Lessons for newspapers in how not to do video online

1. Watch this wonderful effort from the Reading Evening Post.

2. Do the exact opposite.

Paul Bradshaw’s two posts on bad newspaper video content are much in keeping with my own thoughts and serve to show that, despite video online content now being the norm for newspaper websites, editors still aren’t thinking about what they post on there.

Having worked in both, I know there is a fair bit of difference between print and broadcast but the differences aren’t so huge that you can’t spot elementary mistakes. Look, both the BBC and ITV do local news bulletins every night. There’s no harm in taking notes and copying ideas from those who know what they’re doing.

I’m probably repeating some of Bradshaw’s criticisms here, but they can’t be stressed often enough.

1. If you’re doing a ‘groundbreaking’ 60 second news bulletin, video blog, or anything else with reporters talking to cameras then don’t leave it basic errors like crashing the title music over the reporter or leaving in a point where the reporter stumbles over their words. You’re pre-recording it, so if they get it wrong either go again or stick in a graphic or an OOV to cover the edit where your journalist stumbles. And shoot anybody in the background who talks while you’re filming. Leaving small, simple errors in is just amateur.

2. Do a basic screen and voice test for all your journalists. Find out which of them are keen to face the cameras and which have good speaking voices. If there’s only a couple to start off with, so be it. At least they’ll sound authoritative. There’s nothing worse than watching somebody who doesn’t like the lens and isn’t comfortable speaking in public being shoehorned into a role they never trained for.

3. On that note, for those that are keen to face the cameras, give them a bit of voice training. It’s not difficult to master.

4. Just because you can put something in video on your website, do you need to put something in video on your website? Stop. Think. Newspapers have editorial controls for the paper. Why do these suddenly go out the window the minute somebody brandishes a video camera. Sticking any old videoed tripe online is not only embarrassing, it devalues a newspaper’s brand as a whole. Newspapers are meant to be authoritative. They are not meant to look like they could be outdone by a 14-year-old in his bedroom with basic equipment.

5. Just because you have wonderful flashing special effects on an edit suite does not mean you need to use these either? You don’t use every flashy bit of Quark or InDesign, and you don’t make newspaper pages difficult to read for the sake of being able to use a really neat software feature. Think. How many news bulletins can you think of that employ sliding edits between newsreader and story? There is a good reason why broadcast journalists don’t do this, and it’s not because they have no sense of fun. It’s because they don’t want their viewers to get headaches. Or laugh at them.

6. While we’re on the subject of edit suites… As it’s become standard practice to get print reporters to video stories for their websites, why not include these in your bulletin. Moving pictures look sooooooooooooooooooo much better than static ones. It’s really not difficult to create a OOV (or Ulay). Hell, if you’re being really adventurous you could even do a link and clip. Neither of these are rocket science or mystical powers only available to those who enter TV newsrooms. They’re just the product of a combination of common sense and a basic understanding of how TV news works. And as journalists are supposedly intelligent people, the latter really shouldn’t be difficult to pick up.

All this neatly sidesteps the question of whether a 60 second bulletin is necessary for a newspaper website (I personally don’t think it’s a bad idea, especially if it’s embedded on YouTube – it gives the busy reader a chance to catch up and could drag in new readers from elsewhere if it’s tagged correctly) but it’s certainly got more point to it than a weather report.

If the Reading Evening Post genuinely believe they’re providing an exciting, groundbreaking, and professional video service here then whoever’s in charge of online video content needs to take a long, hard look at themselves. Newspaper readers are getting increasingly web savvy and it’s almost a tad insulting to dump unedited, error-ridden video online and then crow about it.

I’ve always been on the view that if you’re going to do something, then do it to the best of your abilities and I refuse to believe that’s the best of the abilities of staff on the Reading Evening Post. There’s so much potential here that could be utilised, but that can’t even be touched on until you get the basics right.

It’s been over 18 months since I touched any kind of video editing software, and I try to avoid the camera if possible, but I’m pretty sure that with the same tools I could produce something a little more polished. In the unlikely event anybody from the Post is actually reading this, the above advice is free. I’d be happy to show you how it works in practice for a very reasonable fee.


7 Responses to “Lessons for newspapers in how not to do video online”

  1. 1 Christopher White February 19, 2008 at 5:03 pm

    Because fact into doubt won’t go.

  2. 2 chickegg7 February 20, 2008 at 6:22 pm

    Gary, you bore me senseless. You obviously are not clever enough to make any valid observations on video journalism; instead you pick on a website who are just starting out in the digital world. You expect broadcast quality reports from print journalists who seem to be experimenting with film techniques – what is your problem? You attack, but surely the bigger debate is the market for the video and what they want. Local news is different to ITV or BBC content – diversification is key otherwise viewers will just visit national news sources.

  3. 3 Gary Andrews February 20, 2008 at 10:34 pm

    Ok, I’ll start by saying I completely agree with the last sentence. Yes, local news is very different to ITV or BBC content and there’s a great gap in the market for local video news. In that respect, it’s probably a very good thing for print media the BBC’s piloted ultra-local news scheme quietly disappeared. That would have probably killed off any hope of establishing a competitive market.

    Video – done well – could be a really key, big winner for online print outlets. And therein lies the problem that you ask about.

    Firstly, what’s the problem with aiming for broadcast quality, or near-as-broadcast quality? There’s no shame aping or aspiring to be as good as a local TV news bulletin. I’d go as far as to say local papers should be looking to aspire to be as good as any local TV broadcast and then better. Local papers serve a smaller community, and have a great advantage insofar as they should have great contacts and a good local knowledge. That could translate into some fantastic video journalism.

    Actually, one thing I spotted on the Reading Post site this afternoon and was planning to put up on here as a bit of balance was the Graeme Murty/Anthony Worrall Thompson video, which I thought was well shot, well put together and a good example of a good piece of video.

    But, back to your point that they’re just starting out experimenting…

    1. Give them time to experiment. It really is painfully obvious they’ve been unleashed with very little training or understanding of the medium (and it’s not as if you don’t get newspaper journalists making the leap into broadcast journalism).

    I don’t blame the reporters made to sit in front of the camera for this – if they’ve not been given the proper training then somebody higher up has to take responsibility.

    2. That still doesn’t excuse posting really poor quality videos up on there. I’m assuming from the way you’ve phrased your comment that you’re connected to the Post in some way. Are you really telling me that nobody’s spotted the basic errors? Are people really happy with what they’ve posted?

    Look, if there are errors in the the video, then, as it’s only sixty seconds, it shouldn’t be too hard to rerecord. So that includes a reporter stumbling over their words, or crashing the title music over the end of the report. That stuff isn’t hard to get right.

    I’ve stood in front of a video camera and messed up a piece-to-camera more times than I’d care to remember. So I rerecord until I get it right. And then I do an extra couple of takes so I’ve got a few to choose from. Again, to me that just seems like common sense.

    3. The editing suite criticisms – I appreciate editing programmes aren’t easy things to master. That said, somebody seems pretty adept at doing flashy edits and cut-aways, and in the case of the sports editor’s video blog, a weird little drop down robot screen which serves no discernible purpose other than whoever’s editing it thinks it looks good.

    (As an aside, I’d be interested to find out what editing software is being used).

    Again, surely people on the newspaper watch broadcast news and know that stuff only appears in Chris Morris spoofs. Yeah, you can do very amusing things with an edit suite, but save them for the end of year office compilation not something you’re putting on a website for public consumption.

    4. Voice. Ok, I’ll admit this is probably the hardest bit to train and is perhaps a little bit idealistic, especially if people are reasonably new to this. But I stand by my point: find out who’s keen and then get them to read a bit of copy, then stuck the person with the best voice on reading duties. Getting your voice right isn’t easy – hell, mine always needs a bit of work on it to kick out the bad habits – but it’s worth at least seeing what kind of quality you’ve got in your arsenal.

    5. The bigger debate is the market and what they want.

    Agreed. Does the market want badly done video? Sooner or later something or somebody’s going to come along with a better video service. If the REP’s video is at the same level then I’d imagine they’d fall victim to market forces. This stuff isn’t hard to produce if you’ve got the right equipment and all it takes is one enterprising person with enough time and the right equipment and suddenly you’re looking at a problem.

    Genuine question: how much market research has been done into video online for the Reading Evening Post?

    Just because somebody’s watching a video, it doesn’t mean they think it’s any good. If they think it’s funny, they might come back for more.

    I honestly believe that poorly done online video by newspapers devalues the brand. Yes, ok, perhaps I’m being overly critical above but, take out the sarcasm and strip down to the basic points, and are you seriously telling me those criticisms aren’t valid.

    I recognise local newsrooms are busy and understaffed at the best of times, and that many print journalists haven’t been trained in this stuff, so yes, I’m happy to cut some slack on that. But there’s many local papers who can do things reasonably well.

    Put it this way – you send a cub reporter to court and he commits contempt in his copy. Would a judge accept the argument that he was just starting out in the world of court reporting? He’s probably give the management a broadside for sending a poorly trained reporter into the situation.

    If the above came across as overly critical and angry, it’s because I know it wouldn’t take much to make those poor videos into very good ones. Trust me, it’s really not hard to make a 60 second bulletin once you know what you’re doing. It saddens me in a way that there’s so much potential that isn’t too hard to fulfill – and then there’s further potential beyond that, like a genuinely local video news bulletin service, vodcasts, mashups, widgets… I could go on. But to get those working, you’ve got to get the basics right, and here they’re lacking.

    I’m not the only person who’s commented on this. I’ve linked to Paul Bradshaw’s piece above. Ben Ayers and Joanna Geary have also been critical of it.

    If anybody from the Reading Evening Post did want to drop me an email, I’d be happy to site down and discuss how I think they could improve (although much of it is listed in this comment and the above post).

    And, FYI, I trained as a video journalist, among other things, so I think I’ve got enough knowledge to make valid criticisms of video journalism.

  4. 4 allielucy February 24, 2008 at 1:01 pm


    My name is Alison White, I am Head of Online News at the Reading Evening Post and a first time reader of your blog. I have chosen to post here in response to some of your orginal comments concerning the online video content of the EP website.

    Firstly, I would like to thank you for taking the time to comment on our product – although not all of your observations were complimentary, I always welcome constructive criticism and indeed we invite customer comments on each of our online news stories.

    I was recently employed by the EP to boost our online presence and online reporting capability and much of the video content has been instigated by me. Obviously, there is more than enough work here for one person so my time so far has been carefully divided between finding and producing web content, researching and procuring suitable equipment, training selected members of the news team and making changes to the website. Although I am not personally involved in the making of each video, as Head of Online News I do have overall responsibility so your criticisms land heavily at my doorstep.

    The initial plan has been to increase the amount of online video first, encouraging our readers to click on to this new feature – I say ‘new’ feature because I think we can all agree that the ‘Dave Wright Sports Roundup’ was playful experimentation. At the same time I have been encouraging other members of the news team to come up with ideas and also given them the ability to post them online and see how well they come across – reader criticism and all!

    Having worked at daily papers yourself Gary, you are aware that during the day there is little time to perfect each story – rather that consistently good production of up to the minute news comes largely from experience, which in terms of the web is building steadily at the EP. That is not to say that we must not increase our efforts in the production quality. New equipment, software and department-wide training are imminent. Staff are becoming aware of the importance of framing, lighting, and background and limiting over-enthusiastic transitions!

    The ‘60 Second News’ is a prime example – the feature itself is a great idea and has been received well by our web visitors, however, now that we know it is something that people will check out and link to, we have halted its production until the quality is suitable to be re-launched as a more polished service.

    To summarise, Gary, I make no apologies for the Reading Evening Post website. Since I have been in post I have seen nothing but dedication and enthusiasm from everybody on my team and whole-hearted support from the editorial staff. Appropriate funding has been allocated and you will soon be able to see for yourself a significant improvement in the areas that you have chosen to comment on. Our success in increasing our web audience and delivering the Reading news to more people than ever before is evident in the near doubling of our website hits in the last few months. This is set to continue as our corporate experience in the field of online journalism grows and the website is on track to be as successful as our newspaper.

    As always, I welcome the comments of those who choose to view our website, such feedback is essential. I include your own ‘free advice’ when I say this Gary, although I can assure you that I and my dedicated team are working hard on it and any future fee you had in mind – however ‘reasonable’ – will not be required!


    Alison White
    Head of Online News

  5. 5 Gary Andrews February 24, 2008 at 10:49 pm

    That’s a really detailed and refreshing response Alison and I genuinely wish you the best of luck in getting the best out of the online content. Having worked in the local online field before leaping off elsewhere I can well understand the limited time you’ve got to work with and it’s good that the Post are trying – I’ve seen some sites that don’t even bother being anything more than a poor copy of the print edition.

    My criticisms were a bit scathing but weren’t meant to be an out-and-out let’s laugh at the online video, and hopefully, sarcasm aside, they didn’t come out as such. You’ve already got some decent stuff on there (the Anthony Worrall Thompson clip that I’ve mentioned elsewhere), and I’ll stand by what I say – although I don’t think we’re a million miles apart on the ideal for the site 🙂

    Thanks for taking the time to post such a detailed response (which was pleasantly unexpected, given that only about ten or so people regularly read this blog) – it’s really refreshing to read what you posted as opposed to a we’re doing a job job, what do you know’. I’ll look forward to see what comes out (although I’d still like to keep the David Wright blogs to cheer myself up on busy days)

    If you do use any of the above points, I’ll accept payment in a bag of high quality tea (I did say my rates were reasonable).

  1. 1 Newsclipper: Why video matters « Gary Andrews Trackback on February 21, 2008 at 2:11 pm
  2. 2 Newspaper video on the front line « Gary Andrews Trackback on March 12, 2008 at 11:58 pm

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