On the Move Online

By Ross Cullen

The future of video in online journalism should be secure if journalists look to the developing world.

I recently attended a panel discussion on ‘Latin America and the British Press’ at Canning House. The panellists agreed on four significant points:

1) Newspaper readership in the UK is falling

2) UK newspaper coverage of Latin America is falling

3) Views of online versions of newspapers (with their video content that is obviously missing from the print copies) were growing, both in Latin America and the UK.

4) Radio audiences are also dropping; it was noted that the BBC had recently ceased its Spanish-language radio broadcasts for the region.

These problems afflict both the UK and overseas and I suggested one way news providers could adapt to the changing journalistic environment was by exploring the world of online video. There is no doubt that the biggest growth area in journalism is online and of that online content, it is the moving, interactive items that will engage the future generations.

In the UK, but especially in developing countries such as those in Latin America, South East Asia and some parts of Africa, the young are mobile in two important senses.

Firstly, the use of mobile phones in emerging economies is increasing, particularly smartphones, which offer users the chance to surf the web and also carry video-capturing and video-viewing capabilities.

Secondly, the young are on the move. They travel more than their parents and they are connected in a totally different way from how previous generations were. They maintain international links through their mobile phones and social media sites. They Skype; they send picture text-messages; they share and discuss videos online.

If news providers in the UK and in these developing regions want to hold onto their consumers, then they need to follow them online, and they need to do so with video content that will engage a new generation in the medium.

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The Skype’s the Limit

News organisations around the world make use of Skype to talk to people in Japan

By Chris Creegan

After the devastating earthquake that hit Japan last week, news broadcasters are turning to Skype to get in touch with those that have been affected. But is this increasingly popular interview format limited by the very technology it uses?

We saw it in Haiti and now we’re seeing it in Japan. In the aftermath of events that touch the lives of many, Skype becomes a useful weapon in the news broadcaster’s arsenal.

Unlike a simple phone-in, Skype provides a live video feed where we can actually see the talker. It brings an enhanced level of intimacy that changes the way we relate to them.

These people are no longer a distant, disconnected voice at the end of a phone line, thousands of miles away. It brings their story to life and enhances the human interest element of the incident being covered.

And, perhaps most important, Skype is easily accessable. The technology behind it is very user-friendly. All you need is a decent broadband connection and a webcam – the latter of which comes built-in to the majority of modern laptops.

Little technical expertise or financial investment is needed to set up a Skype interview. The calls themselves are free computer-to-computer, and only 2p a minute to a landline or mobile.

And this low-cost factor is crucial to the news broadcasters too. When resources are stretched, having a direct video link to the interviewee negates the need for an on-location reporter. In a way, it allows the citizen to do the reporting themselves.

Of course, Skype does have its drawbacks too.

Ultimately, interviewing people this way doesn’t provide the same diverse cross-section of the population as a simple, randomly selected vox-pop. Skype may boast more than 700 million users, but the majority of these fall into the same age categories and socio-economic groups. Most users are middle-to-high income earners between the ages of 20 and 55.

Providing balance is vital to solid journalism, and interviewing people in this medium only gives voice to a narrow spectrum of the population. It alienates those who are not comfortable with the technology, or those who simply cannot afford it. In essence, Skype can only ever really give us access to the views of a minority.

Another disadvantage is that the people being spoken to are generally not directly affected by the incident themselves. The very fact that they are able to sit in the comfort of their homes and chat to a foreign news provider suggests their situation isn’t representative of the suffering that is a major element of the story. They are not quite at the heart of the incident.

Overall, Skype has its positive uses to news broadcasters. When resources become stretched it can provide a cheap, quick and direct link to the ‘people on the ground’. In such cases it becomes a great example of how online video can supplement good journalism.

However, it should be used sparingly and only when the person being ‘Skyped’ has something truly insightful or newsworthy to say. Broadcasters have to avoid over-using it, particularly when it doesn’t add any extra value to the report.

You Chose the News- Skynews.com TV

By Phil Georgiadis

The blurring boundaries between TV news and online journalism- a new phenomenon which has only taken off in the past year or so? Maybe not.

Between 2007 and 2010 Sky News aired a half hour long evening programme called ‘SkyNews.com’, presented by the brilliant Martin Stanford, which brought the web’s agenda onto our TV’s for the first time.

As the channel proudly proclaimed, it was a groundbreaking programme, which ‘set out to change the shape of television news by integrating the web and TV’. Sky and Stanford realised that web content worked well on TV, and also that streaming TV content online offered access to a wider audience.

It won a prestigious Royal Television Society gong in 2008 for innovation, with the judges praising it because “it lets the public rather than the news editor set the agenda.”

Well before it was the accepted norm for channels to stream their content live online it simulcast on TV and on the Web, and even offered exclusive content for web viewers while the main TV channel was off on advert breaks.

The show would track topics which were ‘trending’ across the web, and offer a rundown of the day’s viral videos, taken from sites such as Youtube. It also took a serious journalistic interest in the internet, and how it was increasingly shaping the news agenda.

It created a ‘user-generated agenda’ well ahead of its time, and is missed.

Take a look at the clips below to get an idea of how the show worked:

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.