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.

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