libyan story featuring in the number one slot in most viewed and a UK story featuring as number one in the most read.

This is not particularly surprising, considering the dramatic nature of the Libyan jet footage and the fact that the story about the death of the schoolgirl has no accompanying video footage at the time of writing.

However, when you start to look at the stories that both sections share, some interesting observations can be made. Take a look at this example:

Here, you can see that the story about Gaddafi’s forces attacking Benghazi is the second most read story on the BBC News website, and also appears fourth in most viewed section.

This implies that many users reading the story about Benghazi have then gone on to follow other links with video footage that supplements the Libyan coverage.

In this instance, it seems that online video journalism is supporting the written articles.

This next image emphasises the popularity of Libya-related stories in both sections:

Again, the fact that more than half of the most viewed stories focus on Libya supports the idea that those reading about Libya are going on to find out more through the medium of video.

But now look at the comic relief story, which also appears in both sections:

This story is almost equally as popular in both formats. Unlike the Libyan coverage, both links are receiving significant traffic, regardless of the medium of the news itself.

Next, have a look at the lack of Japan-related stories on the most viewed section.

Despite the fact that the third most read story on the BBC News website relates to the aftermath of the Japan earthquake, not many people are following the story through video.

This is interesting considering the vast amounts of footage on the BBC News website from Japan in recent days.

What this suggests is that whilst people are interested in reading about what is happening in Japan, they aren’t necessarily willing to pursue the story further through video.

A final observation to be taken from comparing these two lists is where the lighter stories feature. We can see in both the most read and most viewed sections that the celebrity-based or “fluff” stories feature significantly:

Interestingly, whilst the lighter stories make up just under half of the top 10 in both sections, they do all fall in the second half of the list.

What can be gleaned from this is that users will generally gravitate towards the more serious stories, regardless of whether the story is a written article or a video clip.

CONCLUSION

Whilst this is simply a glimpse of the most popular pages on the BBC News website at a single moment, it throws up some interesting ideas:

1)       That video journalism can work as an effective supplement to written articles.

2)      That what people like to watch doesn’t necessarily reflect what they like to read about (Japan example)

3)      That online video journalism is a popular format for a variety of types of news, whether this is hard news or ‘fluff’

In order to get a clearer picture of the relationship between the most watched and most read BBC News stories, the website would have to be monitored over a longer period.

However, what these images do help to illustrate is that the very format of the news (be it video or written word) can determine the actual stories we choose to follow.

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.

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.