Rethinking video, rethinking journalism, rethinking priorites

I love blogs for the distributed conversation that they engender, and one of the discussions over the last few weeks has been about online video and how it is fundamentally different from television. There has long been a post in the back of my head that newspapers should focus on creating video and not recreating television.

Paul Bradshaw beat me to this post in calling for newspapers to stop trying to make television – it’s video. He makes some excellent points on how the grammar of TV does not translate directly to the web. For instance, on the web, why have an anchor pass to a video reporter?

My view is that TV shovelware not only translates poorly online, but adopting television production methods cedes the competitive economic advantage that newspapers now have over television. The argument for a 24-hour live broadcast television news operation is economically and journalistically dubious. Rocketboom’s daily downloads equal or outstrip the viewership for many cable news channel programmes. But I wonder how much more is spent per cable news programme versus Rocketboom’s production costs? OK, that analogy isn’t completely fair, but on-demand video divorced from television’s high overhead will begin to pressure rolling news channels. That is where the opportunity exists for newspapers and other non-traditional sources of video, not in jumping from one threatened business model to another.

Paul Mason, business reporter for the BBC’s Newsnight, actually read out an obituary for rolling news. Paul wrote:

In addition, the limitations of rolling news as a news medium are beginning to block its ability to set the pace in terms of design. When it first started, the bosses consoled themselves for the low viewing figures with the promise that, once viewers saw what they were missing – all those dramatic sound stings, breaking news straps, crawling text, blinking arrows and massive sets – they would be drawn to this visual feast. Today the feast is to be found online – and it is not just visual. It is the immersive experience of interaction in real time with real people that compels users to stay online for hours – whether on eBay or World of Warcraft.

Note, both Paul and I make a distinction between 24-hour live broadcast television and 24-hour newsgathering. I found Paul’s arguments really compelling, not least because he knows the business, but also because he was saying that the workflow and grammar developed for 24-hour rolling news operations didn’t necessarily provide compelling material for 24-hour on-demand news operations.

Adrian Monck has a great post based on a piece he wrote for the BBC College of Journalism. Check out the bullet points, Monck’s Maxims. I really took note of this line:

So, a quick review of video online tells you newspaper guys are still in charge of newspapers, and TV and radio people at the BBC control the commissioning strings for the content that ends up online.

Ah, the commissioning budget and old lines of editorial control. The bottom line is that as economic priorities shift to online, commissioning priorities for original journalism also have to shift in that direction. That’s a long term process. In the near term, media companies have to radically revamp their development process, but that is another blog post. Suffice to say, new media development cycles have to become incremental, iterative and measured in months, not in years.

But in this video discussion, it was great to see my former colleague Alf Hermida’s (new, at least new to me) blog post push this discussion a little further and call for some thinking outside the TV news box.

What I find surprising is that the industry is still having this discussion. It reflects how people in broadcasting and print have failed to realise that the internet is a new medium. It shows the deep lack of understanding of digital journalism and its potential.

Rethinking how we do video online is a start. But we need to rethink journalism for an interactive and participatory age.

Andy Dickinson thought that Alf was calling for a focus on journalism and not the medium. Andy, I might be respectfully disagreeing, but I took away from Alf’s post that the industry needed to rethink journalism in light of interactivity and participation. I might just be misreading Andy’s post because it looks like something I’ve heard over the years that journalism is journalism no matter the medium, which I have always disagreed with.

Regardless, I think Alf is spot on in calling for a rethink of journalism that considers the opportunities of digital journalism and multimedia storytelling. These days, I focus on the interactive and participatory possibilities. That still escapes most broadcasters and publishers. They don’t really understand the social dynamics and psychology of social media because in most part they don’t understand how media can be social.

I think at the end, the opportunity for video exists, not in replicating television, but in:

  • Taking advantage of the disruptive economic potential in pro-sumer video production, not in trying to replicate TV production methods.
  • Developing a workflow that supports on-demand video not rolling television news.
  • Developing an editorial voice and grammar that works in an online, on-demand world, not one that apes CNN and other rolling news channels.

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