How the regional papers use video: The Liverpool Echo

After a look at the way the tabloids and the broadsheets use video I’m looking at the UK regional evening market and next on my list is the Liverpool Echo.

The Liverpool Echo, owned by Trinity Mirror, is the daily evening paper for Liverpool and Mersyside along side it’s sister paper The Daily Post, a daily morning paper. (The post has recently been making a name for itself with a live blog and video of its editorial meetings) The paper has had video on the site for a few years and at one point the company also ran a cable TV channel , Channel One. Channel One is no more and after a few brushes with joint ventures (The occasional Echo TV branding is a legacy of this) the paper is producing its own video in house.

The platform.

The front page video feature box
The front page video feature box

The video on the Echo website is combined with stills in a Pictures&videos section where pictures get first billing (nothing wrong with that). But the front page does have a sizable video feature box just below the scroll. In keeping with the whole site design the video feature is big, bold and clear. It displays the latest video with a clear headline and tease. It offers a list of the most current videos along with the latest video.

The video is served from youtube via a flash player and does suffer the occasional mix-up in aspect ratio. The video is shot widescreen but the 4×3 youtube player won’t handle it unless it’s letterboxed before upload. The stories I spotted this on had an air of user submitted about them so perhaps it’s pre-existing.

Another problem with the widescreen video is some tearing at the bottom of the screen. This is usually caused by problems with digitising from tape and seeing ‘more’ picture than you normally would. A little masking would help here but it doesn’t happen on some videos

The video player itself is useable but there is no obvious backlink to related articles so linking through to video from the frontpage feature takes you away from the articles. I say obvious because the tags do work as functional navigation to related content but I’m not sure how intuitive that is.

Video is often presented in a sidebar as well as embedded
Video is often presented in a sidebar as well as embedded

Video is embedded in articles and also presented as a related video sidebar. Given the general lack of images on a lot of stories perhaps embedding video and using it as an image as well would kill two birds. But the option to embed or go in the sidebar is nice to have but the same from the video player, given its front page prominence, would be a bonus.

The presentation.

The majority of the content on the site is self-produced packaged video with the occasional user or third party submitted video. Subject wise it could be best described as feature based. Local events, interviews and interesting stories with the odd video showing the scene of a shooting. The format is pretty standard with voice over, general views and a smattering of interview and vox-pop but the quality of the video is variable.

Being the paper of record in Liverpool it’s no surprise that sport plays a big part in the video. Divided in to three sections – Sports, Liverpool and Everton, the content comes in much the same style as the news stuff and some of the same problems surface. Mike Torpey’s preview piece Open Championship at Royal Birkdale is okay but it contains an almost textbook example of how not to shoot an interview and proof of just how valuable a shotgun mic can be.

How not to shoot and record an interview
How not to shoot and record an interview

And there in lies the biggest problem with the Echos video. The shooting is generally good and whilst the video is clunky in places it holds together but the audio is very patchy.

The video of the threatened closure of local brewery Cains is a good example. The voice over quality is poor, some of which could be youtube’s notorious audio mangling but it sounds distorted from the start. The interview sound is worse with the voice lost in background noise. I think some of this is likely to a problem with stripping out audio tracks but lack of a decent mic could also be to blame. Lack of mixed audio also kills a piece on the annual Brouhaha parade.  Great pictures but none of the fantastic location sound. Its squashed in the background,

The Cains piece also highlights a problem that all newspapers face with journalists making the change from print style interviews to ones that work on video. If you listen through the Cains piece you can here the problem. Questions that suit reported speech and a constant ‘yes’. This often makes the video longer than it needs to be as the question, which can often seem labored on video, needs to be left in. Some more open questioning and maybe (ethical police look away now) a little more direction of subjects would tighten things up.

Overall
The range of video on the Echo website feels slightly limited. Light features and lots of vox pop seems to be the order of the day. That’s not a problem in itself, given the amount of work they are doing with live blogging and other initiatives to better cover breaking news stuff. But there is an opportunity there to stamp more of an identity on that style. A move away from the package to more clipped stuff for vox pops and interviews with better embedding/linking in stories would put more of Liverpool in the story and could cut down on production pressures. That way the heavy packaging could be left to more evergreen features.

Unlike a lot of papers where video is the visible nod to digital the Echo has a huge amount of digital content to play with – Maps, blogs, liveblogs and widgets – fitting video in to this portfolio is a challenge.  It seems that video at the Echo, as it has been in the industry, has had a varied history. Joint ventures and TV channels have given way to a in-house team working hard to establish an identity. How they develop that identity and integrate video in to that rich mix will be a challenge. But a bit more work on tightening things up and working out better integration with articles could see them in an even stronger position.

Note: In writing this I made a mistake which must be a regular bug bear for the Post and Echo people in confusing some of the stuff the post are doing – live blogs etc – with the Echo output. There is obviously  a lot of good stuff happening in Liverpool full stop.  But credit where credit is due to the Post staff.  Sorry for the confusion.

Also, in the same vein as the Express&Star review. In return for letting me waffle about your efforts I’m happy to offer an open post for anyone at the Echo (or post) to tell readers about anything they like. Let me know.

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