Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

Improving online video journalism with layers

Posted in Online Video by Adam Westbrook on May 31, 2011

Mozilla Jam at Guardian HQ

I had a brief rest from thinking about creating online video this weekend and thought about how we consume it instead.

I spent Saturday at the Guardian HQ taking part in an ideas-jam organised by Mozilla (yes, those guys who make the web browser) in London.

Mozilla have teamed up with the Knight Foundation in the US to offer year long fellowships at big news organisations to some innovative journalists, developers and designers. Their idea-jams, taking place worldwide, invited hacks and hackers to  get together and come up with ways to make journalism better:  in particular, how do we make online video more awesome, and how to we make comments better?

It was a great chance to throw ideas around with non-journalists (very few journalists turned up, actually), and meet the other types of people innovating journalism.

Get in line

The challenge set up for online video was an interesting one: almost all other types of journalism (from articles, to data visualisations, to interactive timelines to games) are non-linear: you can jump in at any paragraph, any statistic, any year, any level and explore the story in your own way. And that’s very exciting.

But video can’t be like that can it? With its predetermined flow of 24 still pictures passing our eyes every second, video is inherently linear. You can’t jump in halfway through a documentary, then skip to the beginning, and then to the end.

I thought about whether that linearisation can be broken, but then remembered the crafting of a linear narrative is one of the most satisfying things about making video. Why lose that?

From lines to layers

The discussion in our group turned to layers instead. Can we improve video by, rather than messing with the video itself, adding translucent layers above it? It’s a bit like augmented reality, but also (in my mind) like putting sheets of OHP paper together on an overhead projector.

The idea we put together was for a layer called ‘Transparency’ which tells viewers how the video story they are watching has been made, as they are watching it. It tells you whether the video you’re watching has come from an agency, or from an in-house camera team; it also tells you where the facts you’re seeing/hearing have come from.

This diagram I drew at the event explains it a bit better.

Drawing: Adam Westbrook Photo: Henrick Mitsch

We submitted the idea to Mozilla at the end of the day (you can read more here) and there are lots of other interesting ideas up there too. I think the layers idea can be developed more though. Those of you who shoot film, photography or animate motion graphics as I do, will know the importance of building layers upon layers to create complex images.

Can we do the same to make video more useful for people?

If you have an idea for improving online video, commenting, or people-powered news and are interested in entering the Knight Mozilla News Technology Partnership, you have until June 6th 2011 to enter your ideas. 

5 TV news conventions video journalists should scrap

Posted in Online Video by Adam Westbrook on March 17, 2011

Time is something TV News does not have.

It does not have much time to turn around a package (anything from 12 hours to just 30 minutes); and it does not have much time on air to explain a complex news event (usually just 90 seconds). As a result formulas and conventions were developed over the decades – which help the journalists tell a complicated story very quickly.

But rarely is online video journalism shackled by such quick deadlines. If a newspaper or magazine decided to invest in a video report, it’s usually for a diary event which they can plan in advance: the video journalist might have days to prepare for a story. Online, video stories can run as long as the streaming platform will allow.

So more time on screen, more time behind the scenes…so why do online video journalists still follow their television brethren so closely? Here are five conventions which TV news designed and VJs could leave behind.

Five TV news conventions video journalists should scrap

 

Classic framing for an interview

.01 the 3-quarter-shot interview

The 3-quarter-shot as it’s known, is the classic framing for interviews in news and documentaries. Traditionally, we see the interviewee off-centre, looking either to the left or the right, presumably having a conversation with the reporter.

It exists in TV news, because it’s quick to set up and execute. The camera-person can frame the shot quickly without needing the subject to participate.

Instead: try having your interviewee look directly into the lens. This allows them to make direct eye-contact with the viewer, and gives the audience use of the full range of their facial expressions. Michael Rosenblum explains it well here, and I’ve been experimenting with it in these films for myNewsBiz. I found my subjects very comfortable and natural looking into the lens, as they would be looking at me.

Just because TV news does something, doesn’t mean online video journalism must follow suit!

.02 cutaways and noddies

Another TV new convention to creep into online video journalism is the ‘cutaway’. It’s that shot that gets inserted to cover-up an edit in the interview you’ve recorded. It’s done so often, we’ve become very accustomed to them – but, they can still be done badly…really badly. This clip is called ‘Police typing fail’ but it should be called reporter and camera-operater, and editor and producer fail:

It exists in TV news because it’s a very quick way to splice an interview together without distracting the audience with your edits. If you were to leave the cutaway out, the audience would notice a sudden jump in the interview, and get distracted. But what TV news is really doing is misleading its viewers, suggesting the interviewee spoke in one smooth uninterrupted flow.

Instead: don’t con your viewers. Be honest with them – they’re smart enough to know interviews get edited. Replace your cutaway with a ‘flash-wipe’ or ‘flash-through-colour-dissolve’. Make it just 10 or so frames long and be sure to put in an audio cross-fade too.

Just because TV news wants to trick its viewers doesn’t mean online video journalists should too!

.03 reliance on voice-overs

In most of the Western world, you never see a TV news report which doesn’t consist largely of voice-over. If you’re not familiar, that’s the reporter’s narration over (often quickly assembled) pictures. 95% of the time it’ll start a new report, and it’ll end at least half of them, unless the reporter decides to stick themselves on camera.

Voice over exists in TV news because it is an extremely quick way to cover over gaps in narrative and explain complicated things in a short space of time, both on screen and behind the scenes. Why go to all that effort to show a story happening, when you can just pull out a biro and tell it? At its worst and most hammy, it quickly becomes a source of parody:

Instead: use voice over sparingly. It should be a last-resort, rather than something you always factor into your storytelling. If you can’t show your story happening or have the people involved tell it themselves, is it a story worth covering in video?

Just because TV news covers stories regardless of whether they’re good visually, doesn’t mean video journalists should too!

.04 skin-deep storytelling

For the same reason, a TV news report is really only trying to summarise a story as quickly as possible. It wants you to know the key development that day – just enough so you can keep up a conversation at the bar and be quickly forgotten. And let’s be honest, there’s nothing wrong with that.

But there is a large audience for more deep storytelling, more engaging explanations and analysis of our spinning rock – and that audience is online…and they’re currently dissatisfied.

So instead: don’t blow your online video skills producing shallow stories which will just bounce off the water. Use it to do what video journalism is best at: getting access to people and places the big cameras can’t go. Your small, intimate set-up will get you closer to eye-witnesses, into the homes of insurgents and weeks on the frontline with soldiers.

Just because TV news needs to quickly wrap a news story before 6pm doesn’t mean video journalists are in such a hurry!

.05 zero-transparency

Finally, if there’s something TV news is really bad at, it’s transparency.

Agency footage is never labelled, so viewers are left believing the BBC (or Sky News or CNN) cameras were on hand to catch an event when they were not. (Interestingly, US networks are far better at crediting footage to APTN/Reuters etc). It might seem a small thing, but in the Middle-East, whether footage of a suicide bombing is shot by a Palestinian or an Israeli freelancer can make a lot of difference. It also does not give credit to the crews who put their lives on the line.

We never hear where a story has come from, so people aren’t aware how much of news on television is taken from agencies, lifted from newspapers or worse still, from a press release.

So instead: set a new standard for transparency in online video journalism. Be straight up with viewers, tell them where every frame of video comes from. We can do it with graphics on screen, or in a ‘production details’ section below the embedded video. If we’ve edited an interview, tell our viewers that we have.

One more thing

Marco left a comment on this post earlier this week, raising a valid point:

…since the television formulas have worked for so long (and so successfully), shouldn’t we use them when we are producing video for the web?… I do know that television and online video are different by nature. But is the storytelling process so different as you try to show on your post?

He’s got a point. TV news works (for the most part) doesn’t it? Well, that’s something up for debate. Online video is a new medium, and should be approached as something new. There are lessons from past practitioners we can learn…but my advice is skip television and learn from the early cinematographers. Fritz Lang and Orson Wells really understood visual storytelling – they invented it.

They had the time to devise ways of explaining something visually, passing information, often without any dialogue.

Those devices are still relevant today – and should be used by video journalists when they can. TV News just doesn’t have the time.

Blogging Week #1: why journalists must blog and how

Posted in 6x6 series, Journalism by Adam Westbrook on August 9, 2010

In this week-long series, I’ll be explaining why you really can’t ignore blogging if you’re a journalist. I’ll guide you through the basics of getting started, and reveal some top tricks for making blogging work for you.

When I wrote my first blog post in October 2004, the word ‘blogging’ was only just being used. It had only just – perish the thought – made it into the Oxford English Dictionary.

And I’d never really heard of it either, until Warwick University, where I was studying, introduced its own in-house blogging platform: Warwick Blogs. If the name wasn’t very imaginative, the idea certainly was – to give every student at the university the opportunity to create their own blog & website and get publishing online.

And thousands of us did. We wrote serious blogs about politics, ones with funny pictures and rude jokes and even some about student union politics. We were the only student body, other than Harvard I’m told, to be doing it.

Fast forward nearly six years and a lot has changed.

Blogging is now part of the media mainstream, a viable source for news stories, opinion and gossip. It’s not just bored students writing now either: single mums in Tyneside, GPs, policemen, prostitutes and yes, even the journalists themselves from Jon Snow to Nick Robinson.

For me, blogging has transformed from a revision-avoiding-hobby into a career changer. It has got me work, training and speaking gigs, and a bit of money. I’ve seen my readers start small, before growing by more than 10,000 visits a month in just twelve months (I’ll explain how this week).

Although it has never made me a penny directly, blogging is a huge part of the work I do, which is why I think almost all journalists need to blog–about something.

What is the point of a blog?

A blog (or web-log to give it its full dues) is sort of like a regular diary entry. Except you put it on the internet. And make it something a specific group of people might actually want to read. The thing that actually makes a blog a blog (and not a normal web page) is its RSS feed, which identifies each individual post as part of a larger series and delivers new posts to peoples’ newsreaders or inboxes.

It usually includes meta-data, like a date, author and tags. Having a single page, where you paste a bit of text on top of older text (like this one) is not a blog (although it may claim to be) – it’s just a web page with text on it.

If you’re running a larger website a blog is a good way to remind people you’re still alive, and publish engaging valuable content which gives them a reason to keep coming back.

6 reasons why you really must have a blog

01. you’re a specialist in your field

Probably the group most in need of a blog are specialists. If your beat is windsurfing, green technologies, Indian politics – whatever – you *must must must* update a regular blog.

Otherwise how is anyone going to know you’re really a specialist? It’s a great place to update new ideas and gives you a platform for research which might not make it to the mainstream. If your paid work is drying up, a blog keeps you in the loop hunting for stories.

I’ve mentioned Angela Saini several times before because she’s got it covered. She uses her blog to promote herself as an expert science journalist (and she now has a book on the way).

The aim: to create a blog which is the ‘homepage’ for your particular niche. If your blog is the first place people go to find news on green technology, you have established yourself as an expert in the field. Cue more work.

02. you’re a freelance journalist

The other group who really need to embrace blogging are freelance journalists. If you’re working for yourself, trying to tout your wares in a crowded marketplace, a blog is one of the best ways to remind people you’re still alive – and prove you know what you’re talking about.

Your blog should sit alongside your own portfolio website (and ideally be connected to it). You can write about whatever really, although a niche expertise is best. Use it as a place to sound out stories, or even just practice your specialism – for example if you’re a freelance photojournalist, make sure you update your blog with new images every week.

The aim: to run a blog so interesting, editors are reading it regularly and approaching you (yes, approaching you!) with work.

03. you’re a foreign correspondent or hyperlocal reporter

For journalists covering an international beat, a blog is a lifeline. You can use a blog in two ways: the simple way, which is to create regular updates about your work in whatever country you are in. “I’ve been researching a piece on the Rwandan elections today…” or “I’m filming a piece for The Times Online this week”; or the cunning way, which is to launch your own one-person news service.

In this instance, the blog actually becomes a stream of articles, video, audio you are producing in your patch. You make it whether it gets bought or not, and the blog becomes a regular platform. And there’s proof this works. Deborah Bonello used her website MexicoReporter.com to boost her profile in Mexico; Graham Holliday‘s Kigali Wire covers his beat in the Rwandan capital in the same way.

The aim: to run a blog which establishes you as an expert in your particular location. It should get you work both in the mainstream media, but also create revenue streams within the local/expat community too.

03. you work for a big organisation

Even if you’re not a freelancer, running a blog about your beat is a great way to connect to your audience on a new level. Jon Snow’s popularity has increased because of his frank writing in his regular SnowBlog. People check Robert Peston‘s blog for business news and for a bit of personal comment. People like to read Nick Robinson‘s blog to find out what corridors of power he’s been snooping around today.

Not only can a blog help you connect with your audience, it can build you a community of fans, and even turn into a source for stories and case studies.

The aim: to create a blog which makes you look less like a corporate machine and more like a human.

04. you love something outside journalism

Yes, it’s possible! Some people have interests which have nothing to do with journalism!

If you can’t muster the energy to blog about your work, then your hobby is just as good. Why? Because if you’re into something then chances are thousands of other people are too. A lot of lucky people (like Lauren Luke) have turned their hobby into full time work by using a blog in the right way.

The aim: to create a blog and build a community around a passion. It keeps you writing and helps you practice audience engagement (vital skills for journalists) – as well as helping you pursue your personal interests.

05. you’re a student

Last but not least – the student journalists.

You have no excuse. Get a blog. Get writing. Get used to it. Blog about what you’re learning, or what you want to learn. Use it to get involved in the debate about the future of journalism.

Or even better, if you know your future niche, get writing about it straightaway. It takes at least 18 months of awesome content to really build a following and reputation so use your student time to do that.

The aim: to either become the next Josh Halliday, Michelle Minkoff or Dave Lee and have your blog catapult you into a job at the Guardian, Washington Post or BBC; or have established yourself as a leading expert in your field of interest by the time you graduate, so you can power straight into independent work.

If you know any other cool ways for journalists to use a blog, you know where the comments box is!

Journo-blogger of the day: Paul Balcerak

American journalist Paul Balcerak (@paulbalcerak) works for Sound Publishing and runs a personal blog on practical journalism which the perfect mix of new ideas, tips and analysis.

It’s a WordPress hosted blog which he cleverly uses alongside a tumblr blog, on which he shares briefer observations.

Paul writes several times a week, but has always stood out in my Google Reader because of the quality of his ideas and analysis – good proof well thought out ideas and content wins the day.

Tomorrow: from WordPress to Posterous – the different platforms available and how to use them!

Yes, even the old guard get it now!

Posted in Journalism, Next Generation Journalist by Adam Westbrook on July 20, 2010

The exciting potential of the future of journalism is spreading. And gathering fans where you’d least expect it. In the last week two of the biggest and most established names in British journalism have come out and spoken like a true Next Generation Journalist.

Marr gets it

On Wednesday, Andrew Marr posted a superb piece on the BBC News Website called ‘The End of the News Romantics‘.

I’ll spare you the context bits and brief debate about paying for news (you can read it all here) but Marr ends on, amazingly, an optimistic point:

The kit now being sold is truly liberating. Just a few years ago, I was shaking my head and saying I thought I’d had the best of times for journalism, and wouldn’t want my children to join the trade. No longer. I’d like to be 20 and starting out again right now. Only – not the piercings.

Yes, Marr gets it! (One person on Facebook wondered whether he’s read my book; I doubt it, but Andrew if you’re interested here’s the website)

Snow gets it

Then, just last night, another stalwart, none other than Mr Jon Snow spoke equally optimistically at London’s Frontline Club. Video Journalist Deborah Bonello was there and has a great round up on The Video Report, but crucially Jon says:

It’s all out there to be grasped, and we will do it. We’ve got to keep our nerve, we’ve got to keep it all together, we’ve got to keep on producing more young talent, more young people out in Mexico scrambling on their one camera, VJs and the rest of it,  and we can make it. We’ll get the tightrope across, we’ll start making money together, we’ll make music together, we’ll make the world a better place.

Yes, Snow gets it! Deborah Bonello reports his optimism and excitement was ‘contagious’.

So that’s two of the most established and traditionalist of British journalists getting excited about the potential we are sitting on right now.

Are you as excited? Do you get it? Or do you still feel paralysed?


The future of news belongs to those who…kiss

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on April 16, 2010

Image credit: Okinawa Soba

The traditional news organisations: the BBC, CNN, New York Times, the Guardian, Sky News – and all the others – have got a problem.

Up until recently I thought the problem was revenue and the lack thereof; but that will solve itself organically over time.

And then I realised they’ve got another problem:  it’s one they’ll never be able to solve – and it threatens their place in the future of journalism.

They’re too big.

Sounds strange doesn’t it (after all, size is usually good for a news organisation with a big remit). The insight comes from Clay Shirky, whose blog posts are rare, but always near revolutionary. He talks about the collapse of the great empires of the past: the Mayans, the Romans. They collapsed because they got too big, too complex and couldn’t adapt to a new world.

His modern case in point: the Times paywall. He interprets Rupert Murdoch’s justification for charging online content as this:

“Web users will have to pay for what they watch and use, or else we will have to stop making content in the costly and complex way we have grown accustomed to making it. And we don’t know how to do that.”

In other words, News International is so big, so complex, so addicted to the exuberant and wasteful systems which it consumed in the 20th century, it just can’t change. So it has to charge customers to help sustain its lifestyle.

Shirky goes on:

“In a bureaucracy, it’s easier to make a process more complex than to make it simpler, and easier to create a new burden than kill an old one….Some video still has to be complex to be valuable, but the logic of the old media ecoystem, where video had to be complex simply to be video, is broken.”

That last point about video is important. Think how many TV production companies are addicted to $20,000 cameras, big rigs, professional lighting, large crews and plush offices in the centre of major cities. They don’t know how to do anything different, and so they charge their clients thousands upon thousands to cover their secret addiction to luxury.

Video Journalism has been around as a cheap alternative to traditional TV news gathering since the 1980s. Why do all the big news organisations still send 2 or even 3 person crews to stories? Michael Rosenblum points out dryly, ABC News’ move to VJing should have been news in the 90s.

Bad times for them. Good times for the next generation of journalists and producers.

How to survive in the future of journalism

Keep It Simple, Stupid.


Next generation journalists have a big advantage: we’re not addicted to expensive gear, offices, full time employment or bureaucracy. We know we can do things quick, cheap and simple. We can get impressive results with DSLRs, open source software, a laptop and creative commons media. We’re not ashamed to interview someone on a FlipCam, or embed our video with Youtube.

Do not underestimate the advantage that gives us in the market.

Someone who gets it is media commentator and lecturer Jeff Jarvis. Here’s what he wrote for the Guardian, when the Times paywall was announced:

“…in Murdoch’s folly, I see opportunity….As a teacher of entrepreneurial journalism at the City University of New York, I see openings for my students to compete with the dying relics by starting highly targeted, ruthlessly relevant new news businesses at incredibly low cost and low risk.”

And that’s precisely it. Go in lean, mean and ruthless and start tearing stuff up. But know this: if your career takes you into the fold of the giants, you too will become addicted to their opium. It’s a tough drug to get over. I’ve been lucky in some ways. I’ve only ever worked for tiny, struggling commercial outlets. I thought it sucked at the time, but it meant I always had to do things cheap, and quick – and I never got hooked on the luxurious journalism of the BBC or anyone else.

But the future is bright: here’s Clay Shirkey to wrap it up:

“It’s easy to see the ways in which collapse to simplicity wrecks the glories of old. But there is one compensating advantage for the people who escape the old system: when the ecosystem stops rewarding complexity, it is the people who figure out how to work simply in the present, rather than the people who mastered the complexities of the past, who get to say what happens in the future.”

Charlie Brooker’s dissection of the TV news package (and what you can learn from it)

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on January 30, 2010

We’ve been big fans of Charlie Brooker round these parts for some time, with at least four articles about him on this very blog since 2006. Combining an ability to conduct a withering criticism of television with a brutal and acerbic wit, Brooker has risen to become one of the BBC’s most cherished (but underexposed) properties.

His current series Newswipe on BBC Four, in the UK, is a must watch for anyone in journalism.

He’s been given extra kudos all round this week after a particularly accurate breakdown of the tired, cliched and over formulated television news package, which hasn’t changed much since the 1990s. And with nearly 500,000 views on Youtube since domestic transmission on Tuesday, he’s clearly touched a nerve:

Charlie effortlessly highlights television news’ ugliest and laziest conventions:

  • a dull establishing shot
  • an over affected piece to camera in the street
  • visual eye candy in slow motion…
  • …which monochromes into a graphics overlay
  • pointless and unenlightening vox pops
  • the inevitable “case study” – human interest
  • cliched GV’s (general views)
  • and a wry signoff

This critique has the BBC’s domestic output firmly in its sights, but similar conventions exist across the UK networks and even more so in North America.

So why do they exist?

The overuse of the TV news package formula isn’t down to shear laziness alone: it has been developed over decades to suit the financial, time and style constraints which come with producing 30 minutes of live television every single day.

These packages are a lot quicker to produce for one; filling in the gaps in a proven templates enables the reporter & producer to clearly picture the final package before filming starts – and therefore only shoot the interviews, shots and pieces to camera they know they need. Similarly it can be turned around in the edit in less than an hour.

It’s cheaper too, relying on the simplest shot structures and filming in public places. It sums up complicated facts (often about consumer data, financial information or government policy)  with graphics, quickly and simply.

And of course, sticking to a style enables a consistency across a programme, or even network of programmes.

So all well and good, but it comes at the cost of visual and narrative creativity. We’re fed stories in the same pattern every day, and as Charlie Brooker says, we become so accustomed to what a TV news report looks and sounds like, we watch on autopilot…and who does that help?

So what’s the takeaway?

If you’re reading this blog, chances are you’re not working in a TV newsroom. You’re more likely to be a video journalist working for a newspaper or the web, right? In which case, the rule is a simple one:

video journalism is NOT TV news!

Journalists from big newspapers have expressed frustration to me before that their attempts to ‘go into video’ end up looking amateurish. What they mean is they don’t look as good as TV news. And the reason: they’re trying to copy this TV formula without really understanding it. And they’re imitating without any need too.

Video journalism is free of so many of the contraints which which created the TV news formula; they might have more time, fewer people, and no style conventions to adhere too…so make the most of that! It’s cheaper than TV news too – so you can afford to experiment and make mistakes.

With the technology to produce video narratives cheaper than ever, I hope more people will pick up a camera and learn how to tell visual stories in new ways. Leaving it in the hands of the conventional herd of the mainstream newsroom alone means we’ll only emerge from this industry upheaval with more of the same. And that would be sad.

Having said that….!

The traditional TV news package still has its place. For proof, look no further than (who I think) is one of the most superb Broadcast Journalists working right now: the BBC’s Matthew Price. Here’s a powerful story from his stint in the Middle East. It’s classic TV news reporting at its best:

Update: Video Journalism guru David Dunkley-Gyimah has cross posted his response to this one on his blog: “The alternative key, I think, to new video making is to look towards new visual languages, rather than hark to traditional ones” – read the rest here.

Dear BBC, please get rid of the News Channel

Posted in Broadcasting and Media by Adam Westbrook on July 1, 2009

It has tens of thousands of viewers, has won two RTS awards in the last 3 years, and is (according to its own branding) ‘Britain’s Most Watched News Channel’.

But, dear BBC,  you should scrap your 24 hour rolling news.

Now when I say that, I don’t mean close down transmitting, or make hundreds of people redundant, or pull out of the “race” for breaking news. I don’t even mean stop broadcasting news altogether.

It just seems in the growth of satellite news channels, which brought us  CNN and Sky News, and then Fox News, and then ITV News, which then closed down, and then Al-Jazeera…it just seems you have missed a trick.

What I want to see is a BBC News and Information Channel. Except with a better name than that, obviously.

With a whole channel dedicated to news, with 24 hours to fill,  how come fewer documentaries are produced? How come in order to find out about under reported stories from both the UK and abroad we have to turn to the internet? How come for some well thought out analysis of global events, you’re better off in the hands of Radio 4 or the World Service?

Because in the race with Sky News, the BBC News Channel fills its 24 hours with breaking news stories and following them as they develop, just like Sky News. And with that comes all the trappings and distortions of rolling news.

The pointless 2-ways from outside buildings where the newsreader clearly knows more about the story than the correspondent. The irrelevant updates on local, but gruesome crimes. The live broadcasting of police press conferences, of interest to hardly anyone. The parading of guest after guest after guest, each adding very little to the story. The over-reporting of PR news. And the speculation – oh, the speculation!

Click, Newswatch and Hardtalk are all well and good, but they are too few and far between. And you stick ‘em on at 5am on a Sunday morning.

This race with Sky News (which, if it was an actual race in a stadium or something, would have about 15 spectators) has created a terrible distortion in news and facts, where both channels zoom in on a story to such an explosive magnitude, making it seem like the biggest most important disaster since some kind of climate change nuclear tsunami.

And, dear BBC, it really isn’t a race you need to win. Or even run in.

So how about this: a channel with short live news bulletins twice (or even four times an hour), with more 30 minute news bulletins, and the rest of the time filled with amazing documentaries, and great longer interviews with really interesting people, and some right-on analysis from all those clever correspondents. Hey, you’d have so much space to fill you could commission some riskier pieces from non-British journalists or young journalists. They might work, they might not, but it would be interesting.

You could whack more science and history on there. You might even get to be creative and dynamic.

But suddenly – breaking news! What do you do? It’s OK – if it’s not that important, there’s always the ticker at the bottom of the screen. And if it is important, then you can dip out of the programme for a bit. And if it is really important, then you can revert back to your news-channel ways.

We know you covet your “most watched news channel” crown, but come on BBC, the licence fee payers deserve more than this tit-for-tat war with Sky News, right?

G20: multimedia experiments

Posted in International Development by Adam Westbrook on April 1, 2009

Protests are always a magnet for the media. Scuffles make great pictures for TV, chants make great sound for radio; the mass of people suggesting some great social movement.

Why should multimedia be any different?

It was no surprise all the big news organisations were employing blogs, twitter, online audio and video for today’s G20 protests. They’ve used them on news stories several times over the past few months.

What I think makes today different is this is the first time newsrooms have had significant warning of a news event, to flex their multimedia muscle and see what it’s capable of.

They had time to think ideas, get creative and explore. So, how’d they do? Here are some UK media examples:

BBC News: interactive map

BBC News: interactive map

BBC News : Interactive map

Immediately popular was BBC News’ interactive map which appeared mid morning.

The movable image covered central London, and as reports from the ground were filed, they appeared on the map.

The stories were multimedia; everything from text, audio, video and images.

Guardian: audio boo uploads

Guardian: audio boo uploads

Guardian: Audioboo uploads

The Guardian were out in force at the protests, with journalists employing all sorts of technology to help them in their quest.

One of the favourites was the new audio sharing site Audioboo, unique from places like  Soundcloud and Mixcloud in that it only really works if you have an iPhone.

So excited were Guardian journalists by this new technology it seemed they were happy to upload all and every interview they conducted, including the one pictured, with Rory O’Driscoll.

“Sorry, were you expecting some a little more, err, involved?” he told the reporter, clearly not at all bothered about what was going on.

Guardian: twitter reporters

Guardian: twitter reporters

The Guardian’s Twitter army

Someone (on Twitter in fact) commented, on seeing this image, that there must have been more journalists on the streets than protestors.

What these provide though, were unfiltered, immediate dispatches from the scene.

Stuck in an office, those of us in Web 1.0 world were forced to watch Dermot Murgnahan and the rest of the Sky News reporters stumble their way through the protest.

“Oh look, a policeman’s fallen over” was just one remark, along with a car-crash interview with Russell Brand, the comedian who’d clearly taken the wrong turning on his way out to get some milk.

These Guardian dispatches though – raw, mispelt, abbreviated into 140 characters, gave you the very latest – and of course they’ve not been through an editor.

Who said any story couldn’t be told in 140 characters or less?

BBC News: live updates

The BBC had a similar live update system with similar benefits.

This one though included chosen comments from viewers/listeners as well as BBC correspondents (and in some cases media students) on the ground. It looked good, and continued until 2100…but I’d wager cost a lot more than any other news organisation would manage.

BBC News: live updates

So lots going on, and it felt – for once – there was more to be seen online than on TV. Has this set a precedent? I hope so. Throughout today, no-one was tweeting/blogging about the G20 coverage they heard on the radio or seen on TV. They were sharing links to sites like the above ones.

The key benefits: immediacy, raw information, and interactivity.

But for that, do I feel the coverage of the protests was any better than the old media? Hmmm, that’s not so clear cut.

What’s your “news eco-system”?

Posted in Adam, Broadcasting and Media by Adam Westbrook on November 25, 2008

The BBC have carried out some research into how the modern homo-sapien consumes its news. They asked a load of people to keep a diary noting everytime they checked up on the news, and how they did it.

Steve Hermann writes about the results here.

Interestingly, their researchers described each person as having their own “news eco-system”: ‘where an individual might read several papers, hear news on the radio, look at various websites and/or TV channels for news’.

Well I hope that pattern isn’t news to the BBC.

But that’s an interesting term, and got me wondering what my news-ecosystem might look like….

0630: BBC 5 LIVE - DAB radio, in bed – to find out the headlines and who’s saying what

0800: Viking FM – DAB radio, in bed – to see what stories I’ll be sent out to cover that day

0830: Radio 1 – radio, in car – to get an idea of how Newsbeat are tailoring the news for their audience.

0900: Scan through the local papers, plus Mail, Mirror and Sun - to get an idea of what our listeners are reading.

Mid morning – a catch up with the big stories online. I also check Media Guardian, BBC News Online, NY Times. I also get email alerts from various sources.

All day – brief glances at Sky News in the office. I’m also drip fed news via IRN’s wire service.

1330 – BBC Look North – to see what the opposition are up to; inevitable plug of Peter Levy’s show.

Evening – check up on social news: Facebook, Google Reader/blogs and Twitter all tell me what people I’m interested in are up to.

1900 – Channel 4 News – but these days for just a few minutes. On Friday’s I love Unreported World.

Evening – alternative news sources if I have time: Current TV

There you go – I count 17 different sources (20 if you breakdown all the local papers, 50 if you add each blog). Each one consumed for no more than 5-10 minutes, and each one I select, chew and spit out as I please.

So what could be a useful conclusion for the future of news? It can be alternative. And it needs to be short.

What’s your eco system? Post below, and maybe we can give David Attenborough a ring!

Perverted news judgement of the day

Posted in Broadcasting and Media, News and that by Adam Westbrook on September 20, 2008

Now we all make dodgy editorial judgements sometimes, but I really can’t fathom this one from the editors at BBC News Online….

BBC News Online, Saturday 20th September 2008

BBC News Online, Saturday 20th September 2008

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