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Could social journalism kill multimedia journalism in 2014?

Multimedia trends are always tricky to predict but 2014 should see some exciting developments in newspapers.  What I hope will happen will probably differ from what will actually happen but let’s start 2014 on a positive note.

Newspaper multimedia content in 2014

Real multimedia treatments are finally upon us.  It’s taken a decade for newspapers to catch up but we’re finally starting to see multimedia journalism taken seriously.  Noteworthy examples in 2013 included The New York Times’s benchmark project Snowfall, The Guardian’s Firestorm and The Wall Street Journal’s brilliant The Lobotomy Files.  All have their issues but all combine top quality journalism with photography, animation, video, audio and graphics that work well together to create an immersive experience.

Since joining The Wall Street Journal at the end of last year, I’ve already worked on some interesting stories including a short film on The Rise of Golden Dawn, which was produced using almost entirely third party footage and imagery. Granted it’s text heavy and given more time there are things that should have been done differently, but forming part of the interactive treatment it was produced for, it works.

Best of all was the support and interest from all areas of the paper – a genuine sense of a united title working together to create something worthwhile, as opposed to the them (print) and us (digital) mentality of so many titles that continue Slithering to a Digital Future. This too is a huge step forward.

And that segues nicely into why Newscorps decision to buy Storyful Pro for $28 million at the end of last year is one to watch?

It’s a fabulous resource for citizen journalism and should lead to better treatments of World stories, an area that until now doesn’t get the attention it deserves from Western media.  The Wall Street Journal already benefits from World Stream, a service enabling its field journalists to upload video clips from their mobile phones for publication.  Storyful Pro takes this a step further by looking at material shot by citizen journalists and taking care of the hard bit – verifying it’s legitimacy and obtaining permission to publish.

Another area that’s likely to flood social media platforms in 2014 is social video.  Tiny clips of footage used to drive traffic to its originator’s site.  In fact only the other day the BBC  launched Instafax – a service delivering headline videos that run for seconds. It really says something about society today.

Marketing moves into the newsroom

For me social media is a great marketing tool and that’s what I hope it remains.  It won’t of course – social media journalism is gaining pace.  Watered down stories with no substance often delivered as lists: “10 things you…” – it’s PR journalism that’s badly written, quick to produce and gets traffic because it takes 30 seconds to read.

Until now ‘editorial’ has always been a separate entity to ‘commercial’ for journalists.  Yet now social media teams work within the newsroom and we are actively encouraged to market our stories.  So what exactly are commercial and marketing departments doing?  And shouldn’t they be integrated with social media teams?

Sure, editors want more traffic to their digital platforms but at what cost?  It’s easy to forget that social media is about marketing and PR – creating a buzz around content.  And just because a-thousand people click on a ten second Instagram film doesn’t mean the same number of people will pay to watch the real thing.  Are the retention figures really that good?  And if more time is being spent on throwaway content for marketing purposes – less time is being spent on quality editorial.

Then there’s the legal implications – the cries of copyright infringement from photographers and photo journalists regarding their largely uncredited material being used to lure viewers to a story via social media platforms.

Indeed, I believe 2014 will see the “socialising” of newspaper content hit a peak. We should also see the release of data highlighting the number of active users to the different social media platforms. Surely it’s not just me that’s quit Facebook on account of the vacuous daily updates?

Twitter’s Inactive Account Policy statement says:

“We are currently working to release all inactive usernames in bulk, but we do not have a set time frame for when this will take place.”

Yet the “working to release” sentiment behind the statement has remained inactive for around two years. Could 2014 see social media platforms come clean about active usage?

Mobile phone broadcast standards in 2014

Too many of those who twitter on about journalists having all the mobile tools they need at their disposal to produce top quality multimedia content are not journalists.

Sure, a mobile phone is a great tool for capturing breaking news in the field but too many companies are encouraging their use to craft video packages to accompany stories.  Yes some do a great job, but the vast majority is badly shot, thus the video material to be proud of gets lost as we Drown in a Sea of Crap Footage

Of course the problem isn’t just that a print journalist’s priority is the written piece, it’s also the quality of footage that mobile phones produce.  Yes, playback looks ok on mobile, tablet and computer screens but it looks terrible on TV.  And decision makers seem to be forgetting that a multi-platform digital future includes Connected TV.
With this in mind more material needs to be shot at broadcast specifications, not just because it’s better editorially but also because it’s more valuable to commercial departments. Not forgetting that most professional video journalists, filmmakers and cameramen have already started moving over to 4K.

I enjoyed this Storified conversation on Twitter the other day. It followed an announcement that London Live is training up print journalists from The Independent and The Evening Standard to deliver 24/7 news content using mobile phones.

Keep up the good fight in 2014 Dan.  Will the penny drop?  I doubt it.

Multimedia /  Social Media tools

It always excites me to see something truly original but all to often it doesn’t add anything to the story.  In fact more often than not I would rather read a well written story or watch a well produced film than try and figure out how an interactive works.

I was always taught that if you have to be shown how it works, then it’s badly designed.  And while the click rate for gimmicks is good, how long does the user actually interact with it?   Engagement times are key to ensure investment in this area and up until now they’re simply not monitored in the same way video is.  Yes, you’ll hear people’s excitement about the thousands of page views – what you won’t hear is how long each of those users was engaged for.  This will change in 2014.

We’re also likely to see more interactive video treatments in 2014. A good example recently was The Wall Street Journal’s Prescribed.  Built using Zentrick, it gives users the choice to develop their understanding of Obamacare using in-video hotspots which link to additional material.

I found it really engaging. However, I also felt it lacked design consistency – some of the additional videos don’t have the same production values as the main piece and I’m not sure it’s a good idea sending users out of an interactive to view additional material.  Prescribed is however one of the best examples of interactive video I’ve seen and we can certainly expect more of these kind of treatments in 2014.

One simple idea I would like to see come to fruition in 2014 is interactive bibliographies to accompany video treatments.  In the same way a big written piece lists it’s sources, long form films could have clickable lists of key material used in the edit – then you could watch the unedited version of that section should you be looking for more meat, or question the way an interview has been edited.

A final thought

Reading this back I can’t help thinking it sounds relentlessly negative. It’s not meant to – things have massively improved in the digital departments of some titles – but still too much priority is given to social gimmicks which in turn is having a detrimental effect on journalism as a whole.
I’m one of the lucky ones, I moved from broadcast to multimedia journalism to create in-depth content treatments – and I’m lucky enough to be part of a team striving to do just that. But scrolling through Twitter on the nightly commute home I look at what’s “trending” and question how long this mindset will last.  Next year I think the social media bubble will burst and we’ll see a gradual return to substance – or rather, a better balance of the two.

I’d be really interested to hear your thoughts so please do leave a comment.

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