Yesterday I looked at how the Express&Star and the Liverpool Echo use video as part of a series of posts looking at the way regional newspapers use video on their website. In this post I’m going to be looking at the Manchester Evening News.
The MEN is part of the Guardian Media Groups Regional Media arm and sits in a portfolio that includes ‘local TV station’ Channel M. The close relationship with Channel M and the GMG interest in a number of radio stations has resulted in the MEN becoming the regions first fully converged newsroom. It isn’t the only first the paper can claim. In 2006 the decision was made to make the paper away free in central Manchester. A decision that caused a bit of a kerfuffle at the time.
The site itself got a redesign in 2007 and I have to say I am a fan. The layout is clean and even though the ads get pride of place they feel a lot more integrated than some of the other regional news sites. But what about the video.
The video on the MEN website is easy to find. A navigation item in the left-hand-column, a video feature block and little icons on stories with video where all present on the front page when I looked.
The player feature box also appears on section pages with related content. So the Sports section carries a nice mix of sport content which is lost in weight of news content the video section
Clicking on the video link you get a video index page based on a brightcove player. The player size is good but it could perhaps be a little bigger to play against the large ad. A clear search box could be better balanced by a larger headline and even though there is a little summary of the video they are often too short to offer any decent context on the article.
Instead of the Jukebox style favored by many the MEN follows other regional papers and has a kind of grid index display. Nice sized thumbnails work well and the organisation by month is nice. Again the headline could do with a bit of work. For example a story headlined wheelie bin fire doesn’t thrill does it. I found myself thinking that it was the very definition of local tv. But it’s actually a story about an arson attack where two people had to be rescued. What’s more newsworthy? A couple rescued or the senseless slaughter of a wheelie bin…
But my favorite part of the page is the way they add related articles. A click on the related articles link opens a pop-up with links to the stories. A really nice touch and one that carries through to the article page.
When you do click through the video appears in a right-justified block in the article along with any pictures and an ad. Again, the page design works well here (although I think the headline is too small) but the way the brightcove player overlays content on the thumbnail frame makes the video block look heavy and dull compared to the nice bright picture and white space. It’s like a grey hole on the page which is a shame.
The video on the MEN site is predominately Channel M content so it’s accurate, rather than a criticism, to say that this is just like TV. The predominant style of presentation is packaged content with interview and vox-pop wrapped with GV’s (b-roll) .
There are exceptions. CCTV footage that isn’t packaged () and the occasional piece, like the fridge magnet police message does come without the obligatory VO and piece to camera. This clip is also one of a few packages that creep in with a ‘MEN Read more’ graphic rather than the ChannelM branding. Another is Nicola Dowlings piece on community service.
It’s a nice package in a video diary style but the diary style piece to camera was lost in wind and tree noise and too wide a framing. Given the size of the player a tighter head shot would have read better, made for better sound and made the thing more personal, emphasising that personal diary feel.
But despite these little flashes of clip content or something that shows a little more MEN personality the editorial approach is pretty much consistent with standard TV packaging. So it’s lots of scripted intros, pieces to camera and plenty of GV’s. This is okay for TV but does it work on the web?
Every so often a piece creeps in that opens with a snippet of interview or interview sound under GV’s setting the scene before the VO or presenter adds context. This dropped intro style (similar to the stuff on the Express&Star site) is well suited to the web especially when it’s embedded. The story about the dad arrested for slapping his daughter is case in point. You read the story, check the picture out and play the video. The first thing you see and hear is the Dad talking about the ‘ordeal’. For me, that works better on the web. In fact I think that’s exactly how it should work. Any set-up from voice over is redundant.
Take a look at the lightening strike article for another example of how strong leading pictures work. The rest of the package is typical TV but I see what I need to – the burn marks etc – right up front. Remember, Best pictures first
As you would expect the technical production values are good although the shooting can be patchy in places. But I’m not reviewing ChannelM’s output.
One thing I would say is that the quality of production means that the odd howler really stands out. The video of X factor hopeful Emma Chawner is a case in point. It’s just crap and it makes me wonder if this is the wrong clip?
The MEN is an odd one when you consider some of the other papers on the list. Its the only one that has a direct connection to a TV station (the Belfast Telegraph has a tie in with a production company but nothing like the MEN) and that makes it difficult to judge against the others in the list. But this is meant to be a review rather than a comparison. So is it any good?
The short answer would have to be a qualified yes. The amount of video and the solid integration in the presentation really adds to the website experience. Some of the viewing figures on video show that there are people clicking. They have also resisted the temptation to take the shows that ChannelM produce and move them wholsale on to the site. That would be an easy way to build the themed video that some of the broadsheets have adopted but I’m not sure it would sit well with the MEN.
The qualification would be in asking whether the video itself, rather than the presentation, stands up online. And on that point I would have to say it’s a qualified no.
The way the video is constructed could be much more online friendly. Loading good soundbite and pictures at the start makes it work more effectively in an embedded. The pieces that do that work in stark contrast for me to the standard TV fair. The reliance on pieces to camera and onscreen graphics – all of which are tropes to the production pressures of the TV channel – loose their effectiveness online. Perhaps there needs to be some intermediate approach. Some form of video subbing that filters out the TV bits would make for more usable clip content embedded on the page. But I know I’m asking a lot there.
The truth is that the steady flow of solid local stories that channel M provides is a rich vein of content that the MEN is lucky to have. Combined with (what I think is) a good template for article display the video implementation feels solid, professional and sets it apart from much of the stuff you see out there.
Do you produce video at the MEN and want a post to tell people about what you are doing? I’m offering an open post to al of the papers I’m reviewing. Let me know