The future of video journalism online (Part 1)

By VideoJournalismOnline

What’s in store for online video journalism? It’s a question we’ve had in mind as we’ve researched and written about the topic.

So here Alex Dibble asks Ross Cullen, Emily Craig and Toby Coaker for their predictions about the future of VJO:


Vlog on Vlogging

By Toby Coaker (Camera – Umar Farooq)

The vlog, vodcast, video blog… its an increasingly tamed beast. It’s also becoming more and more popular in the realm of online journalism. In this exclusive vodcast on vodcasting, I ask what exactly is video blogging, and what makes it stand out from conventional journalism:

Local News – The Future

screenshot courtesy of Ledger Live

We’re all familiar with a newspaper’s ‘comment’ section. Or, as some of them like to call it, their ‘opinion’.

These have been stalwarts of print journalism for many years. But, as Toby Coaker outlined for videojournalismonline back in January, The Times is the only UK based paper to transfer this type of journalism onto the web in video format.

In the States things are a bit different – one example of local political opinion transforming into online video is Ledger Live, from New Jersey’s The Star-Ledger.

Here Brian Donohue gives an often sarcastic/satirical take on the affairs of local government.

A good example is this not too complimentary assessment of Govenor Christie’s selective economic policy.

How does this relate to the UK?

Donohue’s producing something that doesn’t really exist in the UK, because national broadcasters (the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Sky) have to be impartial and national newspapers just haven’t got on board with the idea behind Ledger Live.

The Future

David Cameron’s been a champion of local government since his time in opposition.

As Prime Minister he’s devolving power and says he wants to create more vibrancy in local politics – to get people interested in the affairs of their local councils as part of his ‘Big Society’.

And Jeremy Hunt’s plans for local TV news slip nicely into line with this ideal.

But if the whole plan works and political activism flourishes once again in the boroughs and constituencies of the UK, you can bet that intense frustration will be kindled in the general public when it comes to local TV news.

Local output’s required to be impartial too. As a result Council failure won’t be reported with the angst needed to reflect the voters’ views.

In this political climate there’ll be an opportunity for partial ‘comment’ or ‘opinion’, and the websites of local newspapers will be the platform capable of supporting such a development.

Could they afford it?

On one hand it’s unhelpful to draw comparisons between state newspapers in the USA and their British ‘equivalents’ because New Jersey, for example, has a population of about 9 million and the Star-Ledger’s circulation is about 220,000.

Each UK constituency has an electorate about 66% smaller than the Star-Ledger’s readership, and local papers would reach dramatically less than that.

But print journalism’s suffering in the US in the same way it is here.

Sponsoring online video is now an option – adverts screened prior to the content beginning – and could bring in valuable revenue.

And if Ledger Live shows us something else about the future, it’s that you only need basic equipment to bring politics alive for the next media generation.

Here’s The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank proving this very point. Can you imagine a similar video poking fun at 4 or 5 candidates in Garston and Halewood?

The Writer and the Cameraman

The revolutionary commentator?

By Toby Coaker

The column or opinion piece is regarded as one of print journalism’s exclusive qualities. A commentator’s erudite ramblings distinguish his or her work from that of their fettered broadcast contemporaries.

What does Steve Richards (The Independent) do differently from, say, Adam Boulton (Sky News)? The freedom to challenge a decision, person or event, criticise, condemn, promote controversy…When he remains loyal to the ties of his employment, Boulton must purely observe – a commentator yes but one who, by law, must let his pictures, rather than his mouth, do the talking.

So what happens when the two are fused together? When our idiosyncratic life analysts are handed a video camera? The best example is OpEd Live.

A novel concept installed on to The Times’ ‘pricey’ new website, it’s an attempt to give online users a more creative and original style of journalism. We are told in an introductory video that OpEd Live offers viewers ‘Times Columnists… but free range’. Commentators are allowed to use the props of life to supplement a critical piece that can now be seen by the eye – not just visualised in the mind.

Let’s examine a few examples:

In his critique of the digital switchover, Matthew Parris’ props are his digital radio and a sledgehammer. It is hardly surprising that we witness the latter destroying the former in a climax of Parris’ discontent with the unreliability of his modern wireless.

Less predictable, however, is the opinion we form of the journalist as he tries to translate the eccentricity familiar in his writing, on to the screen. The explanation as to why he might wish to destroy his radio is interesting (it is all part of a rant against the digital switchover and his affection for the soon-to-be extinct analogue radio), yet the destruction itself appears to offer nothing more than base, visual entertainment.

Does video therefore add clarity to an argument, or destroy the subtlety that gives writing its charm?

Take another example –

Hugo Rifkind and his football

In ‘Hugo Rifkind is bemused by football’, it’s hard not to cringe watching the unashamedly middle class Hugo stride across a soccer pitch whilst explaining why he ‘just doesn’t care very much’ about football.

Rifkind spends the majority of the video talking with a ball held close to his chest – his voice passing underneath the obligatory shot of celebrating goal scorers and pap-hungry WAGs. The visuals are there to enhance his accompanying written piece, yet I fail to see any worth in the creation of this video at all.

Even more bemusing is watching David Aaronovitch pant about Wikileaks whilst on a run across Hampstead Heath. Ok, there are some attractive location pans here, but an appreciation of this is quickly over-shadowed by a shot of the columnist stretching against a tree at the video’s end.

Again, how do these visuals create a more stimulating experience for the consumer beyond what they could ingest on paper?

Of course, I am being hypercritical of what is clearly the offer of a more enjoyable and stimulating mode of journalism. Yet I just can’t visualise this format becoming a widespread asset within the industry in the future. There are many more ‘opeds’ available – exclusive to The Times – so go and have a look for yourself. Perhaps you might think differently?

I apologise if you do not subscribe to The Times and are thus unable to watch the accompanying videos.