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 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 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.
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 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.
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.
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.