How the regional papers use video: The Bradford Telegraph and Argus

Lots of things have got in the way if finishing my little review of what the top regional papers are doing with video but, battling through, I’m at the end of the list. Last but by no means least is the Bradford Telegraph and Argus

The T&A is owned by Newsquest (in turn owned by Gannett and the 2nd largest regional newspaper group in the UK according to their website). They’ve recently rolled out a new design for their local sites with a mixed but generally positive response. It’s a design that still needs a bit of work on the design front for me. I like the use of images but the use and formatting of text is still a bit loose for my liking – a bit too much trapped space. But one possitive is that the new designs put video right at the top of the site.

The Bradford Telegraph and Argus puts video at the top of the page
The Bradford Telegraph and Argus puts video at the top of the page

The platform
The video content on the site is obvious from the front page. A large video player takes pride of place on the page with a selection of other stories underneath. It’s embedded using Newsquest’s own, flash based, media player. It has a nice big thumbnail with a play icon that is not too distracting and plays on the page. There is a headline under the main thumbnail but it’s just too small and lacks emphasis. This is a shame. If they moved the text to the top of the player and upped the font size to something similar to the other headlines, I think it would sit better on the page.

The featured video also had a link to the story, which is great, but it isn’t consistently used and when you get to the story the video isn’t embedded in to the page. It is presented as a link back to the sites dedicated video/pic page. That’s a shame as there is clear space for video on the page. The story about the dad delivering his bay in the back of his car for example has a nice big picture, almost identical to the video thumbnail.  Why not use the video?

The Video/pic page is well laid out
The Video/pic page is well laid out

The dedicated video/pic page is also clearly linked in the main menu and is further split between local video and national video. The national video is provided by the Press Association although it isn’t branded and it generally falls in to sound bites and clipped content model.  It is nice to see that this video comes linked to related articles on the site rather than just warehousing a clip library.

Regardless of the section, the display is the same. It’s structured in the familiar player/archive style with the main story presented as a sizable thumbnail image. There is a nice clear headline, time and date and description alongside which is automatically generated from the lead paragraph of the article.

There is also a link to the article which is more consistently employed than on the front page but the back links from article to video player are often missing and those that are there often don’t work.

The hacking back of headlines and intros cripples the content
The hacking back of headlines and intros cripples the content

The archive is managed through a tired system of thumbnails for recent stories and then a text list of older videos. The thumbnails are nice but the player seems to truncate the content of the headline and intro, cutting the text and adding ellipsis. So Flats residents ‘lived in terror of arsonist’ is shortened to Flats…  This is rubbish, spoiling the usability of the page and taking any useful meaning out of the teasers.

The presentation
The majority of video on the T&A falls firmly in to the packaged content category – scripted VO, interviews and GV’s – across news and feature content. It’s a format that hasn’t really changed. Going back to the first video in the archive and apart from a short intro sequence (now dropped) the stuff has come out of the gate pretty much fully formed.

There is some nice sequence work in some of the packages which help cover script or interview sound well. The sequence at the start of the interview in a piece on the medical use of maggots is a good example (a later GV of students is poorly picked though). But the frameing on interviews is often too loose and the much of the camera work is very shaky.

A recent piece on plans to move a memorial to victims of a suspected IRA bomb opened with archive pictures which had obviously been shot freehand. A tripod and a little more restraint would have made the images more useful.  This problem pops up in a number of places. The article about railway closures suffers from a lack of ‘static’ shots and verges on the seasick.

The T&A use script well
The T&A use script well

The station closure story does illustrate a nice handle on scriptwriting at the paper. Using ‘sparks fly’ in the script as you see pictures of sparks flying could be seen as heavy handed but at least there is some thought about scripting with pictures rather than simply reading the article over pictures. The delivery of the script across all of the packages is good so it’s a shame the quality of the pictures

Mixed in to the packaged content is a range of clipped content that is more illustrative than editorial. This ranges from footage of a UFO, from a reader to corporate stuff like the University redevelopment video. Here the inability to embed video in an article page shows .

The video accompanying the story of the conviction of Aabid Hussain Khan turns out to be home video footage seized during the investigation. This needs to be embedded with the article to really fly. In the stand alone player it doesn’t really work, mainly because of the automatically generated description so it can’t be changed to add the context needed for video to work.

Overall

The style of the video on the T&A site is limited but like most of the other local sites I’ve looked at I can’t fault the range. The choice of story is generally good with plenty of visual opportunities to explore. I feel the hand of photographers on a lot of the video with some interesting staging of interviews, many of which feel like the set-up for a picture. It can often feel a bit artificial but it works more often than it fails.

Technically the only thing I would offer in terms of shooting is “USE A TRIPOD!”. Failing that find a way to introduce archive images in the editing process via archive/scanning rather than shooting on location.

But for me the biggest improvement is one that Newsquest could make to their video player.  The automatic elements of the player display are restricting the editorial impact of the content. Stripping the headlines and description from the article may feel like a time saver but it means that they often unsuitable as stand alone descriptions for the video.

Being able to write proper leads for the videos in the stand alone player and tweak the headlines (how SEO is ‘Guilty’) would pull a good effort even closer together.

And that marks the end of the list. Tomorrow a round up of what I learned about video from the regional press.

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