What instagram tells me about newspapers

Dear reader, I have an admission to make.

I got caught up in all this talk of the end of days.

I know, it was foolish but like many others, I gathered all my belongings, closed up shop and headed for higher ground.

I ran from the instagramocalypse.

The news that Instagram was going to take all of my pictures, photoshop Kim Kardashian and Justin Beiber in to them (drinking Bud) then sell that on Facebook was just too much to take.  So I downloaded my pics and went to Flickr until someone explained the point of Kim Kardashian to me.

Silly me, some would say. All you have done is run from the frying pan in to the fire. ‘Fool, we told you this would happen’ said the smuggers who never went on Facebook in the first place because it is evil. (and wander round comment threads like the bloke with the ‘end of the world is nigh’ sandwich board around their virtual necks).

The truth of it is that I was an avid user of Instagram. I don’t know why, it just tickled my fancy; I’d grown quite attached to it. What made me move was not the idea that they were going to sell my pictures but that it wasn’t clear what they were going to do (and the tech commentators made it no clearer).  A communication problem then. One that’s still food for thought as Tim Worstall over at Forbes said

Is it really true that a business valued at $1 billion just recently cannot in fact find someone able to draft a clear explanation of their terms and conditions? I have to admit that if the answer to that is “Yes”, well, it doesn’t make me any happier about Instagram to be honest.

It’s funny isn’t it. When one person starts something that’s a lot of brain for a small thing – makes them look like a genius. When it turns in to a huge corporation that is still run by one person, that brain begins to look pretty small. Like putting Einsteins brain in a whale. Big stuff often acts really dumb! But I digress.

Social quid pro quo

We all know that in the social media world there is a quid-pro-quo. You give me the service and I give you my content. As long as we are both open and honest about what we get from it then I’m happy. I get what I want and, well, good luck making anything from the drivel I produce.

When you don’t like what I do you can ban me from the service. When I don’t like the way you work then I can withdraw my labour. And that’s what I did.

Some people cited the heavy hand of the evil Facebook empire behind the changes (Some easy tech-commentator maths here –  (Flop share float / platforms to monetize)*Facebook = evil corporate sell outs) But trust or respect for Facebook was not the issue for me here. My main worry for Facebook’s involvement is always that they would just render the whole thing unusable with their shitty user interfaces and api’s. If I sense anything it’s a huge corporation that doesn’t really know what it’s doing (see Forbes quote above).

So, I’m not the naive idiot that some commentators would paint those of us who left Instagram. When I talk about ‘open and honest’, that has some pretty strict limits. I just played the game and made the point.

And that’s what got me thinking about newspapers.

Print’s instagram moment

When was the Instagram moment for the newspaper industry? At what point did they cock-up communicating what they did so badly that people just upped and left? When did they change the T&C’s of what they did?

Was it the threat of a newspaperpocalypse? Whilst the high priests of journalism where sacrificing another celebrity, could we all see the countdown of the ABCe’s getting close to zero and the end of times (democracy)?

And look at the way they have dealt with it. Whilst Instagram (and others before themtook to their blog to explain their thinking, the press got the Leveson Enquiry. The (probably equally expensive) equivalent of eavesdropping on the Instagram/Facebook lawyers meeting where they cooked-up their ill-conceived changes.

You’ve got to think differently in this day and age. Where is my ‘we are listening’ article from the owners and editors of newspapers? Where is the quid-pro-quo?

Maybe we need to draft some new T&C’s for the newspaper industry.

You need me to put effort in to finding you online, to helping you with community/social material. I’ll do that. Every so often you do some proper democracy protecting stuff that’s useful for me so I’ll maybe even keep buying your product once in a while. But like Instagram it’s got to work for me. Work for me enough that I’ll even come back when you make stupid mistakes. And like Instagram it’s got to come with a little openness and honesty.

I’m not being naive here by using a word like honesty when it comes to newspapers.  I know the corporate strings get pulled, the few bad apples etc. etc. Like Facebook, I’m less worried about evil empires (Murdoch etc.) than I am the apparent ease with which newspapers seem to cock-up every possible opportunity with corporate cack-handedness and closed-shop mentality.

So, dear reader, I’ll be going back to Instagram in the New year. Confident that my pictures could just as easily end up being sold without my knowledge, still with no idea what the point of Kim Kardashian is but confident that’s what they intended all along.  I want to say the same thing about newspapers.

Happy new year.


Death Knocks

IMG_3176 Door Knocker
A really, really good post from Alison Gow recalling her first ‘Death knock’.  Not something you would look back on fondly but:

Today I contributed a content strategy, with particular emphasis on what sort of feeds we should consider aggregating and the level of showbiz news a user might require. Which might explain why I’ve been reminiscing about reporting days.

As Alison points out, the knock is an inevitability for reporters.

I’ve never done it (thankfully) but it was on my mind this week as well.

I was talking to the second years about using pictures from facebook as part of a chat around communities and the content they create (social media). One student said it would be better to ask the parents for a picture they could use rather than ‘steal’ one.  Of course the reality of that is ‘you have to go and ask them’. I asked them “Which would you rather do. Take the picture off facebook or go and do a death knock?”

In the intro to her post. Alison notes:

There are a few set questions anyone applying for a job in journalism gets asked at interview – among them is a request to summarise what they would do if Newsdesk sent them out on The Knock – which usually means a death knock.

Just to be clear. ‘Avoid it by getting the details from facebook’ is probably not the answer they would want.

Image from marlambie on Flickr

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Findingtheframe.com: Multimedia review site

News reaches me via the newspaper video group about  me about an excellent new project called Findingtheframe by  Colin Mulvany,  multimedia producer at The Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Washington.

According to Colin the site was set up as a website

for the sole purpose of connecting those who need feedback on their multimedia, to professionals willing to share some time and knowledge.

It came off the back of a post on his (excellent) blog Mastering Multimedia where he voiced his disappointment at the quality of the video being submitted to the NPPA Best of Photojournalism Multimedia Contest

The plan is to have onboard as many “expert” volunteers as possible that have solid foundations in video storytelling, audio slide shows or Flash projects. This pool of reviewers will peruse the submitted links of multimedia in the “Story Pool”. If they decide to comment on a story, it will then become public on theFinding the Frame home page where anyone else is free to give added feedback.

The site has already drawn in some great content and some lively debate. Well worth a look and if you are in that game then sign up to help review.

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No such thing as free money to save the local press

As I was leafing through the Guardian on Saturday morning I came across an article with the rather alarming headline

Google news tax could boost local papers, report says

Google and other websites that carry news they do not produce should be taxed and the money generated used to prop up local newspapers, says a report which warns control of the media is concentrated in too few hands.

I tweeted it and got a number of interesting replies:

The report comes from the Carnegie trust UK’s commission on Making Good Society. It does indeed set out a suggestion for Industry levies citing Institute for Public Policy Research research that a 1% levy on pay TV providers of 1% “bring in around £70m a year”

A similar fee imposed on the country’s five mobile operators could generate £208m a year. Making Google meet its full tax liability in Britain would boost the pot by a further £100m.‘ The same IPPR report argues that ‘such sums could save many local newspapers and web sites from closing down, could stop the destruction of local and regional news on ITV and could help new media start-ups to plug these gaping holes in public service provision – all without the taxpayer having to stump up any more cash and without having to raid the licence fee.’

But the report also makes it clear that the money would come with something of price

Levies on the use of aggregated material have the potential to generate significant revenue to support the production of new public service and local content, involving civil society associations. If this form of funding were to be explored, changes in regulation would be needed to ensure that revenues go to original news producers and not just to those who present and disseminate material. Original news reporting needs to be supported so that it is financially viable; this could require charging those who are not authorised to use and distribute this material.

Not quite free money from a google tax.

The whole report makes for an interesting read (I mean genuinely interesting not that other academic definition of interesting)

It’s pretty wide ranging but it singles out “democratising media ownership and content as one of it’s four main areas where “a stronger civil society could make the most difference”

A whole chapter (chapter 3) is devoted to trying to understand the pressures on and drivers of news production and the impact that has. They are clear that technology plays a key part citing radical cultural shifts associated with pervasive technology and the rise of ‘digital natives;’ as an uncertain driver of change. But the discussion is a bit more broad ranging:

…[D]espite the proliferation of online platforms, more of the news we receive is recycled ‘churnalism’ and aggregated content. Trends of concentration in media ownership and increased pressure of time and resources have narrowed the sources from which original news derives. Moreover, the centralisation of news production and neglect of local issues has particular repercussions for access to information across the UK and Ireland, especially in the devolved nations.

And it’s clear where the problem is:

…the central issue affecting traditional news providers is not the decline of audiences or interest in news, but the collapse of the existing business model jeopardising the democratic role of journalism. According to the National Union of Journalists: ‘The media industry is essentially profitable but the business model is killing quality journalism.’

Media concentration.
When I first read the Guardian article I bristled at the idea of a google tax of newspapers. Why? Because we would essentially be propping up commercial organsiations who still work at a profit. It would be akin to a bail out. So I found myself drawn to the areas of ownership and centralization in particular. The report is pretty robust here.

The challenge of creating original content and the diminishing number of newspapers is further compounded by the concentration of media ownership in relatively few hands…..with four dominant publishers controlling 70% of the market share across the UK

That concentration of ownership and the influence it exerts is cited as a “key obstacle to transparent policy-making which incorporates a sustainable role for civil society associations” Which comes from the ‘continuing and intimate relationship between key corporate interests and policy-makers; a relationship whose bonds are rarely exposed to the public’

Their suggestion seems to be that the Scott Trust/Guardian model is more likely to serve the development of a pluralist media landscape than a purely commercial one. But it sounds a note of caution

While independent funds directly supporting journalism can come with strings attached and endowments are not immune from economic pressures, philanthropic funding can help preserve journalistic independence and secure guarantees on public service content.

General suggestions.
The big ticket suggestions like tax breaks and levies are balanced by some more specific suggestions that form the main discussion of the chapter.

  • Growing local and community news media.
  • Protecting the free, open and democratic nature of the internet.
  • Strengthening the transparency and accountability of news content production.
  • Enhancing the governance of the media.
  • Protecting the BBC.
  • Redirecting revenue flows to promote diversity and integrity.

Their ideas for strengthening transparency include the suggestion of a Kite mark that shows no dis or mis-information. Good luck with that one.

But back to funding, the last three points are interesting in themselves.

When they talk about enhancing the governance of the media they say that”

“All news organisations in receipt of public funding should actively engage with the public and with civil society associations, through their governing bodies as well as through their daily practice.”

Which could only really mean the BBC right? But in developing the suggestion of redirecting the revenue flow they:

…want to see new funding models explored: for example, tax concessions, industry levies or the direction of proportions of advertising spend into news content creation by civil society associations, or into local multimedia websites.

The price of public money.
My reading of the report was that nothing comes for free. In an earlier chapter the financial sector comes in for a real battering. But though the media orgs are more delicately handled the implicit message is still the same. All the money that could come from tax breaks, funding and other sources comes at a cost. That cost is de-centralisation, openness, stronger regulation and in transparency (a phrase that seems to disappear mid report to be replaced by integrity)

Would be nice but I can’t see it happening.

The full report is available here.

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The price of transparency

The price of transparency is £5. At least that’s what it will cost you to see the whole of this clarification at the Northumberland Gazette.

£5 pounds will get you the full correction
£5 pounds will get you the full correction

Perhaps it’s an unforseen problem of paywalls or just an oversight on the part of the paper. But it does highlight an area for some rethinking. Particularly from the PCC who are supposed to regulate this kind of thing.

Due prominence

A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion once recognised must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and – where appropriate – an apology published.

So says the Editors Code of practice from the PCC. There have been many ways that newspapers have dealt with this – more often than not in a corrections and clarifications section buried deep in the middle of the paper.

But I suppose we also need to start thinking about these things being buried deep behind the paywall. And if paywalls are the future then perhaps the PCC needs to think long and hard about the way it requires those at fault to say sorry and correct mistakes. It also made me think that we should all maybe pay a bit more attention as well.

Show me how good you are

If I am going to pay someone for this stuff then one of the things I should want to know is just how accurate their content is and how transparent they are.

I for one would like to see all corrections and clarifications made free and visible on all parts of media orgs websites before the paywall. That way I can make an informed choice.

Thanks to Josh Halliday for pointing this little gem out on Twitter.

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Students don’t read newspapers Shock!

Sherlock Holmes in "The Red-Headed League.
Jim’s fellow students always took the piss out of him when he read the daily mail (Image via Wikipedia)

Given that this is a post about newspapers I suppose that could have been “students slammed for not reading” or “students blast quality of newspapers”.

Still, news reaches me that Students aren’t reading newspapers. According to Australian research:

90 per cent of students do not like reading the newspaper, preferring to source news from commercial television or online media.

The report is familiar reading which unfortunate falls foul of a little gratuitous referencing of twitter. But, as is increasingly common, the comments just as interesting and pretty much round-up the relative positions in the debate. They go something like: (my response in italics)

  • Students are lazy or thick – maybe some are. But why does that make them any different from every other walk of life.
  • Newspapers are crap, why would they read them – there is some truth in this.
  • Newspapers are slow; behind the news – but that’s what makes the content different and the best ones know that and have changed their output
  • Newspapers are the only thing that give you what you need not what you want – this view is pompous and self righteous.
  • Students read lots but understand little – ditto.
  • Reading  a newspaper is a democratic responsibility – If you believe that then spend your time fighting the way most media outlets ignore this vital role.
  • Students see the future and have left the sinking ship before newspapers die – maybe they have or maybe they just don’t care. Either way, it’s  the media’s job to persuade them that they are wrong and make them care. It’s not my job to make them buy your product.

All points that will be hotly debated regardless of my view.  But there are two other aspects of this debate that frustrate me.

The first is a personal tick of mine. When I read…

“The future of printed newspapers is looking grim as there is an evident shift towards digital journalism.”

…I bristle.

For me digital journalism is not separate from newspaper journalism.  For me digital journalism is using digital skills to develop stories and content for any platform.  Not a medium in itself. But that’s just me.

The other is the idea that students should read newspapers to get the news. Forgetting the debate about the amount of news in newspapers, that misses the big, elephant in the room sized, point. Journalism students should read newspapers because they are students of journalism.

As one commentator (a journalism student as it happens) said

Journalism students should engage in all media forms including radio, tv, print and online. That way, you’re at an advantage – learning different ways and being able to differentiate various styles of writing.

A comment that echoes an earlier commentator

I think it is poor form for students who ‘study’ the media to disregard entire media formats and opt for banal, entertainment driven commercial television news as an alternative

The last part is a value judgement (which kind of ironic given their point) but you get the idea.

As a student of journalism, don’t read newspapers just for the news. Since when has news been a newspaper story anyway.   You read a newspaper because it is part of the landscape you will be working in. You are not just a consumer of news anymore.

If you are studying journalism, seek it out in all it’s forms, good or bad, and learn from it.

Let’s, for one second, imagine newspapers will die. Wouldn’t it be great to have an understanding of how they died so you don’t make the same mistakes?

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iherald – newspaper group clones facebook

iHerald - it's facebook for local people
iHerald – it’s facebook for local people

Going through my feeds today I can across news, via Press Gazette,  that The Plymouth Herald had launched its own social networking site called iHerald

Thisisplymouth and Herald web editor Neil Shaw said: “The response has been great, with 200 members joining in our first month to upload more than 1,000 items including pictures, videos and blogs.

The first thing that struck me was why? 

Shaw said: “The site goes to the heart of our online strategy, not lazily duplicating our print product online, but interacting with our users so thisisplymouth and The Herald combine user-generated content with live input from our audience. It is a constant dialogue differentiated from and contributing to our print offering.”

The motivation here is apparently that Herald had exceeded the limit of 5000 friends on Facebook a limitation that has been taxing a number of users  for some time. And the only alternative, a Facebook page, has failed to convince those upset by the limit with its ‘fans’ rather than friends and less features.

The Herald has moved to a page, carrying 96 people across compared to the 4755 (not quite 5000 but near enough for them to stop them accepting unsolicited friend requests.) so you have to credit them with trying to do something about it.

But whilst I can cheer the desire not to lazily duplicate the  print product, I’m still wondering if the limitations of facebook is the real reason here.

4755 Facebook friends is credit to the way the Herald use Facebook. Compare that to 151 for my local paper.  But the fact that they have only shifted 96 fans on their page shows that the attraction is in Facebook as a platform and the features it offers when people interact with you as a friend.

Even with a  200 users of iherald  you have to wonder how many of them are from Facebook rather than new users and if their efforts would have been better spent working on educating more of their
‘friends’ to the benefit Facebook page. The fact that it hasn’t really been updated since August last year may say something about how successful it is.

Immitation creates more work

Part of me wants this to work – the site looks pretty robust. But I still can’t shake the nagging idea that this is another attempt by a newspaper group to reinvent the wheel in an attempt to try and control the cart.

It may be more functional but it isn’t Facebook and it strikes me it just adds to the workload – simply managing the amount of copyright music that has appeared in the audio section would be enough to keep a lawer busy for week.  With 4755 users of Facebook it would be madness to simply ignore them in favour of their new users so who manages that relationship?

It seems a weird duplication of effort.

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Point and shoot will dominate but you still need a quality strategy: New Year convictions

The third of my recent new year convictions was Point-and-shoot, mojo video is the predominant form for newspaper video but organisations will still need to develop a quality video strategy

Not sure what point-and shoot is here’s my not so serious definition

Looking back over the year I’ve realised that I haven’t blogged about video very much.  Given that I started the year predicting newspaper video would die in 2008, you would be forgiven for thinking that I believe that had come true and there was nothing to write about.

The truth is that video is stronger than ever just not in newspapers. It’s fallen off the agenda and I think that’s for a number of reasons:

  • The development of social media and community strategies

The development of social media has stolen videos star. Where video was once the defining mode of a forward thinking digital newspaper, now it’s social media and community. Investing in facebook apps, twitter, linked in forums etc is seen as an investment closer to the core business of a newspaper – linking with communities.

This focus on the dialogue is interesting for me. On the one hand I think it’s massively positive and, looking back over the year, that’s something that’s engaged me a lot. But I’m wary that some organisations have replaced one apparently effective technology with another. Just because you are doing it, doesn’t mean you are using it.

  • The Immediacy of twitter

I’m using twitter as an example here of the return to the concept of immediacy in newsrooms. The take-up of cover it live, for example, shows how the idea of first is still an important factor. Video, especially the quality approach just doesn’t fit that style any more.

  • The development of content management systems

I’ve spent a good deal of time (and you, bless you, have read a good deal of the drivel I’ve written) moaning about the way that video was effectively channeled by content management systems. We where always going to get video that was ‘too much like TV’ because it was in its own little part of the website, with no context, so it had to be packaged and TV like.

Now a most orgs have woken up to the fact that video should be embedded in the story. It should be another content element on the page that tells the part of the story it does best. The video of the crashed car, next to the story of Ronaldo’s accident for example.

Add a map showing the loacation of the crash and you have a near perfect example of mojo journalism
Add a map showing the loacation of the crash and you have a near perfect example of mojo journalism
  • The economic downturn

Video is time consuming and expensive. It takes a lot of people to do it (even badly) and in this climate some types of video are not cost effective anymore.

Fit for purpose

Put all those things together and the only viable strategy for getting video in your newsroom now is point-and-shoot. It’s responsive, cheap and easy to implement and the kind of video produced – short clip content, illustrative video and vignettes of action – is best suited to the embedded style we see on news sites.

That doesn’t mean I’m ditching the idea that a quality video strategy has lost.  It isn’t a betamax Vs. VHS type thing. Those that invested in the training and development of that strategy will always get good results from it.  Those who just bought lots of kit and left the newsroom to it will have already put the camera in a cupboard.

But to ignore the quality strategy all together will be a mistake. When Laura at Journalism.co.uk asked me for new years prediction via  twitter here’s what I said:

jpeg-image-502x66-pixelsI said much the same thing in my predictions last year and I still believe it.

It will not be long before video finds itself back in the commercial sector. Video ads, advertorial content, wedding vids, video house guides, video production, whatever you like, would be fair game for an ad department looking to expand it’s repertoire. The investment in the distribution technology has been made. What the ad departments need to do is start behaving like broadcast ad sales.

Newspapers as commercial broadcasters

Here in the UK I think we will see some very interesting changes to the broadcasting landscape after a general election (maybe sooner if the credit crunch really bites) with local media really starting to define itself as something more than the weak, territorial battleground it is at the moment. A commercial production capacity will be a head-start in building the capacity to commercially exploit that.

A point-and-shoot strategy won’t help develop that. The skills will be geared more to the newsroom not to the more structured video that a commercial strategy will need. One will suit the newsroom, the other the commercial imperitive. A division that will warm the hearts of many a journalist who’s been asked to knock out a quick video of the local furniture shop.

So have I finnaly come down on the side of p&s? No. I was never for or against either strategy. But the truth is we now have a convention. A way of making and using video on non-broadcast news websites and I’d be a fool to advocate doing anything different.

But to lose the capacity to “high-quality” video is, I think a mistake. How orgs make it fit will be the best indicator of how they are approaching the next year or so.  If you do video and you have no quality stratgey then you are not thinking about the future. All you have done is adopted the P&S strategy because it’s cheap and that’s no strategy at all.

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Broadcast thinking will be the heart of successful print models: New year convictions

Not that TV model! Image from Flickr by C-Monster
Not that TV model! Image from Flickr by C-Monster

Yesterday I set out four new year convictions. Things that I thought where going to be important this year because, well, they had to be.

First was Broadcast thinking will be the heart of successful print models this year.

In the past I’ve been pretty hard on broadcast. I think they have been slow to embrace the possibilities of the web particularly in the context of news. On reflection I guess my disappointment with the broadcast media is framed as much in my frustration that  the print media didn’t embrace the advantage it gave them. But I still think broadcast are slow.

That said there are some elements of online development, most notably the development of the web as a platform, where the broadcast players are driving the agenda.  In that context I appreciate that I live in a country where all things broadcast are skewed by the BBC and that colours competition .  But I think it’s difficult to argue (though many will try – if you want to fill a lull in conversation with independent news execs just mention BBC innovation and sit back) that some of the BBC’s multi-platform activities have produced the “proof of concept “ that the rest of the media wouldn’t or couldn’t do. I’m thinking of the equally cursed and blessed iplayer in particular.  But this follows for the broadcasters outside the UK who have taken the web to heart as a platform.

I think Clay Shirky summed it up nicely when he talks about embracing the conversation, saying:

The question is who figures out the business model that says it’s better to have 6 million passionate fans than 7 million bored ones? That is going to be the transformation because what you see with these user groups, whether it’s for reality TV or science fiction, is that people love the conversation around the shows. The renaissance of quality television is an indicator of what an increased number of distribution channels can do. It is no accident that this started with cable.

And it’s that last point that is of particular importance to me when it comes to this particular conviction.

Let me sidetrack with a (very, very) brief history of broadcast

  1. Broadcast starts as a closed-shop; state broadcasters with large production capabilities.
  2. Then large, none-state, independent/commercial broadcasters appear with equally large production capabilities.
  3. Cable/satellite/multi-channel appear and change the economies of scale
  4. A steady influx of independent production companies appear, working across broadcasters benefiting from the changing economies

Let’s stop at that point

If I was to look at the print media at the moment, I think they are at step 3 after an extended period of step 2. And this is where there is plenty to learn from the broadcast model.

When I talk about a broadcast model I’m not thinking of the platform implications discussed above, important as they are, For me the broadcast model, particularly as it relates to the changes in journalism,  starts before that.  It’s about the way content is commissioned and produced.

Broadcast has always been good at recognising the need to bring in expertise. Originally it was about employing the talent, keeping it in house. But later, in the multi-platform world, it would be about commissioning that talent; People who had the knowledge and contacts to create the best content.

Opening up their model to a more transparent broadcast commissioning style of content creation is the biggest opportunity for those changing their model. They have to develop from the model of owning the talent to commissioning talent. Those that embrace that approach can benefit from having the best people and the audience they attract. The independent producers (perhaps a single journalist) maintain a level of authority and ownership. They can take their content to the open market (just as broadcast independents do). That creates a broader content economy that benefits all.

Of course things are not that shiny bright in broadcast.

The next steps in our little broadcast history go something along the lines of

  1. Though the number of channels grow, revenue shrinks. Commissioning budgets shrink with the knock on impact on independent producers. Quality suffers all round
  2. Independent companies follow the economies of scale and consolidate to super-indies
  3. Super indies take a stranglehold on production and garner more control over rights.
  4. Large broadcasters are relegated to participating in a bidding war for superindie owned rights they can’t afford.

You can colour round the edges with failed attempts at convergence and constant rows with independents and unions but that’s about where broadcast is now (Ok, maybe  they are stuck around point 3). Imagine those next steps played out in print world. Replace independent production company with journalist and it would seem the writing is on the wall.

But I think that we are at a turning point.  Done right, the commissioning model is sustainable because the platforms are more diverse but print can still have a sustainable business, smaller perhaps, but profitable because of the diversity. To seriously engage with the model print needs to start doing things a bit differently

  • Change its relationship with their freelance providers – stop treating them as faceless labour and start seeing them as value added.
  • Be more transparent with the sources of content – broadcasters have credits and a logo of the independent company at the end of their content, why doesn’t print?
  • Pro-actively commission – Broadcasters have slots and briefs for the programmes that they want. Print needs to do the same.  There is no better example of this than Dave Cohns Spot.us model. A commission/marketplace model similar to broadcast.

If these things don’t change then the broadcast history will come to pass. We can already see signs of the superindie model appearing in the online territory print are trying to hold.  Print needs to adapt to make itself more attractive to those with the contacts and audience as the economy is fragmented by the platforms and the market becomes more fluid in favour of smaller independents.

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How the regional papers use video: The Bradford Telegraph and Argus

Lots of things have got in the way if finishing my little review of what the top regional papers are doing with video but, battling through, I’m at the end of the list. Last but by no means least is the Bradford Telegraph and Argus

The T&A is owned by Newsquest (in turn owned by Gannett and the 2nd largest regional newspaper group in the UK according to their website). They’ve recently rolled out a new design for their local sites with a mixed but generally positive response. It’s a design that still needs a bit of work on the design front for me. I like the use of images but the use and formatting of text is still a bit loose for my liking – a bit too much trapped space. But one possitive is that the new designs put video right at the top of the site.

The Bradford Telegraph and Argus puts video at the top of the page
The Bradford Telegraph and Argus puts video at the top of the page

The platform
The video content on the site is obvious from the front page. A large video player takes pride of place on the page with a selection of other stories underneath. It’s embedded using Newsquest’s own, flash based, media player. It has a nice big thumbnail with a play icon that is not too distracting and plays on the page. There is a headline under the main thumbnail but it’s just too small and lacks emphasis. This is a shame. If they moved the text to the top of the player and upped the font size to something similar to the other headlines, I think it would sit better on the page.

The featured video also had a link to the story, which is great, but it isn’t consistently used and when you get to the story the video isn’t embedded in to the page. It is presented as a link back to the sites dedicated video/pic page. That’s a shame as there is clear space for video on the page. The story about the dad delivering his bay in the back of his car for example has a nice big picture, almost identical to the video thumbnail.  Why not use the video?

The Video/pic page is well laid out
The Video/pic page is well laid out

The dedicated video/pic page is also clearly linked in the main menu and is further split between local video and national video. The national video is provided by the Press Association although it isn’t branded and it generally falls in to sound bites and clipped content model.  It is nice to see that this video comes linked to related articles on the site rather than just warehousing a clip library.

Regardless of the section, the display is the same. It’s structured in the familiar player/archive style with the main story presented as a sizable thumbnail image. There is a nice clear headline, time and date and description alongside which is automatically generated from the lead paragraph of the article.

There is also a link to the article which is more consistently employed than on the front page but the back links from article to video player are often missing and those that are there often don’t work.

The hacking back of headlines and intros cripples the content
The hacking back of headlines and intros cripples the content

The archive is managed through a tired system of thumbnails for recent stories and then a text list of older videos. The thumbnails are nice but the player seems to truncate the content of the headline and intro, cutting the text and adding ellipsis. So Flats residents ‘lived in terror of arsonist’ is shortened to Flats…  This is rubbish, spoiling the usability of the page and taking any useful meaning out of the teasers.

The presentation
The majority of video on the T&A falls firmly in to the packaged content category – scripted VO, interviews and GV’s – across news and feature content. It’s a format that hasn’t really changed. Going back to the first video in the archive and apart from a short intro sequence (now dropped) the stuff has come out of the gate pretty much fully formed.

There is some nice sequence work in some of the packages which help cover script or interview sound well. The sequence at the start of the interview in a piece on the medical use of maggots is a good example (a later GV of students is poorly picked though). But the frameing on interviews is often too loose and the much of the camera work is very shaky.

A recent piece on plans to move a memorial to victims of a suspected IRA bomb opened with archive pictures which had obviously been shot freehand. A tripod and a little more restraint would have made the images more useful.  This problem pops up in a number of places. The article about railway closures suffers from a lack of ‘static’ shots and verges on the seasick.

The T&A use script well
The T&A use script well

The station closure story does illustrate a nice handle on scriptwriting at the paper. Using ‘sparks fly’ in the script as you see pictures of sparks flying could be seen as heavy handed but at least there is some thought about scripting with pictures rather than simply reading the article over pictures. The delivery of the script across all of the packages is good so it’s a shame the quality of the pictures

Mixed in to the packaged content is a range of clipped content that is more illustrative than editorial. This ranges from footage of a UFO, from a reader to corporate stuff like the University redevelopment video. Here the inability to embed video in an article page shows .

The video accompanying the story of the conviction of Aabid Hussain Khan turns out to be home video footage seized during the investigation. This needs to be embedded with the article to really fly. In the stand alone player it doesn’t really work, mainly because of the automatically generated description so it can’t be changed to add the context needed for video to work.


The style of the video on the T&A site is limited but like most of the other local sites I’ve looked at I can’t fault the range. The choice of story is generally good with plenty of visual opportunities to explore. I feel the hand of photographers on a lot of the video with some interesting staging of interviews, many of which feel like the set-up for a picture. It can often feel a bit artificial but it works more often than it fails.

Technically the only thing I would offer in terms of shooting is “USE A TRIPOD!”. Failing that find a way to introduce archive images in the editing process via archive/scanning rather than shooting on location.

But for me the biggest improvement is one that Newsquest could make to their video player.  The automatic elements of the player display are restricting the editorial impact of the content. Stripping the headlines and description from the article may feel like a time saver but it means that they often unsuitable as stand alone descriptions for the video.

Being able to write proper leads for the videos in the stand alone player and tweak the headlines (how SEO is ‘Guilty’) would pull a good effort even closer together.

And that marks the end of the list. Tomorrow a round up of what I learned about video from the regional press.

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