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.

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Follow The Money

the FT

Financial newspapers are investing in online video journalism (Emily Craig)

By Emily Craig

It’s becoming more and more evident that the big broadcasters and their alter-egos, the solo vloggers, aren’t the only ones investing time and money in online video content. Many in the media have noticed that newspapers such as The Guardian and the New York Times have been building increasingly sophisticated multimedia platforms over the past few years. But there’s now a new player in the market as the financial dailies get involved in creating and sharing video content.

So why are financial newspapers in a category of their own? Why is their interest in online video journalism more surprising?

This question can, perversely, be answered with a question – would we expect video journalism to add anything to business reportage? For a medium that relies on creating a visual impact, how it is that footage of brokers and traders staring at computer screens in strip-lit offices has the potential to make an interesting or arresting piece of video journalism?

Admittedly, the likes of the Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times do not confine themselves to only reporting financial news, but it’s certainly the main focus (and the most profitable part) of their output.

Now the websites of both newspapers are experimenting with the video format – and, apparently, making money out of it too. Perhaps crucially, each newspaper’s website is ring-fenced by a paywall. Their readers are paying for expert information, be it stock tips or expert analysis of the market.

And this means that their video journalism doesn’t have to be ground-breaking or particularly original – they have a captive audience, who come to their website for niche or ‘exclusive’ content, regardless of the form in which it is delivered.

But how exactly have these newspapers made a success out of the online video format? The Wall Street Journal now has 10 million streams per month of its latest videos, with more than 20 people working to produce up to 5 videos per day. Each video is bracketed by an advertisement, normally of about 15 seconds. The ‘shows’ normally come in at under 10 minutes, with some less than a minute in length, and all of them are filmed live.

We’re not talking cable television production values. Against a prosaic corporate-HQ-type backdrop, we hear live from correspondents in the newspaper’s other bureaus (another corporate-HQ-type backdrop…). Any newsworthy footage is usually provided by an agency like Associated Press or Reuters, with stills also used as wallpaper for a voicer from one of the newspaper’s journalists.

So far, not so inventive. But the style of the video ‘broadcasts’ has been compared to that of the cable TV bulletin in the US. With American networks continuing to produce programs that are more opinion-focused and less news-based, the Wall Street Journal could be onto something with its daily briefings at 8.30am and 4pm.

Video journalism online could also be a new source of commercial revenue. Advertisers are willing to pay more for a premium video slot once they’ve seen the impressive CPM (cost per thousand impressions) figures. It might even be that journalism is following the money, rather than the other way around – although that’s a difficult one to prove.

In contrast to the Wall Street Journal’s bulletin-style analysis, the Financial Times is not looking to reproduce an existing TV format. This arguably means it can afford to be a little more creative with its video output, since it’s looking to produce stand-alone ‘complimentary’ features.

However, for both newspapers at this stage, you’re left with the impression that filming a conference or interviewing a talking head is their idea of video journalism. Neither newspaper has been driven to experiment with video as a way of widening its audience or broadening its appeal.

There’s no critical need for either of these publications to be creative with presentation when they can afford to rely on the nature of their content to attract subscribers.

But, having been offered the chance to boost commercial revenue on the cheap, it’s hardly surprising that these newspapers are capable of identifying a shrewd investment. They’ve woken up to the trend, and it seems like they’re cashing in on it.

I Came, I Saw, I Watched Again Online

screenshot coursety of Bloomberg website

Broadcast media focus their main efforts on live broadcasts but the role of video is growing.

Consider calling a correspondent in rural Bangladesh – normally France 24’s reporter would appear via a videophone link.  What about making contact with a person affected by, for example, flooding in Australia? Sky News simply used Skype and conducted a video call with a local journalist. These two examples show how video is an indispensable tool to connect with faraway contacts during live broadcasts.

All major television channels’ homepages now have a separate section dedicated to video. There are many reasons for this: to facilitate visitors to the site looking purely for video; to showcase specific clips from previous broadcast content; and to offer users extra video content that may not have been broadcast or seen, for example extended highlights of an interview of which only a short excerpt was used on TV.

Users love watching content but the nature of today’s working environment means that few have the time to sit down and consume TV for long periods of time. This is one of the reasons networks have regular updates and repeat headlines (albeit edited and re-written) – the audience changes every half-hour. On the way to work, on the train or the bus, those users who watched TV news for 30 minutes with their breakfast can watch a longer video package on the mobile versions of channels’ websites.

photo courtesy of Sky News website

And when they are back at a computer they can return either to watching a live stream of the channel itself or shorter videos on specific items from the homepage.

Video has immediacy about it and the broadcast media appreciate that because, after all, their business is based on breaking news, constant updates and beating rivals to scoops the minute they occur. Two or three-minute updates in video format are popular with the BBC and Sky, offering users the news quickly without having to scroll through lots of different pages or watch an entire televised bulletin.

Finally, the fact that users can upload their own content adds a feeling of interactivity and openness that shows the public that they can create the news as well – not just watch it. And if they miss it, they can watch the news again and again (and their own clips) through the video portals on the channels websites.