Newspapers doing video: what does it add?

Asked in an interview with The New York Times why he wanted to climb Mount Everest, George Mallory famously replied: "Because it's there."

Ask a newspaper executive — on a national or an emerging number of regionals — why his or her paper carries video on the web and the sentiment, probably unspoken, is likely to be similar: "Because we can."

It's a question all media — broadcast as much as print — should ask themselves honestly in a new media world. What's the rationale for delivering on another platform? As a print publisher, will video add anything that text and stills can't? As a broadcaster, what's the point of a 250-word article?

Don't do it because it's there. Do it because you can do it differently or better — or because it reaches parts of your audience other platforms can't. Let's call it the 'Mallory' test.

So how did our five pioneering regionals fare? The results were mixed. Undoubtedly, some of the efforts are amateurish — poor lighting, suspect framing and rough editing. But little of this matters so long as the content is compelling, refreshing and unique.

And many times it was, especially when these local papers stuck to their beat to bring you stories you won't come across elsewhere — or added a regional hook to a national tale.

This is Exeter had a warm tribute to 1966 World Cup star Alan Ball. He managed the local team in the early 1990s and staff and fans were on hand with anecdotes and memories — an antidote to the usual suspects national broadcasters turned to for this story.

This is Hull featured a neat piece ahead of the recent local elections, inviting candidates from each of the main parties to make a one-minute pitch direct to voters.

The Manchester Evening News stuck religiously to its beat to bring behind-the-scenes shots and interviews with the cast of the Channel 4 series, based on a Manchester estate. And it wore its Manchester heart on its sleeve with an interview with James, a band reunited one more time. Both pieces worked well.

What worked less well was the paper's decision to use raw rushes as a value-add to some of its text stories. So you had footage of the fire brigade at the scene of a long extinguished fire and bizarrely — on a story sold as "Holiday plane in landing drama" — 30 seconds of a Thomson charter flight taking off safely. It added little.

On all the sites you are left with a feeling that on-the-day footage and libraries of GVs (general views) are in desperately short supply. The result: interviews stitched together with lingering shots of stills and pieces to camera – such as the daily bulletins on Newbury Today and This is Hull — with few or no moving images at all.

This kind of "radio with pictures" might better be delivered as an audio stream instead. Or text and stills, perhaps.

Newbury Today and the Lancashire Evening Post scored high marks when it came to web presentation. Both clearly labelled their video service, the latter reinventing itself as lep.tv. Both had branded players and used oversized straps and captions that can be seen clearly in a small, 240×180 video window, something often overlooked, even by professional broadcasters.

Finally, there was a strangely compelling piece on the This is Exeter site. It was shot above a reporter's desk as she interviewed a colleague of a soldier killed in Iraq. All you see is the reporter cradling a phone, some frantic shorthand and the regular audible encouragement which print journalists — but certainly not broadcast journalists —  offer their interviewees. It shouldn't have worked —  and it definitely doesn't pass the Mallory test —  but in this instance, it just did.

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