Re-Configuring Video Journalism

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  1. In December of 2006, just one year after YouTube’s inception, Nieman Reports published a paper exploring the journalistic anomaly known as web 2.0.

    The paper served as a comprehensive response to the y2k-esque hysteria surrounding journalism at the time. All the uncharted digital crevices were mapped out: New networks, new platforms and how to harness citizen-generated content. Essentially, the premise of the three-page document could be surmised with: What is the Internet and what can we do with it?

    But perhaps the most salient feature of the report is in the first sentence. Without delay, Frances Pisani penned the assertion, “YouTube.com, the website where people freely upload and view video of all sorts, has nothing to do with journalism as we know it,”

    Returning to 2014, it’s a sentiment not quite echoed by the current state of the profession.

    The Pew research centre’s most recent analysis of online video consumption details that 36% of US adults digest video news digitally.
  2. Perhaps not a stark figure, however it’s worth bearing in mind that YouTube didn’t spring up until 2005, and was heavily popularised by the rise of smartphones. As such since 2007 - the year the first iPhone was unveiled- online video consumption has been on the rise significantly. In 2006, those who watched online news video' in the US was at 26%, by 2009 this figure had increased to 33%, and in 2013 again to 36%. What's more, overall 88% of those who watched video content online did so on a mobile device.
  3. With discourse from experts envisaging this number to only grow in the future, traditional broadcast methods may be shifting. But with mediums changing, how will this alter the message delivered?

    As noted by Henry Jenkins in ‘Worship at the Altar of Convergence’, the consensus ardently backed by media scholars is that despite delivery technologies augmenting, evolving and adapting, the message they deliver remains the same. The rise of mp3’s may have cannibalized CD's, but never did it destroy music.

    But the visual status quo seen on television, doesn’t completely lend itself to a digital environment and has played host to a throng of confusion in newsrooms.

    This years 2014 WAN-IFRA report notes that editorially and commercially many news bodies have struggled to wrangle the opportunities online video presents. Online video is complex, and in no way single faceted. Identifying the correct format to present this style of news is murky, and un-governed by any structural standards.

    But what is clear in the report is the need to re-invent the traditional parameters of video, in order to acclimatize to an online medium. Simply recycling what’s on TV is not only derivative, but also boring in the era of immediacy, and accessibility.
  4. Battle rages on outskirts of Kobani
  5. Breeding a distinct look, feel and voice with online content is of chief concern. Vice Media, or more importantly Vice News, is perhaps the strongest, vogue example of this. After maturing from an edgy counter-culture magazine in 1994 to a transnational media conglomerate today, Vice managed to pioneer an inimitable journalistic style alien to many news outlets.

    2013 saw the unveiling of the company’s new ‘Vice News’, a completely alternative source of journalism aimed at a youthful demographic. This is perhaps where the bulk of the company’s success resides, with research indicating that those aged between and 18-29 consume almost as much online video news, as those aged between 30-49. It's a trend that contravenes the norm for most entrenched platforms like print and television.
  6. So how has Vice managed to captivate a demographic of generally thought to be apathetic young people? Getting the length right is of sheer importance online, and is where the company seems to prosper. Vice News generally makes use of short punchy content seen in the form of 3-10 minute dispatches. The geo-political crisis in the Ukraine’s seen upwards of 80 dispatches. This gradually fleshes out a rigorous portrait of the conflict, whilst still quenching the growing cultural thirst for brevity.
  7. Russia's Little Green Men Enter Ukraine: Russian Roulette in Ukraine (Dispatch 1)
  8. Greater Autonomy for Separatists Might Signal War's End: Russian Roulette (Dispatch 81)
  9. But this doesn’t mean traditional long form storytellings been left to decay. Vice is renowned for producing illustrious full length documentaries. The 2014 Frontline Club Awards saw Vice News journalist, Medyan Dairieh, presented the excellence in broadcast journalism award, for his un-paralleled documentary, ‘The Islamic State'.
  10. The Islamic State (Full Length)
  11. It simply appears Vice has managed to find the optimal balance between the long, and the short. Releasing agile content in short increments regularly, and then following this up with the occasional drawn out, long form narrative when it's truly warranted. And this is what's helped breed there 4.5 million unpaid followers.
  12. But it’s also a method that’s drawn vehement criticism from other media counterparts. Debate has often floated around the notion that the company waters down context in pursuit of flashy blockbuster type imagery. However, this argument often fails to assess the idea that online video should be geared as a complementary device for text and other media. Vice News’s online video content doesn’t seek to unfurl the inherent structural and sectarian elements, which underpin conflicts such as the domestic crisis in Yemen. They have hordes of analytical and commentary pieces for this. It’s merely an immersive, frontline account, from voices on the ground. One that moves away from what Harlow and Johnson refer to as the ‘Protest paradigm’, whereby official voices are privileged over those of the oppressed themselves.
  13. This highlights the need for newsrooms to understand the crucial distinction between online video, and other content. Online video should play a mere entry role, whereby it lures viewers in, and then challenges them to delve further. Not brusquely overwhelm them with an aggressive flurry of stats, graphs and intricate expert opinion, all stuffed into a brimming 3 minute video.
  14. Using online video shouldn’t be viewed as a commodity, but rather a broad investment. It’s simply the proverbial bait, dangled in front of viewers, to draw them into further content. And with Vice Media forecast to turn over $125 million in profit, it’s a testament to the idea that if you film it, and you film it right, they will in fact come.
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