State-of-the-art camera gives Evening Herald a head start

The Plymouth Evening Herald has pioneered a state-of-the-art video camera strapped to a reporter’s head, in a move which could signal the future for solo war reporting.

The paper’s maritime and defence correspondent, Tristan Nichols, travelled to Sierra Leone, where he used the tiny portable camera to record interviews and live action footage of Plymouth-based military units who are currently in the West African country on a three-month training exercise. The footage was broadcast on the paper’s website this week.

The “Cylon Body-Worn Surveillance System” that Nichols used has been deployed by police and the armed forces for mobile intelligence gathering since late last year. It comprises a lightweight camera and a PDA-sized device containing a hard drive that can store up to 400 hours of video.

Nichols told Press Gazette: “This was a trial for how this would work for reporting from somewhere like Afghanistan.

“The portable camera has great potential for solo war reporting,” added Nichols, who plans to report from Helmand Province in Afghanistan later this year. “It’s a one-man job, where you can just walk around doing interviews. It really is the future.”

The Evening Herald borrowed the ¬£1,700 “headcam” from a local company, Audax Business Consultancy, which also supplied the device to Devon and Cornwall police.

In February, BBC Southwest’s “Inside Out” programme used it to record a husky rally from a dog’s eye-perspective. Several other broadcasters, including NBC, Sky and ITV, have also experimented with the device, but this is believed to be the first time that a newspaper has used it to produce online video, said Audax chief executive Steven Rogers.

“They use it for areas where they can’t lug in a big camera, like caves or treetops — but it’s primarily being used in nature programmes for stalking animals,” said Rogers. The camera can also be used for covert recordings, and can have night-vision capability.

Aside from its portability, having a tiny camera also has other advantages for journalists, said Evening Herald news editor James Garnett.

“It’s less intimidating for people, because they almost forget it’s there. When you’re being interviewed, you’re looking at the journalist because the journalist is bigger than the camera, rather than the camera being bigger than the journalist,” he said.

Garnett said the Evening Herald now had greater control over its website, ThisIsPlymouth, and is currently investigating how best to expand its online audio and video offerings.

“The newspaper is still very much the centre of what we do, but we do want to develop the website, because people do expect more from internet sites now.”

None of the paper’s staff have had any formal training in video production yet. “We’re kind of improvising at the moment,” said Garnett.

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