The Top Ten tips for newsaper video from the UK broadsheets

Over the past few days I’ve been looking at the way that the broadsheet newspapers in the UK use video.  That meant The Times, The Telegraph, The FT and The Guardian all got a picking over.

Today, I wanted to look at what we can take away from what they do – good and bad. So based on what I’ve seen, here are my Top Eleven ( I know it said 10 in the headline but you can’t have an odd number Top list can you) observations and pointers:

  • Make video part or the article sell, not a related link.
  • Make sure the link from your video player to a related article is clear
  • Make sure any accompanying text in your player clearly cues your video
  • Embed your video in an article page
  • Make your video poster frames work as images
  • Make the embedded player as big as you can.
  • Keep pre-roll out of embedded video
  • Get some variety in your ads
  • Niche works
  • Formats kill variety
  • Feature formats kill long tail

Want to know why I think that?  Here’s my reasoning.

The FT and The Times cue video in the article thumbnail. The Telegraph and Guardian flag it as a link to the player.
The FT and The Times cue video in the article thumbnail. The Telegraph and Guardian flag it as a link to the player.

Make video part or the article sell, not a related link.
The way articles with video are presented on a page varies in the broadsheets. The Times and the FT add a little logo to the thumbnail for the article. The Guardian and the Telegraph add it as a related link with a little logo. I prefer the former.

We know that embedded video is and important tool and I may be more inclined to click on an article if it looks like there may be some juicy video. I’m not alone in that. The Telegraph obviously thought it was a good idea when they splashed the Anne Darwin story with video.

The problem I found with having a separate link is that it invariably takes you to the juke-box video player and that takes you out of the article context straight away.

Make sure the link from your video player to a related article is clear

Having a juke box style video section has some benefits for the casual video browser(and nosy lecturer reviewing video). But it isn’t the first stop for most people. They come via the story. So to present them with recommendations for other video rather than content related to the story they came for seems, well, dumb. It says ‘I know you’re interested in the whole Iraq thing and wanted to see our serious video but how about a video of a film with Thong in the title, or Lemony pudding?.’

If you are going to offer a player then you need to keep as much of the context as you can. That’s why you should…

Make sure any accompanying text in your player clearly cues your video
The idea that your video needs to work stand alone is one to consider when creating feature video. Script or a clear structure of actuality should set the story up.

But we know that short form video is best served as a clip; A snatch of interview or blurry CCTV taking its relevance and context from the content around it.

The problem is that without the article that content becomes just another talking head or blurry splodge. And that’s exactly what happens when the video is presented as part of player instead of the article. So if you remove the video from the context it fails.  That’s what the jukebox players do to your clip video. They strip out context. So you need to make sure that it’s put back in somehow.

Adding context: The way the Guardian add the headline in the player is a step in the right direction.
Adding context: The way the Guardian add the headline in the player is a step in the right direction.

A well written supporting caption is the easy pick-off. Better still take a leaf out of the Guardians book and build the page around the headline. Even if it is a subtitle over the video, that’s better than nothing.

That’s why it’s better to…

Embed your video in an article page
As new CMS’s and layouts come on board in the broadsheets its clear that they have ‘got it’ when it comes to embedding video on the page. This should be high on your list of things to get right. Getting mixed media on a page, when the story allows, is like adding nitrous to your news section.  Each element supports and builds the other.  But it also means that the content should work on a number of levels.

Make your video poster frames work as images

Make your embedded video work as an image.
Make your embedded video work as an image.

If you have an embedded video player on the page then it should display a meaningful poster frame (the image it shows until the user presses play). You should apply the same editorial consideration to selecting these images as you would a photograph. You should also avoid hiding them behind a mass of text and icons. That stops it working as an image and turns it in to a distracting, visually messy, page element (leave that to your ads).

And, of course, we all know that the bigger the picture the better, so…

Make the embedded player as big as you can.
Broadband and better delivery platforms mean that the days of postage stamp sized video is gone.  Most of the video that is being produced is high-quality stuff. Shot widescreen on hi-def kit. Some of it is even shot in studios. Show that off to best effect. Looking at the broadsheets, there is no reason why the video should be so restricted.

If your design limits that then change your design.

Keep pre-roll out of embedded video
For me a pre-roll ad in embedded video is like those banner ads that break up an article page after the first couple of pars. It’s the equivalent of sticking Starbucks iced coffee in the middle of your reporting. Don’t do it.

The industry is working hard at making ‘time spent’ on a page key metric in measuring user engagement and the quality of the use experience. So why risk putting people off with pre-roll ads. Leave them to your players.

But if you are going to include it in your player…

Get some variety in your ads
This is more a complaint than a tip. <rant> How crappy is it to play the same ad, from the same company, again and again and again? Here is what it says to me. We don’t care about the advertiser. For us it’s the equivalent of taking your advertising leaflets, promising we can deliver them and then dumping all of them in the local sewer.  It also says that we care even less about the about the number of people watching, who have to sit through it and may never come back. We got the money so what? </rant>

That’s better.

Niche works
For all the production flaws the Financial Times video worked fantastically well because they have a clear remit and understand the audience.  The Guardian is the same. Even though they are serving the broader news market, compared to the FT, they have defined the remit and looked to the audience. Their focus on liberal, world affairs coverage is a clear niche.

When that remit is not clearly defined, as with the Telegraph, or missing completely, as with the Times,  the results are messy. Even the Guardian starts to lose its shape when it moves away from its remit.  The result is a over reliance on formats to add definition and that’s a problem.

Formats kill variety

Instead of ignoring video when it doesn’t fit the remit most publications fall back on episodic , format based content; I know, they say, let’s have a weekly show about ‘x’. But formats create a number of problems.

Keeping a flow of content in to a format is hard enough. Keeping it within the format is even harder.  So we get format creep.  We get football corespondents filling half a video diary from a football tournament with motorized scooters.  Have a look at the definition of Jumping the Shark. Get it? That can happen in a very short space of time on the web.

Feature formats kill long tail
The other problem with formats is that they require a large amount of padding to maintain a conceit – presenters, title sequences, set-ups. All of which trap useful content.  To take advantage of search, tagging and the long tail the content needs to be accessible, stand-alone.  If I want video of an estate agent in Chelsea to illustrate the impact of the credit crunch I don’t want to have to sit through Cool in your code for 10 minutes to get it.

The episodic nature can also kill effective search and chunking as the archiving is driven by something other than the actual content. The push is for the latest episode. That takes some time and effort to manage.

Summing up.
So there you have it, wisdom from the Broadsheets. But what advice would I give them?

Based on those points here are my suggestions with an indicator of who is doing better than others.

  • Big-up their embedded video. (Good: Times, FT Bad: Guardian Telegraph)
  • Make video work harder as a page element.(Good:Guardian Bad: FT, Times, Telegraph)
  • Ensure their video player works as an image (Good: Guardian)
  • Put more context in their stand alone players. (Good(ish):Guardian Bad: FT, Times, Telegraph)
  • Know their audience and look for the niche in that audience. (Good: FT, Guardian. Getting better: Telegraph Bad: Times)
  • Avoid formats like the plague. (Good: FT Goodish:Guardian Bad:Telegraph, Times.)

When I started the round-up it was as much about kicking myself out of a bit of a blogging slump. But it’s clarified a number of things up for me and I hope you found it useful. In that vein I’m going to keep the pressure up on myself (sorry). So…

Starting Monday: The Tabloids.

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How the Broadsheets use video : The Guardian

Over the last few days I’ve been looking at how the UK broadsheets are using video. I’ve cast my eye over The Times, The Telegraph and the and now it’s Wednesday so it must be the Guardians turn for a review of their video efforts.

The Guardian Video Section
The Guardian Video Section

The Guardians has a clearly visible section for video and the page layout works well; all laid back and white spacey in the Guardians re-designed layout. Nice big pictures and inviting.

On the Homepage and section pages you’ll see a smattering of embedded players as well as the little video icon showcasing a small amount of the considerable range of content they have.  There does seem to be some issue with playback controls disappearing once you start playing.

When you get to a video, the player itself follows the standard format of main playback area and then a menu down the side. But unlike a lot of the other players around on newspaper sites, the player integrates with the page. The way the headline and second deck appear above the player is very nice.  It’s a much better implementation of Brightcove than the Telegraph

Nice to see the usual selection of social network links and I also like the rolling menu at the end of a clip – although the recommendations around videos tends to be a bit generic.

The news video is a mix of Reuters and Press Association for the news video with the Guardian providing the majority of the feature based and exclusive stuff. It’s hard to tell with the bylines. They often credit the news agency but there seems to be a whole range of credits for the in-house stuff. It could be, staff and agencies, guardian films. None of which impacts on the viewer but it makes me wonder how the internal politics works here.

You get captions instead of VO
You get captions instead of VO

None of the news stuff from third parties (and the in-house short form stuff) has voice over. Instead they use pop-up captions so you can read it yourself. I’m, kind-of, liking this. I imagine it adds a reasonable amount of time to the process – rendering captions is time consuming. But if they have a system in place it’s probably shorter than recording a VO and you don’t have the delivery problems.

Of course it’s the feature and special report content where the Guardian gets in its stride.

The piece with Nzube Udezue relating his experience being held at gunpoint by the police,  is well put together and shows the benefit of conducting an interview to get the story, and the good quality audio,  and then doing location stuff as well.  It isn’t cheating you know. It’s just good practice in these narrative led packages.

Less successful is some of the lighter stuff. There is very little evidence of the kind of brand/theme stuff that defines the telegraph, (there is some legacy stuff – The Observer interviews thread for example was best left in the archives ). But there isn’t a unified approach in its place.

The Life &Style section piece on Manly make up offers nothing a before and after shot couldn’t and there is a lot of this style of video on the site. It’s not all bad though. There are some nice features, packaged well.

The Wine in a baby bottle piece was well put together and fun. Not that I necessarily think that packaged stuff is better I just think that some of the videos only work embeded with an article and shouldn’t be included in the player offering

Condensed milk plugs the video gap
Condensed milk plugs the video gap

I also want to mention the pudcast, Not because I think it’s any good. I mention it for the fact that the source for the clip was Let’s hope that the Guardian doesn’t get too high horse about product placement. And that seems to be a common theme downfall of a lot of the ‘lighter’ stuff on the sight.

As I said before, there is very little brand/theme stuff on the site. When there is it tends to be hiding third party or poduct placement content. And that’s when the Guardian attempts something theme like that the quality filter occasionally slips.

Football Daily’s James Richardson and Barry Glendenning video from Euro2008 was pretty tedious. The segway vid in particular  was pointless. I never thought I would hear the Segway referred to a ‘bad boy’. Leave the brand and banter stuff to the podcats where it works.

Of course it’s what could be called the ‘world affairs’ content where they Guardian do their best work. They’ve have made no secret of their aim to focus a lot of their video work on world affairs – telling the stories that they think aren’t being told.  Guardian films really has got in to it’s stride as the new go-to commissioner for liberal, authored voice, VJ style doco.

Iraq, Afghanistan and Africa feature heavily and the process of pairing a Guardian/Observer journalist and VJ works well. It’s like having a Producer and Director/Camera working together. Of particular note is the work of Peter Beaumont and Antonio Olmos. Their Afghanistan: Other voices stuff for the Observer is first class.  It’s sometimes painfully poignant but sometimes painfully earnest.  But since when has that been a crime in documentary.


The Katine interactive Village
The Katine interactive Village

I couldn’t talk about the Guardian and not mention their slideshow and interactive work. High quality and interesting the range is nice. Shame they aren’t given their own section to play with. The Guardian Films produced Katine: Interactive village is a great example of what they can do.  A visit to the inpictures section of the site is a treasure trove of great images and soundlsides slideshows. Some of the navigation needs working out but It’s a shame this doesn’t have a menu link like video does.

The Guardian has a high opnion of itself when it comes to multimedia and I often feel that they have become a little more pious than they need. You could argue that, with Guardian Films, they are the London centric production/commisioning house that they rail against.  But you can’t argue with the evidence; even if you don’t like the tone.  But away from that excellent coverage are the Guardian offering anything different?

When it comes down to it, the answer is a (qualified) no.  But when it comes to the actual content the range is limited to third-party promos and agency content. Rather than variety it’ a mixed bag. But I say qualified because there is so much that they do right.

The Guardian has some great video chops. The way the player integrates in to the page and the way they subtitle rather than voice over are nice. I also like the indiscriminate way that video is presented on section pages – it’s content to use when appropriate.  There is no doubt that the way they present video and a lot of the video they present is first class. But If the Guardian wants to set the lines of video quality, it needs to do more.

If you are going to go the route of producing the high quality stuff and essentialy providing a filter to the rest ( the model discussed at the recent media summit), the filter needs to be a better quality one and less dogged by adverts.

So, thats the broadsheets. Tomorrow I’ll look at what we can learn, if anything, from the way the broadsheets use video.

And ,yes, I do know that I missed The Independent. More about that on Friday.

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Will the ‘ledger live’ save newspaper video?

There has been a mixed reaction to the unveiling of the Star-Ledger live video show – Ledger Live.

It’s a short presenter lead bulletin that aims to…

bring people into the newsroom each day for a quick take of the day’s top news, a dose of some good video stories, and a sampling of comments and contributions from viewers.

It’s one of the fruits of their relationship with Micheal Rosenblum who has been putting aside the usual ‘sky is falling in on old media’ posts on his blog to explain why this is a logical progression in empowering the newsroom.

The newsroom seems the logical place to report from. The web seems the logical place to do it. Video seems the logical medium. This is not a ’show’ with hair and teeth anchors. These are real Jersey reporters doing real reporting.

The general response seems to be positive and I have to say that the video reporting out of the SL is pretty snazzy. But the ledger live has picked up a number of doubters.

Don Day at lost Remote thought it was boring“There are ways for print sites to get in the video game… but this isn’t it.” But the commenters didn’t pull any punches particularly for Jeff Jarvis’ praise for the TL’s efforts.  Cue lot’s of personality driven bun fighting. Man, everyone needs to move on from the not like TV news thing if they aren’t going to try and articulate what that is beyond crappy throwaways like ‘hair and teeth’, ‘cheesy’ or ‘lame’. Why? Because, well, they’re cheesy and lame.

My reaction

My first reaction is that we’ve seen this before. All credit to John and the team for all the hard work, but we’ve seen this before. The Timescast springs to mind first.  Now I happened to like the Timescast but this feels like a step back to me. And it’s not like there isn’t some pretty polished video out there to aspire to.

Shawn Smith takes 6 of those as examples that could work in a newsroom setting(great post). From his list WebbAlert seems to fit the bill

If your news org is mentioning a few stories in your daily video, this is the way to do it. Have someone deliver the stories fast, with a little commentary, and include images in your videos!!!

Some different styles but one thing that they all have in common is niche (well, two things. Niche and a good looking lady presenter to keep the boy geeks happy) and that niche isn’t geographical. It’s audience based.

What newsroom video bulletins should look like
What newsroom video bulletins should look like

As I found earlier with the FT, you can forgive some shaky presentation if the content is right. But broad appeal stuff delivered in a niche way?

So is it any good? Well despite my reservations I’m going to reserve final judgment for a while.. You see, I’m a bit conflicted about what’s good and bad about this approach.

  • Good – I like the Timescast so seeing it work here would be great.
  • Bad: It’s a model that doesn’t seem to tick the money box
  • Good: It’s live which is is a real shock tactic for breaking the newsroom out of a paper deadline focus production cycle
  • Bad: I think ‘live blogging’ is an example of a more valuable ‘appointment to view’ than video and the quality of interaction is better.
  • Good: It isn’t like TV
  • Bad: It’s just like TV

Give it chance to develop

But what does my opinion count for. We all know, and this is the sad thing, that this will only be judged a success by some if it can be monotised quickly. I hope that John has done some work persuading his bosses to look away from the stats for a few months to let it find its feet. Generating revenue is the holy grail of this stuff.

As Zac Echola points out in a great post, video (in comparison to a photograph) has an inbuilt capacity to earn

a photo in the paper (or online) doesn’t open up new opportunity for a new type of revenue stream (video ads).  If videos require more energy to view than a photo, they also command more attention, which is lucrative to advertisers.

But you have to have time to see the return and John deserves a little support as they try and work this stuff out.

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How the Broadsheets use video : The Financial Times

So far, in my little round-up of how the UK broadsheets are using video,  I’ve looked at The Times and The Telegraph. Today, for part three, I’m looking at the (well as much of the FT as a free subscriber account will let me)

The multimedia Section
The multimedia Section

The video is pretty easy to find on the The design of the actual pages over at the FT has always seemed a little cramped to me, but squashed in with all the other nav is a clear Audio Video option. This takes you to a simple, well populated Multimedia section page.

A click through takes you to their custom player and we are back in channeled video land. The player is supplied by Maven and though it’s very temperamental. I found the occasional glitch with some video not resizing properly in the player window and the constant refresh of the whole player when I switched tabs a real pain. The whole thing is temperamental on a mac and the audio level is a lottery. That said, a couple of nice features stand out.  The search is effective and a clear RSS button is a bonus.

But one thing that does work is the link through to articles related to the video. The design of the page does push the link too far past the fold to catch the eye but it’s there and it works.

Another nice touch is the way that the (much trumpeted) FT Mini-player carries the video through to the article. I think the amount of overlay information spoils to impact of the image but there is an editorial balancing act here – the grab would always be of an FT employee so you need to keep that clear. That said the overlay lower third with a title and date was a nice touch.

The style of video is pretty limited, consisting mainly of stand-ups to camera and interviews.  The ‘news’ comes in the form of a Reuters feed but most of the content is in house. The ‘regular’ video this tends to be with other members of the FT team. But I guess you buy the FT for their expertise so that follows through.

The boys prepare to do the Daily view waltz
The boys prepare to do the Daily view waltz

There are several strands of video that get daily updates. The UK Daily view is a studio based ‘corespondent view’ style segment. The presentation on this is sometimes not as smooth as it could be but the information (I’m guessing) is pretty valuable if it’s your bag. But one thing that does make it feel a little odd is a little shimmy that they do at the start of every one.

The package will open with a two shot of the presenter and the interviewee (from the look of abject fear on some of their faces, the presenter is there as much for moral support) . A short set-up by the presenter and then they move round, stand in front of the interviewee whilst the camera zooms in to create a standard over the shoulder shot. The resulting Medium Close-up/Close-up of the interviewee is great but it seems a laboured way to get there. I ended up humming the Blue Danube when Daniel Garrahan set in to waltz mode.

When I clicked through to an article page and saw the embedded video with a thumbnail of the interviewee I though, ah-ha, that’s why they do it, expecting to watch this video and find the presenter had been cut out and a good soundbite selected. But no, the whole video is there.   I would invest in another camera and a cheap video switcher and set the shots up. It seems they do the thing in the same place each time so why not set up a little more.

That said, the UK version is better than the US version which sees the correspondent talking to camera. Some have it, others have bad days but all of them seem like two-ways with the presenter cut out.

Other video falls in to the interview feature category and isn’t allowed on the site unless it has the word ‘view’ in the title (I’m joking). View from the Top, Short View, View from my window (okay, maybe not). There is a lot of standard TV style stuff in here. The FTfm segment for example falls in to a pretty standard interview format, complete with noddies. This is in contrast to the slicker View from the top although I did find Chrystia Freeland’s inability to sit back in her chair annoying (I know, picky aren’t I)

Jeremy Who?
Jeremy Who?

The Special Reports section is where the cracks in some of the production values begin to show. The feature on Japan’s fashion industry was an overlong package that lacked a descent intro..  I’ve noticed that the title sequences for content have all but gone – Sometime around the End of May the little title sequence disappeared from the Daily view (July in the US) – which gives the whole thing a little bit more urgency. But in the features a little more set up is needed especially as almost all of the presenters went with, sometimes convoluted, dropped intro style scripts.   A short sequence with a graphic flagging up the content would help place the package.

The review of the Pilatus PC-12 by Rohit Jaggi illustrates that problem perfectly and shows that the FT is in a different market to the motoring Top Gear rip offs of other papers. It’s telling that his videos are the only ones that appear in the FT wealth section. Although a little injection of top gear style pace and humour would have helped chivvy the vids along The Doing Business strand was also a mixed bag, often depending on the presenter, but I can see the real secondary market value in the content.


One of the FT slideshows
One of the FT slideshows

Video aside for one moment, special mention has to go to the Slidshows and interactive packages on the site. Thirst for Food and the Burma special section are both worth a look as is the Sellafied slideshow by Charlie Bibby. They lack a decent title screen but there is some very nice stuff in here.

I commented that watching the TelegraphTV felt a little like watching a daytime TV channel . The FT isn’t daytime TV but I do feel like I’m watching the TV in a nice business hotel room abroad. That’s not meant to be a criticism. It shows that they have a good handle on the audience they serve. This is niche, done for niche.

That means that all of the content I saw on the was always relevant, it couldn’t fail to be. But what it lacks is a little polish. Where they have got a format in place – like the UK Daily view – they need to work a bit harder at working the stiffness out of some of the people they are putting in front of camera. I really felt for Tony Barber  doing is opener for the View from Europe interview with Mandelson. Once the interview got in it’s stride its okay. But man, he looked uncomfortable.

That will come with time and in Richard Edgar (now the head honcho of video) they have a good role model, he’s great in front of the camera. But maybe some work on formats that don’t rely on too much presenting will take the pressure off.

Perhaps the niche market puts the FT at an unfair advantage amongst the other broadsheets.  Without the need for broad appeal they can focus on getting a style that’s right. I also think that the multimedia interactive stuff is an area they could really shine. With all that video, data and experience there could be some sterling work in that area.

Next it’s the Guardian and then, on Thursday, a round up. Who is my pick of the broadsheets and what tips can we take from what they do?

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Linking on News sites: Give a little to get a little

Links out = links in

That’s John Hassels simple headline for his post looking at the value of linking out from your site.

John picked up on a study by David Eaves of The SEO Company who challenges the received wisdom that links out leach traffic.

We believe that linking to useful websites doesn’t “leak” traffic – quite the opposite in fact. Offering useful links actually makes visitors more likely to return to see what other interesting websites they might find in the future, a model that sites such as Digg and Fark are built around.

The Chart is really interesting:

The response from the industry is just as interesting. James Montgomery of the has an odd take.

What I can say, regarding attribution by the FT to non-FT sources, is that one needs a clear distinction between “attribution” and “sourcing”, journalistically speaking. Citing a non-FT source would not, generally speaking, meet the FT’s required standards of verification. (Just because something is reported by the New York Times, say, doesn’t make it true, however much we implicitly believe what we read in that newspaper – we have to check for ourselves.)

I say odd – I searched for a word there – as it seems to feel a little like an excuse which might be unfair. But to be fair I think he has a good point in citing the difference between attribution and sourcing is an issue.

Is there more value both in terms of links and the ability to inform the audience and broaden their understanding than in owning the ‘veracity’ of the story. Tricky.

Still the apparent lack of external links is not just an ethical issue. Technology rears its ugly head,  as Times online search editor Drew Broomhall points out*:

Our outbound link count might even have been higher before the relaunch, a lot of links were lost due to html being stripped out of inline links when they migrated to a new CMS.”

He must have been beating his head against the desk.

*Disclosure: Great to see Drew quoted. He was a student of mine a few years ago. I’m very proud.

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