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The power of video + text

Newspapers and magazines have long understood the power of the relationship of text and photographs, one complementing the other to make the storytelling more powerful.

It looks as if the trick with video on the web will be to achieve the same sort of relationship. That means examining the grammar of television to find new ways of using video when it is closely related to writing.

Recently there has been a growing discussion about the use of video in online news as the Times and the Mirror, among others, rush to increase their video content.

Much of it is, as Kevin Anderson rightly describes it, is TV shovelware. Not only does this translate poorly online but “adopting television production methods cedes the competitive economic advantage that newspapers now have over television.”

This is part of a round-up of the debate by Anderson, blogs editor of the Guardian. He points to a a piece which appeared in Media Guardian by BBC business reporter Paul Mason, which argues that 24-hour rolling TV news is under threat.

He examined the short time spent watching by the relatively small audiences of Sky News and BBC News 24. He wrote:
But rolling news is no longer the future. In 2004 the average broadband household spent 16 hours a week online. As anyone who uses any half-decent news platform on the web understands, the internet is faster, delivers instant depth and unrivaled interactivity. Rolling news – and here I mean the concept of a separate channel and its traditional front-end studio format – is the genre of television least suited to survive the transition to the digital age.
How best tradional print media can use video is going to need a lot of innovative thought and experimentation. It makes the question “How shall we tell this story?” yet more interesting.

Preparing new journalists for a multimedia world

We are just beginning to get to grips with our new multimedia newsroom for the journalism department at the University of Westminster. It is to be opened next week by Helen Boaden, director of BBC News.

It marks a shift in the way in which we teach journalism and that involves a lot of thought and debate about the content of courses. It means finding new solutions. One small example was a discussion about producing a user guide to the new facility. The result was the starting of a wiki which will enable the users, students and staff, to contribute from their experience. It will also be easily updated as we learn and techniques are developed.

I will post again on the multimedia newsroom when it is opened. In the meantime, I was struck by a promotional video from Apple about washingtonpost.com with the theme: What’s the story and how best can we tell it. (via cyberjournalist.net)

Their equipment bears similarities to ours, including Mac labtops for editing in the field. But above all it is about storytelling to engage the audience.

When should children should not be seen?

This pixelating of faces in pictures of children is going too far. Today the Guardian has a pleasant picture, across four columns, of David Cameron, wife Samantha and daughter Nancy leaving a Oxfordshire church. Nancy’s face is obscured.

This is the same Nancy who was shown with her face unobscured on her father’s shoulder in a picture released just before the Conservative Party conference last autumn.

I can’t find today’s story or picture on the paper’s website but the earlier picture is there.

Today’s picture is on the photographer Ben Stansall’s web site, with Nancy’s faced unobscured. It is a nice picture and while I don’t have any evidence that it was posed there is no sign of objection.

Anyway, having allowed publication of a family picture including Nancy, there is no question of preventing identification of the little girl.

The Press Complainst Commission code of practice says:

i) Young people should be free to complete their time at school without unnecessary intrusion.

ii) A child under 16 must not be interviewed or photographed on issues involving their own or another child’s welfare unless a custodial parent or similarly responsible adult consents.

iii) Pupils must not be approached or photographed at school without the permission of the school authorities.

iv) Minors must not be paid for material involving children’s welfare, nor parents or guardians for material about their children or wards, unless it is clearly in the child’s interest.

v) Editors must not use the fame, notoriety or position of a parent or guardian as sole justification for publishing details of a child’s private life.

This raises the question of whether David and Samantha Cameron gave consent to the taking of the picture with their daughter outside the church. To have refused having previously consented to a family picture including the little girl would only reinforce the impression that they use their daughter for political gain when it suits them. Probably they were not asked.

Sometimes I have seen the faces of new born babies obscured. Who can recognise a baby? It is time to clarify this rule and get some common sense into its interpretation.

Humphrys gives masterclass in interview technique

John Humphrys has become known for the pit bull approach to interviewing. In fact, he is an extremely skilled interviewer who does his research very thoroughly and chooses a technique to suit the subject.

On Radio 4’s Today programme interview with Tony Blair this morning he used a measured tone but was persistent and robust. About 20 minutes into the interview he asked Blair if agreed with his former foreign secretary, Jack Straw, that an attack on Iran was “inconceivable”.

As the prime minister tried to avoid giving a direct answer the hesitations, the ums and ers and repeated words increased. In what sounded like a desperate attempt to change the subject Blair said: “The questions people should be asking me is, what do you do if they get a nuclear weapon?”

Humphrys: “Go on. What do you do?”

Blair: “Exactly. It’s a very hard question. That’s why we have to make sure the political and diplomatic track works.”

The full flavour of this interview can only come from hearing it. Every student journalist should listen to it at the Radio 4 website. It is a masterclass.

Storytelling with video

Robert Freeman has an excellent take on the debate on the use of video on tradtional print news sites. He writes at MediaBizTech:

Rather than watching the news on TV and attempting to emulate the format, these publications should start by using video to illustrate better the stories they are already writing.

He provides a great example of the way it can be done from the Eastern Daily Press where a video with sound but no voiceover enhances the text on the page where it is embedded.

A fantasy on communiction

I have a fantasy that human communications had developed differently — the oral tradition had advanced early with telephones, radio and then video so strongly that no one had seen the need to invent writing.

Then the internet was created with all voice commands. It worked pretty well with voice messages and comments allowing a high degree of interactivity.

Then some nerds came up with a set of characters which they claimed could appear on a a screen and represent sounds visually. They said that not only did it at least double the speed of human communication but it also improved comprehension because of the instant replay facility.

At first they were derided. Who would bother to learn this crazy technology. And their second invention, a keyboard to create text, was even madder.

But a group of advocates gathered around them promoting writing as the most important technology in this history of mankind. The adding of a text facility to phones introduced writing to a whole generation of school kids. Their teachers tutted about the way oral communication was being damaged.

But driven by children and nerds it became the fastest growing technology in history. Internet sites at which youngsters communicated by text were a phenomenon. Parents, worried about what their children were saying, learned to write.

Watching this, news sites began adding text to their sites alongside video and podcasts….

Just a fantasy. But sometimes we seem to be in danger of forgetting the wonder of writing.

Students blog on online skills

Paul Bradshaw, who teaches online journalism at the University of Central England in Birmingham, asked students to blog on why they felt they needed to learn online journalism skills.

The results are interesting, show an awareness of the medium and well worth reading. Remember, these students were at the beginning of their online module.

I am just puzzled by one thing. Bradshaw says he asked them to write an “op-piece-style blog post”. What on earth is that even if you insert “-ed” after “op”?

This is a great way to get new students involved and I will copy it. Thanks.

Mail launches e-edition

Odd piece in Media Guardian today about the Mail launching an e-paper today with talk about the “bleeding edge of the digital revolution”. Can this be the Guardian which launched its digital edition in March 2004? (Later: see correction at bottom of this post.)

A quick look at the Mail’s offering did not look very different to hundreds of other digital editions and Alan Revell, from Associated Northcliffe Digital, the Mail’s new media arm, says it is a “niche” product.

There are obvious attractions in the idea of delivering the paper as printed to to readers with some clever ways of searching and reading. The same advertisements as in the print edition are put in front of readers.

And e-edition sales can be included in the ABC circulation certificate although they are not included in the average net circulation figure.

And then there is the transfer of printing costs to the reader if that is what they choose to do. The chance of selling the electronic version for £100 a year, £13 a month, £4 a week or £1.50 a single issue has to be attractive.

But it is difficult to see what is the attraction to readers except in some very limited circumstances.

However, looking forward to the advent of thin and easily portable “electronic paper” readers and it could be very useful. Imagine downloading overnight and then being able to read the paper on your commute to work.

In a couple of years — if predictions (Shane Richmond at the Telegraph) for e-paper are right e-editions could start clearing up the litter Associated Newspapers is causing with it free Metro and LondonLite papers.

Later: Thanks to Shane Richmond pointing out my mistake in linking to the Mail’s current e-edition. There is a new one on its way and he has provided a link (in his comment) to the Mail story that says it is coming soon. It will be free, which is great. Appologies also the the Guardian for misinterpreting their story.

Later still (2pm): It looks as if the Mail may have done a soft launch but cannot check because the software apparently will not work with Mac or Linnux or Windows earlier than XP Service Pack 2. The URL to register is here. There is no link from the home page.

Restricting freedom of information could cost Brown dear

It may not matter to Tony Blair who will soon be an ex-prime minister, but why should prime minister-in-waiting Gordon Brown be ready to acquiesce at the rolling back of the Freedom of Information Act?

Orders to cap the costs (including the time government ministers take to decide if they want to reply) of FoI requests and limit the number of requests any individual or organisation may make are likely to be signed next month.

That is unless the Government realises that the ill-will resulting from restricting access to information will outweigh any benefit from preventing a some embarrassing headlines.

Peter Preston in the Observer today has nine examples of stories in the Guardian which have resulted from the lifting of the veil of secrecy when the act came into force two years ago.

He points out: “Lord Falconer will be off earning pots of courtroom cash again soon enough, and ex-PM Blair can swan between paradise islands as he pleases. But the once and future Brown has to live with rules that are being changed now, almost this minute; and neither tea nor sympathy will work so sweetly for him then.”

Fuzzy facts and corrections

No doubt there will be a pompous, pedantic prat in a pub somewhere this lunch time boasting from his (it must be a he) corner bar stool that he got the Guardian to correct a serious factual error. Here is today’s lead paragraph in the Corrections and clarifications panel:

In yesterday’s front-page lead, Judge deals blow to Blair’s nuclear plans, we said that nuclear power accounted for “19% of UK energy”. We meant to say 19% to 20% of the UK’s electricity, as the pie chart on page 13 showed.

A simple and very slight rounding error at first sight and one that does not really matter. But the pie chart did not show 19% to 20% — it said simply 20%.

The trouble with handling this sort of complaint is that it is easy to dig yourself in more deeply. Look more carefully at yesterday’s paper and you will see the page 1 story said “19% of UK energy” while the graphics sidebar on page 13 offered information on “Britain”. Excluding Northern Ireland will probably give a higher figure .

It is safer when writing stories to say something like “nearly 20%”, “about 20%” or as British Energy, the nuclear generator says “around one-fifth”.

It is a waste of time for anyone to look into this more deeply but the pedant in me says that we should remember the difference between the UK and Great Britain.