News: the net generation

As broadband speed and access increase,
web news is becoming faster and more hi-tech. Dominic Ponsford talks to
David Dunkley Gyimah, editor of Viewmagazine.tv, about how video
journalism is coming of age
 
A landmark that could have profound implications for journalism was quietly passed by UK communications technology last month.

For the first time, the number of homes with broadband
connections exceeded those using dial-up modems to access the internet.
According to Ofcom, 8.1 million homes in Britain now have broadband
internet access, compared to 7.5 million on dial-up.

It is a shift which looks set to prompt a new generation of news websites which harness sound, words, pictures and video.

And
if Viewmagazine.tv is anything to go by, this new generation of sites
will be as different from current market leaders such as Guardian
Unlimited and BBC News Online as a modern Hollywood blockbuster is from
a silent movie.

View is the work of Westminster University
digital journalism lecturer David Dunkley Gyimah, but put together with
the help of friends in the world of video journalism.

Although it
only has a few thousand regular readers/viewers, it’s already been
shortlisted for a major international award from the US Institute of
Interactive Journalism and won plaudits from the likes of Endemol
chairman Peter Bazalgette, who described it as “stimulating and very
sexy”.

Using View – now on its third quarterly edition – is like
stepping into the sort of hi-tech world imagined in Steven Spielberg’s
science fiction movie Minority Report.

The site is made up of 64
pages and organised ostensibly like a conventional magazine – pages can
be scrolled through sequentially if the reader wishes.

But the contents page also acts as a browser with click-through links to the various stories.

As
your mouse icon hovers over pictures they burst into life, often with
audio. And throughout the site, text reports are interspersed with
video documentaries, audio interviews and other multimedia clips.

The
site is put together with original video and audio created by Gyimah
and other “backpack journalists” – people who are able to shoot,
direct, edit and present documentaries and news reports using a digital
camcorder, a laptop and the latest film-editing software.

The
current issue of View includes a report from Ishraga Lloyd, who travels
to war-torn Sudan to investigate her family’s roots, and an audio
interview with US writer Sophie Stewart, who claims her novel Third Eye
was the unaccredited inspiration for blockbuster film trilogy The
Matrix.

There’s also a video interview between Gyimah and
director of the Chatham House think-tank, Victor Bulmer-Thomas, about
the “war on terror”

and a feature written by the author of a new
Bob Marley autobiography, which includes unseen pictures and an
interview with Marley’s manager.

Gyimah is a web evangelist who
thinks the era of the video journalist has finally arrived since he
learnt his trade 10 years ago as one of the first VJs at shortlived
London cable news station Channel One.

In Gilder’s law, to quote
George Gilder, an author and prophet of new technology, connection
speed triples every year, meaning that 10mb will be here by 2008,
allowing DVD-quality sound and video to be broadcast. Bearing in mind
that analogue TV signals will be switched off in 2012, Gyimah says that
the line between TV and the net is likely to be blurred.

In his
View editor’s letter, Gyimah says: “In 1994 the net was a toddler,
barely able to stand on a 28k modem. Now it’s a petulant teenager
cocksure of offering 1mb-plus, and soon, as an adult, the net will do
what most broadcasters will either love or loathe – the ability to
broadcast quality pictures with interactivity.

“Here at View
we’re touching that void. Soon all manner of web TV models will thrive:
community TV, neighbourhood TV, local borough TV, one-man and-his-dog
TV – the truth is we’ll be richer for it.”

But while high-quality
web TV is still a couple of years off, View demonstrates the extent to
which current websites can push existing technology.

The films it
contains are what Gyimah calls “aggressive”, in the sense that they use
stylised camera work, quick cuts, music and effects to grab and hold
the reader’s attention.

The potential of broadband is something
mainstream news websites are waking up to. Last month, The Sun signed a
groundbreaking deal with Press Association for the latter to produce
four 90-second news bulletins a day to broadcast on its website – a
move which is probably the closest a national newspaper has got to
masthead TV.

And with broadband becoming faster and accessible to
almost everyone in the UK by the end of this year, it seems likely that
other major news websites could be advised to follow suit.

Gyimah
says: “The real prospect of 8mb speeds and more will be the equivalent
to the motor industry’s birth usurping an idyllic era of the horse and
cart.

The net changes from a resource centre with hyperlinked text to a digital canvas knowing no bounds.”

Gyimah
flies out to the National Press Club in Washington on 12 September to
find out if he has won the $10,000 prize for Innovations in Journalism.

He is up against entries from The New York Times, Newsday and USA Today, so is cautious about his chances of success.

The
US judges described View as: “An interactive magazine that foreshadows
the future with its use of hip new story forms and highly video-centric
web tools.”

Gyimah says: “The fact that we (myself and all those
who have helped) are guaranteed one of the five finalist places is way
beyond my wildest dreams.”

To see Viewmagazine.tv go to www.viewmagazine.tv

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