News in Motion: How Video Is Affecting Journalism

Though the exact beginning point of journalism can be debated, one aspect of the field that remains a constant is the continuous evolution of methodology and process. What is considered news? How are stories shared? What makes reporting ethical or unethical? These are just a few of the important questions that have been refined over time.
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Though the exact beginning point of journalism can be debated, one aspect of the field that remains a constant is the continuous evolution of methodology and process. What is considered news? How are stories shared? What makes reporting ethical or unethical? These are just a few of the important questions that have been refined over time.

Today, one of the most intriguing conversations revolves around technology, and specifically the way resources are changing the way we create and digest news.

From print journalism to the introduction of radio and television, to the current influence of digital platforms, the way news is delivered has constantly shifted alongside our environment. Mediums which once served as viable communication tools are fading out -- or at least being used differently -- as innovative ways to present content are developed.

So, what's next? That is literally the million-and-then-some dollar question that editors, creators, and strategists alike have been trying to predict. Well, more and more it looks like at least part of this complex question is being solved due to the ever-growing focus on video content. While the use of video to relay news is not a new concept, it can certainly be agreed upon that we are experiencing a unique transition as video is being relied on more and more to tell stories and
engage audiences.

Emerging technologies & news

Whether it's the addition of the Snapchat Discover feature or the creation of Facebook Live, video is changing the way we create and absorb information. What's more, outlets such as Mashable have gone to lengths to solidify the growing focus on video. Most recently BuzzFeed announced their emphasis on video content with the separation into two groups: BuzzFeed News and BuzzFeed Entertainment. We can only expect similar decisions to unfold among news outlets in the near future.

In this new structure, video won't be the job of just one department. Having a single "video department" in 2016 makes about as much sense as having a "mobile department." Instead, it will be something we expand and embed across the organization. - Jonah Peretti, BuzzFeed CEO

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I wanted to learn more. So, to better understand the current state of journalism and the growing relationship between news and video, I asked those who have to reflect on the topic each day.

(Note: Subjects were asked the following questions as a frame of reference: 1) Is video becoming more of a focus for news? 2) Why is this transition happening?
3) What does this mean in regards to the way we digest information? 4) What does this mean for content creators? Will we read and write less? 5) How will news be thought of differently? Excerpts below may have been shortened for length.)

Edward-Isaac Dovere (Senior White House Reporter, POLITICO)

News, information, entertainment -- whatever it is will always be shaped by how people are consuming it (at least when smart people are involved).

Binge-watching wasn't a thing before there was Netflix/on-demand TV, but now many television shows are written and presented on the very realistic assumption that people will watch two or three or four or more of them in a row.

Similarly, smart news coverage needs to assume that people aren't usually reading a paper edition the day after, but that they're reading on their iPhones or iPads (or non-Apple equivalents) quickly after events happen, often after having read the immediate breaking news headline on Twitter or through a push alert to their phones or inboxes. If it's news describing a particular moment in an event, of course people are going to want to watch it, and their devices are going to give them that ability -- so naturally everyone in the news business has to move toward that: tweeting photos and vines, live snapchats, and video embedded on the home sites themselves.

This means that we all need to get better at being multimedia producers, on the one hand, we all also have to be smart about not overdoing it.

For news, people seem to want immediate content that also helps them understand what's going on and why it matters, which video can't do on its own. That means written journalism isn't over -- on the contrary, it's arguably more important now, but just needs to adapt into the new and necessary space and timing that have been created by the overall changing media landscape.

Matt Wilstein (Entertainment Writer, The Daily Beast)

There is definitely pressure on all news outlets to make original video a bigger part of their operations, both because it can be monetized with video ads, which advertisers love, and because it can be repurposed on social media. This is especially true on Facebook, which has taken steps to prioritize posts by news organizations that contain video.

Most obviously, this trend could push some people to watch more, read less. Why spend ten minutes reading an in-depth article when you can get a surface level understanding of the story in a sixty-second video? But I have to believe there will always be an audience for longer-form written stories. Personally, even if I'm consuming a lot of short articles and video content throughout the day, I will also be saving longer articles to my phone, using an app, like Instapaper, to read later that night or even over the weekend when I have more time.

For my own pieces, I almost always try to include video within the article. Sometimes it's the focus of the piece and other times it is just used as supplemental material to help the reader get an understanding of a film or television show they might not be familiar with. I'm not doing that because it's been dictated to me, but rather because I know as a news consumer that it's what people want.

Ryan McKee (Digital Writer & Producer, Late Late Show
with James Corden)

I'm not sure if it's the main focus. People still love reading hot-take editorial pieces. For example, while at MTV News, we employed more writers than video producers/video editors. I do think that incorporating video into every online news post is becoming a huge priority. A big part of that is that companies get more ad revenue for the video pre-rolls than they do onsite ads. That said, I can see video becoming more of a focus, but I don't think written editorial will go away. People still love writing/reading online. There's a reason Medium is growing so quickly.

If you want to create online content, you better know how do it all: write, shoot video, edit video, graphics, etc. The technology had made it too easy not to, and employers are expecting their content creators to do it all. At Late Late Show, there's three of us who do everything for the show's online presence: social, web video production, blogging, advertiser relationships, graphic design, etc...

Trending news is always important for organizers to hit, but the best-written, best-produced follow up pieces on those breaking news stories are always the bigger traffic winners.

Matt McFarland (Tech Reporter, CNN)

For storytellers it's super important to use every tool available to you. For writers, we need to care not just about our prose, but also about how visual elements can make our stories even stronger. Video is so immersive and powerful that storytellers would be silly not to embrace it as part of their playbook. I wouldn't be surprised if one day content creators turn their focus to virtual reality, which can offer an even more immersive experience for storytelling.

Caty Green (Managing Editor, The Atlantic)

Without dismissing the legacy of broadcast journalism -- and it's worth reminding ourselves that there are audiences of people across the country who still rely on local newscasts -- video does seem like it's becoming more of a focus for outlets that weren't already in that space. I think that's because of a couple things: competition and resonance.

We're all competing for audience attention -- that of our core readers and potential visitors alike -- which is increasingly spread thin. If you look at the sheer volume of content pouring into eyeballs every moment spent online, you can see there's less room for publications that ruled news 30 years ago. I think we've also started paying more attention to how deeply our audience can connect with video content. It's been a tenet of broadcast for decades, but it's taken some of us longer to understand that expanding the sensory experience of news consumption does add a little somethin'.

Plus, regularly featuring staff in some of these well-produced and useful videos helps shape the audience's understanding of an outlet brand and, ideally, builds some loyalty. That is, a potential reader might not seek out a writer's work -- she's busy, she's on Facebook when she gets a break in the day and all the headlines from outlets she follows blur together in her feed, she isn't going to homepages on her own -- but once she gets a look at the writer's face, and sees them talk through a story with sleek graphics and some decent enough intro/outro music, maybe she develops a better connection to the writer and the publication that employs them.

I'm probably the worst person to speculate about what this means for the way we as consumers digest information -- I still absorb things best by reading them. But sure, producing things for video changes the way we tell stories or share information -- it has to. You can only jam-pack so much into people's ears, and that limitation isn't determined only by the length of the video. In my experience, that's always been a tough transition for print/text journalists -- the viewer really can't swallow everything they worked into their stories. It forces journalists to boil down what a viewer needs to know to come away from the experience with a better understanding of the truth.

Also -- and I like this about the format -- it forces you to talk like a person, not like a writer. What you say in a video won't be as flowery as what you'd write in a longer narrative, and it won't be as just-the-facts-ma'am as the audience would find in a straight news piece. But if you do your job right, it won't feel to the viewer like homework.

Micah Gelman (Senior Editor and Head of Video, The Washington Post)

Video is an essential part of how all news organizations tell stories and is particularly important at The Washington Post. Video is the language in which our audience -- particularly our younger audience -- communicates and it is table stakes to our storytelling. Writing and reporting will always be core to journalism -- but how that writing is translated for audiences will continue to evolve through video, 360 video, augmented reality and virtual reality.

The transition is happening for a number of reasons: Technology is making it cheaper and easier to communicate via video -- whether in the equipment a news organization uses or the phone in everyone's pocket. Increasing bandwidth speeds at home and via mobile means video can be instant and affordable to the masses. The technology has made it possible to democratize video -- just as the internet originally did for publishing -- to allow anyone to be a video gatherer and distributor. Humans have always taken in information in a multitude of ways -- through sight and hearing. We are building in-person communication at scale through video. Whereas before, the only way to communicate over long distances was via the written word, we can now do that through video.

The approach to how we tell stories is always changing. Video is still relatively new -- when you compare it to the invention of television to the printed press. And for the first few decades video was the domain of the few--largely due to the cost of gathering and distribution. But now the masses have video and 360 video and soon it will be VR and AR and the next thing we don't know about yet. Our approach is always evolving -- it has been since the beginning of communication.

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Joe Posner (Producer, Vox Video)

I'm not sure "more" of a focus is the right way to look at it. Doing video news has always been the lead focus for television networks for a really long time. Most of the biggest news moments you can think of in recent history happened on live TV. Documentary filmmaking has been around even longer.

The wonderful thing about today is that there are tools that are easy and cheap enough that literally anybody with the time and drive and a computer can make really great, important, and/or interesting stories outside the context (and constraints) of broadcast TV and documentary film, and internet video can end up reaching an audience that's mind-bogglingly huge sometimes.

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An example: Ezra Klein, our editor-in-chief, is probably the person most closely associated with Vox. When a video we made about the dynamics of the Syrian civil war exploded off his Facebook page -- shared almost a million times, over 50 million 3-second views -- commenters on our YouTube page thought some Ezra Klein guy was just stealing our videos. Not only would that video not make sense on TV or as its own documentary, but the audience it reached was far bigger than those already closely aware of Vox.

What I hope it does is raise the bar for for what the audience should expect from people making non-fiction and news. People in storytelling and journalism love to say, "show, don't tell." Those of us who work in video have even fewer excuses not to -- we can show the evidence and/or primary sources.

An interesting, controversial direction would be if it goes more like music. I'm sure people whose bread and butter was classical music -- and music notation -- were shocked, shocked when composers like Paul McCartney or Stevie Wonder couldn't even read music but could make something that clearly resonated with people.

The point is that both were completely fluent in the language of music, they just were without using the exact same tools as what might have been expected by classical musicians a few years earlier. There are some signs of that happening -- people know to think critically about images and whether they've been photoshopped now.

Rachel Zarrell (Director of Daily Video, MTV News)

Obviously, the ways in which we consume news are evolving faster than ever before. Even just in the last year there has been an onslaught of big, industry-shaking changes. I think it can feel like people are also consuming news in a more narrow way -- like only through watching videos on social media -- but in reality people also seem to be hungrier for news than they've ever been.

There's a heavier importance placed on being informed, especially among millennials. So I think video does serve a purpose in helping to inform faster and sometimes in a more entertaining or engaging way. Videos are literally made to be eye-catching.

I know at MTV News I'm constantly thinking about how to grab people on a very crowded newsfeed and how to keep them engaged. But on the flip side, written stories will often offer a depth and nuance that can be tough to achieve in video, especially if you're shooting to make things under 60 seconds, like I do.

I think what this means is that media organizations are going to continue trying to find ways to marry text and video content together into one package. I don't believe the way we consume them has to always be mutually exclusive. But anything you can do to take the story off the page and give readers an option to engage in it in multiple ways, or pick and choose how to consume it, that can only benefit you as an organization. It's a challenge because monetizing this content is still a big question -- we saw that recently with that huge Mother Jones piece on private prisons that cost them hundreds of thousands of dollars to produce, had major impact, and earned them very little. But I truly believe that where there is informative, engaging storytelling, there will be an audience.

We're definitely in a transitional period. It's just up to those of us creating the content to think about how to package those stories in a fresh way, that can live on multiple platforms, that may look different on one social media site than on another, than on the website, that is mobile-friendly, that encourages reader or viewer discussion, and that utilizes both text and video to their utmost capabilities, together. And I think that's the fun challenge we all have ahead of us right now.

Shira Lazar (CEO/Co-Founder, What's Trending & On-Air Personality)

I do believe video is becoming more of a focus on the digital front but that's just because consumption habits are changing. If less viewers are watching traditional TV broadcasts that doesn't mean that news is meaningless or irrelevant, it's just being consumed in different ways.

Instead of expecting an audience to tune in at a specific time to a specific medium, you have to be delivering the content in the places they are and in the way they want to experience it. So some stories might be better as a blog post, an image with a caption, a gif, a short form video with captions, a video interview, a live stream. Stunts, breaking news, events, interviews with big stars and world leaders work well as live video where it feels like if you don't participate in the conversation at that moment you will be missing out, or you simply want to be part of that discussion.

Today's audiences wants to have the option to participate and interact in the stories happening around them. In the past, news has been so packaged, and really a one way conversation. While not trying to be biased or slanted it also lost its authenticity. Bringing news to digital video allows the public to be part of these conversations again and to have a relationship with the creator/producer/reporter.

For people who create content it levels out the playing field.

I believe you'll always have the "trusted news sources" like ABC, CBS, CNN, AP, etc but digital has allowed new brands to emerge that focus on parts of the world and culture that were otherwise being ignored by traditional news outlets. The Young Turks is one independent news brand that comes to mind that has a very specific angle and political preference. They don't hide it and they aren't going to dilute the news they are delivering to their audience because of a fortune 500 brand or corporate pressure. They've been able to build their audience considerably because of the growth of the digital and social video space through Facebook and YouTube. The same on the other side of the political spectrum with The Blaze. Glenn Beck quit Fox News and took advantage of the digital video space and OTT space to start his own brand and deliver the news the way he wanted to deliver it.

On the other hand, the idea that people will only follow those who cater to their beliefs is also scary.

Between our own Facebook feeds and social media algorithms the big question becomes while digital video in the news space has opened up so many options and democratized the news, it also makes it easy for all of us to live in our own belief bubbles with nothing forcing us to see the other sides.

Looking to the future

The way news is delivered has evolved with time, and with the addition of today's innovative digital tools, this evolution is more evident than ever. While we may not know how long the focus on video content will last -- or what effect such a shift will have on traditional journalism -- it will be exciting to follow along as news sources push to captivate audiences in creative and meaningful ways.

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