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.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Top tips for tabloid style newspaper video

A week ago I looked at the Broadsheet newspapers here in the UK and used my observations to come up with eleven tips for newspaper. Last week I turned my attention to the UK’s national tabloids to see what they where up to and see if they could add anything to that list.

The short answer is no because, the truth is they are very different animals.But if you want to re-create the tabloid experience then here are my top tips.

  1. Shovelware your news video
  2. Never link to an article
  3. Choose video based on entertainment value rather than news value
  4. Mark everything supplied by a third party as an exclusive

Here’s some more depth.

Shovelware your newsvideo
It’s clear that producing ‘news’ video is not a priority for most of the tabloids. They simply buy in the PA/Reuters/AFP/Sky feed options on their players and box that as the news.  Any video that may even have a passing relation to a news story is either CCTV, news agency or ripped off from TV and always illustrative. That’s because your editorial imperitive is not news but viral. So…

Chose video based on entertainment value rather than news value
The editorial driver for video is the fact that someone in your audience will go ‘cool’ or ‘urrggg’. If you would email it to somone saying ‘omg you have to see this’ then put it on the site. Think viral first.  The video itself is your content.

Never link to an article
If you are a tabloid you never link back to an article because the video itself is the article ‘It’s a kitten doing somthing cute, you want me to write 500 words on it as well! Sheesh!’.

Mark everything supplied by a third party as an exclusive
Everyone knows that they can read exactly the same story in another tabloid and the same goes for video.   But we know that the audience doesn’t read another newsaper or site so you can put exclusive on with impunity. Adding ‘exclusive’ really means ‘as far as you care it is’.

Okay, maybe a bit tongue in cheek.

So, did I learn anything serious from the Tabloids?

Brand Vs Audience.

It was clear that there was a marked difference in the reponse to video by the tabloids compared to the broadsheets. For me that difference comes down to using video as a definition.

The broadsheets very clearly see video as defining of their brand. The Guardian and their world affairs coverage illustrate that nicely. Their choice of video is based on the idea of telling you a story that a) they think needs telling and b) wouldnt be told elsewhere. It’s a journalistic choice and a value judgment based on the Guardian’s view.  The choice of video on The Times and Telegraph takes that one step further by producing format video that segements the audience and goes down the route of providing minority programming. The Telegraph for example provides a right-of centre-politics show because they claim you can’t get it anywhere else.

But, in contrast, the tabloids use of video is defined by their audience. You can see this most clearly in The Sun, The Mirror and The Mail.

The selection of video on these publications websites is varied. The overiding theme is video culled elsewehere from the web (and offline) that would appeal to the reader, regardless of its relevence to a ‘news’ agenda.  The Sun is much more profficient at pulling the Youtube style video in but the mail is quickly learning what its audience wants to see. Perhaps the slughtly higher-brow of the Mail prevents it having too many youtube vids but the editorial line is the same. They are offering a rubber stamp of approval on the content of the video not validating the source.

Perhaps this says more about the Tabloid websites ability to define an audience and their willingness to make the online presence something papably different in structure from the print publication. Maybe it’s just scatalogical and best fits the general direction of tabloids as they move away from ‘newspapers’ to daily magazines. Whatever the reason I think the way tabloids use video highlights the way the role of newspaper websites and the function of the journalists working on them changes.

One of the popular suggested future roles for journalists  is the idea of journalist as a link validator – we find the stuff on the web that you want and you trust us to find it.   Looking at the tabloids attempt at video, particually the Sun and the Mirror you have to ask if they havn’t applied this idea effectivly already.

If I had to put names forward for best users of Tabloid video it would have to be the Sun and The Daily Mail. But even though The Mail doesn’t have very much video on their site I would throw my hat in the ring and say that if they continue in the vein they are, and ignore the lure of things like the formatted tech review, their mix of illustrative video and well chosen third party video could really work.

What about the People.

As an end note I just wanted to point out that one tabloid was missing from this review – The People.  Go and have a look and it’s pretty clear why it wasn’t included.

Zemanta Pixie

How the UK Tabloids use video: The Express

This week I’m looking at the way the UK tabloids use video and today it’s the turn of the self proclaimed best newspaper in the World, the Daily Express

The Express takes us out of the ‘red-top’ territory of The Sun, Star and Mirror and in to the tabloid ‘mid-market’ which it shares with its rival The Daily Mail, which I’ll be looking at tomorrow.

The Platform

The Express front page has a number of video links
The Express front page has a number of video links

The Express flags it’s video clearly on the front page with a navigation item for video, currently marked as new, and a little graphic on the right-hand side of the page. A click on either one will take you through to the video page and (once you have cleared the really annoying overlay ad) the standard jukebox player powered by Roo.

The Express player. Dull, glitchy and full of third party stuff
The Express player. Dull, glitchy and full of third party stuff

When it first loads up, I have to say it looks pretty dull. The categories are all presented as ‘accordion’ style navigation but they are all rolled up. So you are presented with a generic splash screen on the player and no nice thumbnails to entice you in. It’s almost as if you click through and discover that Express video is closed for the summer. But I’m not afraid to click around and it’s a good job too.

Clicking news presents you with another set of roll-ups, again shut tight, and more menus. This is just too many clicks. But when I did eventually get some thumbnail action – I clicked UK news – I was greeted by the familiar swish of the Press Association and then it froze.  Something that happened quite a few times on the site. The controls failed to work for me using Firefox and a mac when it first loaded. All the way through the player skipped, stuttered and jumped videos. A bit of clicking around got it working but it was frustrating.

There is no back linking to articles from the video and they don’t do embedded video. If you want to cook along with Gary Rhodes for example, then you better make a note of the ingredients first because clicking the link will take you away from the recipe page.

The Presentation
The news content on the site is a mix of Press Association, AFP and Reuters. Most of the other content comes courtesy of the Roo network. The computer games content for example comes via Aussie company Control Freaks and entertainment (and lots of other stuff) from WatchMojo. Not much in there that looked in-house. Some of the sport stuff is unbranded but it still feels like agency footage.

So I used the search function to have a look for Exclusive and Express Exclusive content. The majority of it was exclusive but to the third-party suppliers the Express uses. Where it was obviously exclusive to the Express it was either branded stuff like Gok Wan’s competition offer or submitted stuff like the London Zoo promo.  The Hungary Grand-Prix preview is another apparent exclusive. Don’t let the branding at the end fool you. You can see the whole thing at any of the other tabloids. Try it over at The Sun for example. The player is better.

The technical implementation of video on the Express is really poor. The player’s isn’t user friendly and it’s buggy. Linking to video rather than embedding in article pages is shoddy considering the Roo player offers that technology and even when they do link, the technology lets them down. The player often jumps the linked video for a video a few items down.

The actual content of the video on the website is OK. If you are in to games then Control Freaks has a nice range of stuff and WatchMojo has so much stuff on so many subjects you will always find something but I can get that stuff anywhere. There is nothing here that is produced by the Express and that means there is nothing here that says Daily Express or shows any commitment to building a video brand. And no, paying that little extra for a PR company to get the tame celeb to say Daily Express or add a graphic is not a brand strategy.

You may ask “Why does the Express have to have a video brand?” It doesn’t. It doesn’t even need to make it’s own video. But it has chosen to have video on it’s site and it needs a better strategy than simply buying all the content options from Roo.  If it’s going to have it it could take the route of selecting the best, relevant video for their audience.

One thing is for sure, at the moment the video is a very poor bolt-on and has nothing to recommend it.

So tomorrow I’ll take a look at The Express’ competition – The Daily Mail, and see if it does any better.

Zemanta Pixie

Top quality student websites

Mark S. Luckie over at 10,000 words has posted his top ‘best of the best’ student media websites from the US.

The winner for him is the Alligator from Florida U.

The Alligator is hands down the best online student newspaper and rivals the pros in its news coverage and use of multimedia elements. Just listing the stellar components that make up the site warrant its own individual post.

You can’t disagree. It’s a great site. But do read the article and take a look at the six other sites he recommends.

Its a great list and it offers plenty of food for thought. Here in the UK the structures for students journalism can be a whole lot different. At my university for example the student paper, Pluto, is run through the students union. Though students from journalism courses are involved the department maintains a distance from the publication – kind of church and state. So we tend to run smaller newsday style websites as part of class exercises

I’ve been developing the use of CMS‘ withing my courses for the last 4 years and this year all of the second years have been blogging as part of their assignments, the momentum is building for better and better online content.

The structures of courses and the university can often feel restrictive but technology seems to want to jump over them. When I see stuff like the Alligator I get excited and jealous (in a positive way) about what you can achieve.

Roll on next year.