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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How the regional papers use video: The Yorkshire Evening Post

For the next in my series reviewing the way the UK regional press use video I’m going to take a look at The Yorkshire Evening Post owned by Johnston Press

Before I get in to the review I should disclose an interest. I provide training for JP journalists and photographers in the use of their video kit. It’s a two day course that introduces the camera (a sony a1e) and Avid Express software as well as shooting and editing tips. So as well as an interest you could also say I have take some responsibility for the content as well. eek!

The platform

The YEP has a number or routes to video
The YEP has a number or routes to video

The Yorkshire post site follows the same centrally designed template that all the JP papers do. I’m not really a fan as I think it is too cramped by generic content and ads. Too much sales and not enough content. But I guess I’m not reviewing the design.

Video is available through a link in the main navigation through a link in a block further down the page. The Yorkshire post also has a number of themed video strands – The Sin Bin, The Boot Room and The Pavilion linked from the main menu and small image ads but more on them later.

Clicking the video link takes you to a menu page. No player here, just thumbnails to the stories as all the video on the YEP site is ‘embedded’ with an article. But the page has clear headlines and some neat descriptions as well as the odd thumbnail. Generally I would have mixed feelings about not being able to view the video here as well as in an article. When you get to an article page there are plenty of links to other stories; a bonus of using the article part of a cms to serve the video link. But in this case I think it’s a mistake.

The main reason for this is that the video page doesn’t seem to have an archive of any description. Go to /audio-and-video and you get a fuller set with a paged archive but it seems a lottery if it turns up or not following video links. That’s a real shame as the standard page only gives you ten or so videos to work with and if you are looking for a particular video, a good repository here would be better than wading through the search for the article that it appeared on.

A lot of this, I’m guessing, comes down to the way that JP serves it’s video.

You have to work for your video
You have to work for your video

Go to an article page and you’ll see that video isn’t actually embedded. You have to press the green play button and a pop-up window appears with the video in a window. This is generally WMV format video – which meant intermittent reception on my mac. I think the delivery platform is something that JP are going to have to bite the bullet on and change in their CMS if they want to properly integrate multimedia content in to their sites.

The Presentation

The content falls in to two clear forms of presentation – video and slideshows. But both are served through the video player as video clips. So in this case slideshow is probably more descriptive of the style rather than the delivery.

The slideshow quality is pretty good but suffers from the lack of context caused by the problems with the external player. Take the VW Camper story as an example. Nice pics and groovy music but where is the context. No graphic to set it up or captions. If the story had been embedded then it would make much more sense. The same follows for pretty much all of the slideshow content.  If it’s going to be seperate then it needs a hell of lot more context. Location sound would help. How about some interview sound or sync sound of the sermon over the pictures of Don Fox’s funeral?

The video sufferes the same problem. The stuff is generally well shot and well put together but a lot of it lacks context. The recent post office closure protest video would keys well in to the article but the lack of VO or set up means it doesnt stand alone and in the seperate player, I think it has to.

The Pavillion - One of the YEP's sports shows
The Pavilion - One of the YEP's sports strands

Away from the general video and slideshow content is the YEP’s themed content that I mentioned earlier. The paper has put together three exclusively sports based strands. The Boot room for Football, The Sin Bin for rugby and The Pavilion for Cricket.

These take the form of double-header talking heads between a journalists , one of them usually the senior writer for the sport, sitting at a desk in front of a greenscreened background. The technical duties for this, I happen to know, are handled by the Visual Communicator and though sound can be a bit rough at times and a tighter shot would work better for me, the quality is consistent. Presentation wise things can get a bit stilted. Once they find their stride the shows are pretty entertaining but they are too long.

The shows also have the offer of some interactivity and they’re sponsored which I imagine ticks a lot of boxes. Perhaps the addition of some onscreen graphics highlighting the fixture or match they are talking about and the punter they are answering would break up the presentation a little. Oh, and a nicer table.

One other themed video that’s worth a mention is their Haunted Leeds feature which is a hokey bit of fun. This is a sponsored effort and takes the Most Haunted format and makes it a bit web2.0. Not directly video produced by them but, although it does have one of the ghost hunting locations at the Newspaper offices. If nothing else, I thought the thing was worth a mention for the only user submitted video. Nothing to see? No really.

Overall

That may seem a bit of a cursory overview of the video on the site. But to be honest the quality and range of the video is pretty good. Yes, the increased reliance on the slideshow format on the YEP site means that any talk of video has to be done in a kind of inverted commas. It’s not video but it is, if you know what I mean. For me that’s not a problem it’s semantic.

There is obviously room for development. Their slideshows need to break out of the music and pictures formula and get a littl more editorial and narrative drive if they are going to be locked in the linear delivery of the video player. Otherwise they need to allow flash embedding or somehing equally as interactive in control.

Maybe the slideshow approach is more here interesting not for it’s content but for the way it illustrates a clear editorial shift away from ‘traditional’ video to something more ‘managable’.  It feels like the way someone like the Croydon Advertiser has approached thing, excpet a bit in reverse. Wheilst they started with slideshows and slowley integrated video. It seems that the YEP ar going the other way. That’s not a negative assesment. It shows that things will find a level that the newsroom is comfortable with.

Away from the quality I think the real issue is  the way the content is presented generally.

What really causes problems for me on this site is the way the ‘video’ is served. Having no embedable player system essentially cripples the video on the site. Where other papers have the capacity to archive video in a section and, though many chose not to, link and embed it in article pages, the YEP can do neither. The video exists in a no-mans land to be summoned by a benevolent user who will click, hopefully not have blocked pop-up pages and has the right mix of media player and codecs on hand.

Both the video and slideshow stuff is becoming more illustrative and the seperate player robs it of valuable context. But rather than spend a huge amount of time trying to shift a lot of the context in to the videos, (although they need some) they need to address the delivery.

There is some good stuff here that could really lift an article page, yet the player makes it so near and yet, so far.

Lessons in journalism from The Guardian

 

guardian.jpg

Neil Mcintosh has a bit of advice for jdeans and jstudents out there. Watch the Guardian’s US correspondent Suzanne Goldenberg ‘on the hustle’

Suzanne’s in fine form as she beetles round interviewing campaign workers, fending off absurd requests from officials to stop doing what every good reporter does – asking lots, and lots, of questions. You don’t often get to see a journalist at work like this, which is what might make it useful for those j-deans out there.

I watched it and  at times, hell, all of it was like watching Michael Moore with a fur lined coat and purple handbag.

The video is okay as an authored piece but it’s labored.

But I agree. You don’t get to see many journalists at work like this. Yeah, you have to be pushy. You don’t do what you are told.  You have to go the extra mile for a story.  But I think one of the reasons we don’t see more stories like this is that generally journalists try and remember that they are not the story.