Well my search for wisdom on the subject of online video took me down the corridor to my genial colleague Bob Calver, Senior Lecturer in Broadcast Journalism, and a fellow online journalism lecturer. I recorded the whole thing on video (naturally) – link to come. But here’s some thoughts that came out of the discussion, as well as from looking at online video around the web.
Firstly, I think you can categorise online video (journalism) into four types:
- ‘Moving pictures’. I call this the ‘Daily Prophet approach’ after the newspaper in Harry Potter where the images are magically animated. This is where video is added to a text story as an illustration, without narration but in the same way as a still image might be used. A good example is this story from the Eastern Daily Press. I’m also thinking CCTV footage would fit here;
- The Video Diary. This splits into two sub-categories:
- The video blog/vlog: person speaks into camera about their thoughts/opinions/experiences – Ian Reeves’ first attempt is a good example, which also happens to include some reflections on online video journalism;
- The personal account: person with a story to tell is filmed by another person about their thoughts/opinions/experiences. This may be combined with others to form a video feature. The Washington Post’s ‘Being a Black Man‘ is one example of such video being integrated with a multimedia interactive.
- Edited narrative. This is essentially a replication of the TV documentary or package, but in (generally) shorter form. The Exeter Express & Echo seem to have the right idea here, going out onto the streets to talk to (gasp) people (one student commented that the story itself would have been much duller in print), although they also do…
- TV show/vodcast. Again, this is replicating broadcast techniques and is generally the most redundant type of online video. Rocketboom is an example of it done well (most likely because they are not coming from a print or broadcast organisation, but are online-only). The Daily Telegraph do it with their Business Daily, as do many local newspapers, including the Bolton News and Manchester Evening News. For advertising sales departments, it’s a useful way of tapping into TV advertising budgets, but for readers it’s redundant compared to searchable, scannable web text. Its only real use is for readers who want to download a video bulletin to watch on the move (vodcast), so why do so many newspapers force users to stream it? Control, control, control.
When should a journalist turn to the video camera?
When it adds value, Calver says. When the moving images contribute something that couldn’t be conveyed any other way. Interviews, for instance, can be done quite adequately in print or audio and may, in fact, be less interesting on video – unless the interviewee’s facial expressions are significant enough to be essential (the shifty politician, for instance), or there are visual tools to be used.
A couple of faux statistics emphasise the importance of thinking creatively about your filming: “People get bored after – what is it? Eleven, twelve seconds of an image being on screen? And they say 80% of information is not from the words people hear but from the images they are seeing. So you need to film movement, film the subject working at their computer, entering the office, etcetera, for cutaways” (these are cliches, so more creative options would be even better).
“Make sure you have enough pictures to cover the story too. You often see stories on news channels where they’re repeating the same images – a train on an embankment; waves crashing on a beached ship – over and over again because they didn’t get enough images.”
The Blog Effect
Bob agreed that blogs have influenced video journalism online so that the journalist themselves becomes an ingredient of the story. Since journalism became a conversation “part of that is who you’re talking to – what are they like, how are they dressed”, and video journalism allows you to include those signals. Rocketbom is a good example of how the medium has taken on vlog conventions; ze Frank is an example of those vlogger tricks (quick editing, user contributed content, jump cuts) and quite simply a vlogger par excellence. When I showed one of his vlogs to my students yesterday one asked “Can we watch another one?”