How the regional papers use video: Not The Leicester Mercury

When I said that my list of regional that I picked for a review of their video was unscientific I suppose the next choice on the list proves it. Going off a mix of circulation figures and a balance of owners has, I think, worked well so far…so far.

Then we get to the Leicester Mercury and, of course, it has no video. None. Nada. Some picture galleries, and my what a fine looking bunch of people the folks of Leicester are. But no video. I suppose a smarter person would have checked.

The other thing I noticed about the site is it is still running under the old ‘This is’ design and the Leicester Mercury’s owners, Northcliffe, have rolled out a new design. First to get it was the Hull Daily Mail and their This is Hull and East Riding site. So I thought I would look that one over instead. (did I get away with that …no…oh, well.)

The platform

Video gets pride of place on the front (and other) page. A space normally left to ad's
Video gets pride of place on the front (and other) page. A space normally left to ad

When the site loads the first thing you see is a nice big video player sitting high on the page in some pretty valuable screen real estate which it hogs for pretty much every page. It stands out against the fairly week visual line at the top of the page. All this curvy edges look nice but, for me, they seem to delay the start of the content.

It’s good to see the player but I think some for of headline to tell you what they video was could be integrated in to the design as the thumbnails are sometimes less than illuminating. You can get through the main video content via this player or via the video link in the main navigation.

The main video section is the familiar grid jukebox style with a number of separate sections and recommended video panels. It’s nice to see a range of embedded and link options as well as the option to have the video sent to your mobile – a nice touch.

The video index has a nice feel
The video index has a nice feel

The player is a nice bold and clean design with a clear headline and a text area for a lead paragraph. In common with one or two other sites this is underused. If video is going to stand alone it needs a lot more than just one line and a date to key a user in the story, even with a voice over. Even when it’s a bulletin it can be used. Looking at the Belfast Telegraph yesterday this I noticed that this is used to list the stories. The same thing could be done here. It’s space wasted.

You’ll see very little evidence of embedding content on the site – no links back to articles is the obvious one – but it is there. When you stumble across some it’s okay but the player is a bit small and given the range of content they could make more of it.

The presentation

The page leads with a bulletin and it’s not just any bulletin. It’s the funky news. In the latest one the music bed just runs and runs under this. I found it intrusive and unnecessary. It’s an attempt to speed things up and, yes, music does help pace. But the addition of some whip pan transitions show an attempt the sex up something that should be short and sweet. When they are short and sweet (and the music is better balanced) they work as well as bulletins can. Just some quality control on the production.

But the bulletin isn’t written in stone. When the local team went in to the football premiership the bulletin came out in team colours with one headline and some nice location video taken on mobile phones a nice way to add some personality.

Moving away from the bulletin stuff and you have a load of different styles to chose from handily arranged in sections. Two sections that caught my eye where the Your video and Caught on camera.

Your video is a user submitted part of the site where, once again, I think some issues of copyright might come back and bite one day. But more interesting is the Caught on Camera feature.

Caught on Camera takes video and stills from CCTV and does a kind so crimewatch round up of them. The approach in one video is so overblown it made me laugh out loud but I think there is a germ of a nice idea there. CCTV is a popular ‘short tail’ on sites and whilst I don’t think it will stretch the tail much the idea that kind of appeals to my ‘lets give it a try’ side. So it’s a shame that it isn’t worked through and developed: another episode is cctv footage a badly recorded VO.

Caught on Camera is one of a limited number of ‘themed’ bits of video on the site – the first I’ve seen in a regional so far. Another is an embryonic version of out on the town style feature called Hullvibe. Think of it as a mix of youth magazine and snaps/video of local club goers. This is now a fully fledged facebook/forum/myspace style thing with its own site which looks very snazzy.  I suppose you could also count the motoring section video in that vein. But I have to say I found them over long and at times a bit dull. Sorry

Much better are the serial efforts of the site like the talent show strand which can have a really great tie in to the paper. Best of all though is the coverage of the Clipper race earlier in the year with lashings of video – via a sponsored source. Another nice tie in to the paper.

Most of the content is general packaged news/feature stuff with the usual mix of interview, voice over and GV’s and the production values are, on the whole, pretty good, though the editing often lets it down. Take the Wags boutique piece – an almost criminal bit of puffery but pacey but well put together – was let down by the lack of control over the incidental music. It should have come right down over the interview. It also snatched the end of the VO off. But the speeded up montage and the modeling was neat. A nice package. Someone has really got the hang of that style of piece. The ladies day package followed the same vein and though the vox went on a bit it was another nice job. And now I know what a hatinator is!

Some of the footage is less successful. Much of it is packaged when it doesn’t need to be. The interview with Sir Michael Pitt was neither one thing or another and would have been better served as tight clips embedded in a story. The ‘standing ovation footage from the Hull City fans at Blackburn Rovers didn’t need the VO wrapping.

Looking at the site in the round I have an issue with problem with the bulletins on the site. Production wise they are okay and occasionally show some real colour but they are a bit ‘stuck in a rut’. Where some have used bulletins to prime a newsroom and then opened the floor to all journos and punters, This is Hull seems to have stalled. Yes, they are flashy and I’m sure they knock them out at a wicked pace but there is a next step.

Looking at the recent output you could be forgiven for thinking that they won’t make that step. That seems to be the major output but to see an over reliance on the bulletin content and damn them for it would only be half the story.

Once you get past the bulletins and recent glut of Hull City FC (yes, they are great, can we move on please) there is a nice mix of generally well made and entertaining packages. Ok the editing may be a bit rough round the edges and mobile phone footage may rub shoulders with more polished footage but it is more dynamic for that. It often gets a good local tie in as well. I liked the odd flash of fun like the collection of Hull fans singing Old Faithful.

But I think that a bit more emphasis on the embedded content in pages would open up the range and maximise the opportunities to develop articles. The video on the Hull and East riding site gives me the impression not of video being ignored – there is too much range and content for that. No it’s more like video in a bit of a holding pattern away from the main site. When it does fly in, like the wags boutique piece, it works well and helps generate a huge amount of comment – worth a read in themselves – and I’m wondering how much video helped stoke the input there.

But I hope they don’t stay still. Like the Express and Star there is a lot of video on This is Hull and the sheer range alone is something to be congratulated. With all that commitment and talent its a shame it doesn’t leak through to the rest of the paper where it can have chance to be challenged and grow.

On a side note I may have searched harder for the embedded video but, to tell the truth,  the search facility on the site is nigh on useless. When I search Hull’s website I don’t want the first result to be from Devon! I think there is a bit of work to do on your ‘hyperlocal’ geo-journalism tagging there folks.

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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: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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