Newspaer Video: Belfast Telegraph

Recently I posted about the Belfast Telegraphs efforts in moving in to video, commenting that was sceptical about the approach and compared it with the online video from another local paper, The Irish News.

Paul Connolly, Deputy Editor of the Belfast Telegraph left a comment on my post about the Telegraphs efforts to go online.

1. Quality: You would not put up with inferior websites, or badly designed newspapers. So why on earth should the public endure inferior broadcasting on the web just because it’s from a newspaper? Papers invest vast amounts of energy and money on their brand – why would we thrown that away by producing poor quality products?

2. The news bulletin at launch date was the starting point. We don’t copy broadcasters, we bring newspaper values to TV in a watch-able way via the web. If you go on now (late Feb), you will hear the distinctly un-coached sounds of our reporters with their local accents breaking stories that leave broadcasters scrambling to follow up. In the past week or so, we have revealed a big sex abuse probe at a hospital for psychologically disturbed patients, a bugging scandal at Masonic HQ in Belfast and a secret plan to slash £300 million from the budget of our police force. We are big on showbiz, too, which, when local TV bothers to cover it, is so sycophantic it’d make you sick.

3. The news bulletin is just a tiny part of our multimedia approach, don’t be fixated with it. We are forging ahead with our video and audio journalism and a range of other measures. First, we need to train our staff … then you’ll see the results.

Point one is fair if you equate quality with high (cost) (TV) production values.

The debate about what constitutes quality is the crux here. I have said before that TV news is seen as a marker of professionalism for print journos moving in to that area. What you do to reflect that but not get stuck in the TV trap is something to discuss.    But I think this may come down more to a discussion of function over form.

It may be that the form – fancy TV studio, presenter etc. is something you can afford as well as training journos, kitting them out and winning the editorial hearts and minds battle to get the production functioning.

One school of thought is that the form is less important that the function. More importantly, mimicking the form of TV is a poor investment given the differences in consumption. Of course the reverse of that is that if you invest high to start with, you nail your colours to the mast and everyone raises their game.

In the end it’s a balancing act – match journalists and consumers expectations, based on their experience of TV, but then develop your output.  Make it your own.

Given what Paul says in point 2, it sounds like that’s the aim for the Telegraph, but I still think that in  form they are copying the broadcasters. Funny  when they say that’s not the aim. But I suppose that anyone who does video is, to some extent, following the form of TV. The framing conventions, the processes and tricks of the trade. That in itself is no bad thing.

What Paul stresses is that the ‘function’ is the important thing. The move to multimedia will keep the journalistic drive. In “breaking stories that leave broadcasters scrambling to follow up” the approach hits disruption nail on the head and I’m sure the audience will appreciate it.  That said, I think celebrity news, even if it’s less sycophantic, tips us back in to TV land  – but I accept that’s just me. But, I still have to question whether wrapping it in such an obvious TV form doesn’t tie it too far back in the TV camp.

Paul’s last point gives me pause to reflect again on the pressure of  time in developing an online video presence. As I have said before that in the rarefied air of the blogoshpere debate we can over emphasize the minutiae but miss the bigger picture.

We do need to give these things time. Enough time to get comfortable with working in a particular way; enough time to develop and grow.But at the moment, it seems to me that the Telegraph have built a monument to TV news and as anyone who works in it will know, and as people have pointed out, TV news is a hungry beast.

Will the training and results always be in the shadow of this monument?

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