How the regional papers use video: The Belfast Telegraph

I’m back from my holidays refreshed (and a little fatter) so its time to restart my review of  the way regional newspapers use video . You may remember that I started with a rather arbitrary list of papers to look at which started with the Express&Star and then the Liverpool Echo and the Manchester Evening News.

Next on the list is the Belfast Telegraph
The Belfast Telegraph is owned by the Independent News and media group who publish the UK daily broadsheet The Independent (which I looked at before). It’ picked up a number of awards over the last few years and continues to be one of the top performers in the evening newspaper circulation listings (the reason it’s on the list)

It started publishing video in 2007 with a much trumpeted introduction of video news bulletins. I had a bit to say about that at the time and my views prompted a nice response from the Deputy Editor Paul Connolly.  who outlined where they wanted to go with the video stuff beyond the video bulletins

The news bulletin is just a tiny part of our multimedia approach, don’t be fixated with it. We are forging ahead with our video and audio journalism and a range of other measures. First, we need to train our staff … then you’ll see the results.

So I was eager to see how far they had come.

The platform
The Belfast Telegraph brands its video as Telegraph TV and there is a Belfast Telegraph Television link on the main navigation. But try as I might I couldn’t see anything else on the page that flagged the video content – no links or other navigation.  So I clicked through, via the BTTV link, to their video player page.

The Belfast Telegraph Video page - its all the same!
The Belfast Telegraph Video page - its all the same!

The player follows the thumbnail jukebox style, split in to tabbed categories, with an embedded flash player delivering the video. There where a lot of videos here but I’m sure there are more and I missed some kind of archive access. Unless that really is it!

The player is a nice size although the poster-frame often doesn’t display leaving a faceless black box. Luckily the display of the video headline and intro paragraph is clear and neat with a nice big headline to identify the story and plenty of space for text. This space is very rarely used well though. I’d like to see more text alongside the video to set the scene. But despite some nice layout the whole effect is let down by the way the thumbnails are displayed.

The first category you see is the BTTV news section, exclusively made up of bulletin style content. With Three bulletins a day there is a lot of content but it all has the the same thumbnail.  It’s a thumbnail wall registering almost zero on usability. Dull. Even if the thumbnail was the same then a date wouldn’t go a miss. It’s a daily newspaper!

Looking at the special reports section everything begins to look a lot more exciting in terms of layout but the news section really needs work if its the first block you see.

Links to articles? No. But there are some links to other videos
Links to articles? No. But there are some links to other videos

The player does suffer the usual problem of a shortage of links through to related articles. There are some, including links to multipart videos like the What type of society do our children want? video which was split in to two. Others pointed to other content, like The Omagh fire: Murder hunt launched piece, but I couldn’t get any of these links to work.

There is embedded video on the site within articles but it’s usually Youtube – couldn’t find others. The article about ‘Adorable’ Derry teenager Eoghan Quigg and his appearance on X factor takes a youtube video showing an off-air recording of his audition. Once again you have to question how long this can go on considering the crackdown on copyright material.

The presentation
The Belfast Telegraph video can be considered in two halves. The main thrust of content is geared towards its bulletin which follows a very traditional news bulletin style. Produced by Macmillan Media, this is a very, very slick virtual newsroom style piece, presenter lead with video inserts. By all accounts the inserts and the studio work is all done by Macmillan and the fact that they also produce news inserts for GMTV it’s clearly visible in the style and approach.  The content is technically very well produced but the whole thing is TV with a capital, well, TV.

It's TV news time folks
It's TV news time

The three bulletin (four on a weekend) approach kind of makes sense. The evening and morning bulletins key in to the papers publication cycle (there is an AM version of the paper) and the lunch one grabs the lunchtime browsers. But the reality is there is very little to tie these bulletins to the paper.

There is a brief bit of scripted ‘in todays paper’ but it tends to be very generic or promos for  the papers evening sections; jobs, business etc.  Thankfully TV doesn’t stretch to anything other than promos. Ad’s are few and far between bar the odd short pre-roll ad and a sting for the Magners league before the sport.

The other rest of the site video falls in to the packaged feature category. Whether it’s sport, special reports or business, you can expect a nice vo, lots of b-roll and interview. Outside of the bulletins the major offering is in Special Reports. Rather than investigative stuff this is generally light feature based stuff. The only exception to that (that I could see) was Lindsey Armstrong’s Omagh piece, mentioned earlier. A solid package, confidently put together.

The packages can sometimes be too long and would stand an edit here and there.  The Belfast bus tour was a case in point.  The script sets up ‘chatting to those who are taking the tour and then goes in to a prolonged montage of the tour. We have to wait nearly 4 minutes before we get the punters which is then a bit drawn out.  The result is that all the best general shots have been used in the montage and Gary has top resort to dipping to black or the odd very shakey GV.

It does serve as a good example of the mechanics (and pitfalls) of vox-pops though. Check out Bill and Nancy Gaunt at about 4:45 in. The first part of that is just misunderstanding it should have been cut out. Vox-pops should be quick and flow, one in to the other – quote, quote, quote and out. The rest of the package has done the set-up.

But credit has to go to Gary Grattan  for producing a nice range of content. Gary is good on camera and puts together some nice stuff. Tighter packages would push the personality to the front. Take the Big Wheel Experience package as an example. A nice idea – Gary suffers from vertigo so stick him on a giant ferris wheel and film the result. (You need better office mates Gary!) – but a ponderous execution. Twice as long as it needed to be and the whole interview with the wheel guy was another package.

Vertigo video: You have some cruel office mates Gary.
Vertigo video: You have some cruel office mates Gary.

Some of the filming on the wheel piece Martin Nelson  whose work pops up a lot more in the sports section. In fact a large chunk of the Sports video and the odd special report seems to come from Martin via EagleEye Films.  Again the content is okay and generally well shot and edited. The format gets formulaic with a music intro, some gv’s with a heavy music bed and then the meat of the package. Some of the packages run very long and again the TV influence kicks in with credits at the end.

There where obviously big plans for the multimedia content at the Belfast Telegraph so have they born fruit. In short, no.

Of all the sites I’ve looked at, that disconnect between the video and the paper makes the Belfast Telegraph’s offering the most like a national newspaper I have seen. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing.

Whilst the video is often well produced and in the case of the bulletins, I would expect nothing less, it feels very disconnected from the paper. The main thrust of dynamic content is in the bulletins but i feel like I could be watching any TV news bulletin not the Telegraph TV.  The odd ‘read more in the paper’ does little to make it particular to the paper. It’s almost like they send the odd screen grab of the days pull-out and they send back a generic bulletin with the odd insert. This just reminded me of the ‘exclusive’ efforts of the tabloids.

I wanted more from the paper, more tie in and more relationship between the way stories develop through the day. The morning bulletin is a great point to flag up developing news stories and spin them through the day. There is a real chance to whet my appetite for the whole day so that I’m desperate to buy the paper in the evening. It’s a chance missed and in it’s place it’s a local newsfeed instead.

The rest of the content suffers the same disconnect. Whilst there is obviously an effort to produce good stuff the lack of tie in with the paper – good embedded video and related articles – means the video ranges off, doing its own thing. The need to split video over a few clips is a sure fire sign of a lack of editorial focus. It should be split over several articles. Each chunk complimenting the story. That’s not a criticism of the work that’s there, as I say, credit to the staff for keeping the flow of content.  It’s just that without proper integration in to the online offering it seems to do it’s own thing.

Perhaps a good deal of the problems I see can be blamed on the CMS. The lack of a solid relationship between the articles and video is a sure sign of different systems fighting each other. But ultimately there is a real lack of integration on the site. It’s a opportunity missed both practically and editorially.

For me the bulletins don’t add anything to the mix anymore. I’d rather see more news and local colour, tightly integrated in to the articles – more Garys and Lindseys please and less GMTV.

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How the regional papers use video: The Manchester Evening News

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 MEN video index
The MEN video index

The platform.
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.

The pop-out related article link in the video player
The pop-out related article link in the video player

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 article layout makes good use fo video
The article layout makes good use of video

The presentation
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

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How the regional papers use video: The Liverpool Echo

After a look at the way the tabloids and the broadsheets use video I’m looking at the UK regional evening market and next on my list is the Liverpool Echo.

The Liverpool Echo, owned by Trinity Mirror, is the daily evening paper for Liverpool and Mersyside along side it’s sister paper The Daily Post, a daily morning paper. (The post has recently been making a name for itself with a live blog and video of its editorial meetings) The paper has had video on the site for a few years and at one point the company also ran a cable TV channel , Channel One. Channel One is no more and after a few brushes with joint ventures (The occasional Echo TV branding is a legacy of this) the paper is producing its own video in house.

The platform.

The front page video feature box
The front page video feature box

The video on the Echo website is combined with stills in a Pictures&videos section where pictures get first billing (nothing wrong with that). But the front page does have a sizable video feature box just below the scroll. In keeping with the whole site design the video feature is big, bold and clear. It displays the latest video with a clear headline and tease. It offers a list of the most current videos along with the latest video.

The video is served from youtube via a flash player and does suffer the occasional mix-up in aspect ratio. The video is shot widescreen but the 4×3 youtube player won’t handle it unless it’s letterboxed before upload. The stories I spotted this on had an air of user submitted about them so perhaps it’s pre-existing.

Another problem with the widescreen video is some tearing at the bottom of the screen. This is usually caused by problems with digitising from tape and seeing ‘more’ picture than you normally would. A little masking would help here but it doesn’t happen on some videos

The video player itself is useable but there is no obvious backlink to related articles so linking through to video from the frontpage feature takes you away from the articles. I say obvious because the tags do work as functional navigation to related content but I’m not sure how intuitive that is.

Video is often presented in a sidebar as well as embedded
Video is often presented in a sidebar as well as embedded

Video is embedded in articles and also presented as a related video sidebar. Given the general lack of images on a lot of stories perhaps embedding video and using it as an image as well would kill two birds. But the option to embed or go in the sidebar is nice to have but the same from the video player, given its front page prominence, would be a bonus.

The presentation.

The majority of the content on the site is self-produced packaged video with the occasional user or third party submitted video. Subject wise it could be best described as feature based. Local events, interviews and interesting stories with the odd video showing the scene of a shooting. The format is pretty standard with voice over, general views and a smattering of interview and vox-pop but the quality of the video is variable.

Being the paper of record in Liverpool it’s no surprise that sport plays a big part in the video. Divided in to three sections – Sports, Liverpool and Everton, the content comes in much the same style as the news stuff and some of the same problems surface. Mike Torpey’s preview piece Open Championship at Royal Birkdale is okay but it contains an almost textbook example of how not to shoot an interview and proof of just how valuable a shotgun mic can be.

How not to shoot and record an interview
How not to shoot and record an interview

And there in lies the biggest problem with the Echos video. The shooting is generally good and whilst the video is clunky in places it holds together but the audio is very patchy.

The video of the threatened closure of local brewery Cains is a good example. The voice over quality is poor, some of which could be youtube’s notorious audio mangling but it sounds distorted from the start. The interview sound is worse with the voice lost in background noise. I think some of this is likely to a problem with stripping out audio tracks but lack of a decent mic could also be to blame. Lack of mixed audio also kills a piece on the annual Brouhaha parade.  Great pictures but none of the fantastic location sound. Its squashed in the background,

The Cains piece also highlights a problem that all newspapers face with journalists making the change from print style interviews to ones that work on video. If you listen through the Cains piece you can here the problem. Questions that suit reported speech and a constant ‘yes’. This often makes the video longer than it needs to be as the question, which can often seem labored on video, needs to be left in. Some more open questioning and maybe (ethical police look away now) a little more direction of subjects would tighten things up.

The range of video on the Echo website feels slightly limited. Light features and lots of vox pop seems to be the order of the day. That’s not a problem in itself, given the amount of work they are doing with live blogging and other initiatives to better cover breaking news stuff. But there is an opportunity there to stamp more of an identity on that style. A move away from the package to more clipped stuff for vox pops and interviews with better embedding/linking in stories would put more of Liverpool in the story and could cut down on production pressures. That way the heavy packaging could be left to more evergreen features.

Unlike a lot of papers where video is the visible nod to digital the Echo has a huge amount of digital content to play with – Maps, blogs, liveblogs and widgets – fitting video in to this portfolio is a challenge.  It seems that video at the Echo, as it has been in the industry, has had a varied history. Joint ventures and TV channels have given way to a in-house team working hard to establish an identity. How they develop that identity and integrate video in to that rich mix will be a challenge. But a bit more work on tightening things up and working out better integration with articles could see them in an even stronger position.

Note: In writing this I made a mistake which must be a regular bug bear for the Post and Echo people in confusing some of the stuff the post are doing – live blogs etc – with the Echo output. There is obviously  a lot of good stuff happening in Liverpool full stop.  But credit where credit is due to the Post staff.  Sorry for the confusion.

Also, in the same vein as the Express&Star review. In return for letting me waffle about your efforts I’m happy to offer an open post for anyone at the Echo (or post) to tell readers about anything they like. Let me know.

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How the regional papers use video:Part One

Over the last two weeks I’ve been looking at how the UK national tabloids and the broadsheets use video on their websites. It yielded some interesting results in terms of getting a feel for the general practice and areas of interest.

To keep things rolling and get a little balance I decided I would continue with a look at the way the regional press are using video. But before I kick off, I wanted to say a little bit about what could be laughably be called by methodology.

Now the regional press is a considerably bigger constituency to work with, so I have narrowed it down to five evening papers. I did this on the basis of the circulation figures.

I asked the good folks of Twitter what the top five circulation regional papers where and got a great response. A big thanks to Joethedough (and his vip contact), foodiesarah, alisongow, nigelbarlow and psmith for your help.  It was Patrick Smith pointed me to a Press Gazette article that listed regional papers by circulation which I used as my starting point.

Going through the list I originally thought I would look at the top five but I’ve mixed things up a little and expanded the range to get the high circulation papers and a mix of the big providers – Johnston Press, Trinity Mirror, Guardian Media Group, Northcliffe.

So the selection was not scientific in the least and I haven’t checked all of them to see if they actually do video. So if anyone feels like something should have been there then let me know. But here is the list (with a link to the Newspaper Society database which I used to check the owner)

Here is the list of sites I will be looking at over the next few days.

  1. Express & Star (Data)
  2. Liverpool Echo – (Data)
  3. Manchester Evening News – (Data)
  4. Belfast Telegraph – (Data)
  5. Leicester Mercury. Actually the Hull Daily mail– (Data)
  6. Yorkshire Evening Post – (Data)
  7. Bradford – Telegraph & Argus – (Data)

Brace yourself

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Transparency: Don’t look at me…

A number of browser tabs to consume already today – damn the reader. But rather than tag them all to delicious I thought I would give them a bit more discussion (a la Mark and his Daily squibs)

Speaking of things ‘a la’. Richard Titus over at the BBC internet blog has been thinking flattery rather than theft as a number sites pop up bearing an uncanny resemblance to the new BBC web design. The post has a boat load of useful information about some of the thought processes behind the page design and is a pretty mature response to the issue. There is also a great link to the BBC’s open source project with some nifty flash libs amongst other things.

Whilst I’m on the BBC blogs site I would recommend a quick scan of Steve Herrmanns blog about the physical shifting of journalists to their ‘new’ multimedia newsroom. A nice level of transparency.

And transparency (see what I did there) is a word that pops up in newspaper land. A nifty bit of video from the The Spokesman Review about their efforts at transparency gives the US perspective and, in the UK, the recent efforts by the Liverpool Echo Daily Post,(sorry Alison) and now one or two others, has given pause for thought. Joanna Geary asks just how open should newspapers get and gets some interesting comments back.

A lot of the discussion seems to be around trust and image. Or let’s put it another way, if we look like idiots (as you do on camera) then people will trust us less. Others worry about nutters – plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose. And others worry about placing the journalist at the heart of a story – erm, isn’t that where they should be in a community focused local newsroom.

Inching to success

Maybe another reason for not liking an all-seeing-eye in the newsroom is to avoid the bosses being able to get a handle on the amount of content you are creating. A number of pixel/inches have been given over to Sam Zells 50/50 equation for editorial and ads. A good Fortune article outlines the broader issue. But it’s an article in Slate that extrapolates the equation and applies it to Zell’s plans to measure productivity based in word count.

The Slate article picks up on a Editor and Publisher article by Jennifer Saba which highlights just what an accountants wet dream this policy seems to be. Worse still just how preriously close to ‘never mind the quality, feel the width” this is. Saba quotes Tribune Chief Operating Officer Randy Michaels:

Chicago Tribune is typically 80 pages per edition, and then compared that count with the Wall Street Journal — which is around 48 pages on average. “If we take the Los Angeles Times to a 50/50 ratio eliminating 82 pages a week, the smallest papers would be Monday and Tuesday at 56 pages. It’s still larger than the Wall Street Journal. … We can save a lot of money by producing the right size newspapers.”

You might say, Oh, those crazy yanks. But I guarentee there are some UK newspaper execs looking at the logic, and thinking hard.

And finally, whilst some might see measuring word-counts as a step backwards, transparency as too brave a brave new world, Ryan Sholin reminds us that the good old day’s and the past are different things.

If you can’t be bothered to post a breaking news story online after your print deadline, try yelling “Stop the press!” sometime. (Good luck with that one.)

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