TV & Web are a popular pair

According to Reuters, new research from Nielsen finds that 31% of online activity occurs while the user is watching television.

The findings help explain why TV viewing is on the rise at the same time new media is also growing.

The report does not break down the types of Internet activity engaged in by TV viewers or what types of programming they might be watching while online, but that information might prove very valuable for newsrooms as they look for ways to engage the audience online while keeping them watching traditional news programming.

James Bond-ing the news

What do secret agents and multimedia journalists have in common? Gadgets, of course.  While the new James Bond series doesn’t have a Q, it does have its share of technology.  And unlike previous Bond gizmos, the ones Daniel Craig uses are very “real world.”

After watching the latest movie, Quantum of Solace, Amy Webb was inspired to review some cool tools already on the market that reporters can use in their work (local laws permitting, of course).  Her list includes smart pens that serve as voice recorders or scanners and video cameras small enough to fit in a belt buckle. Cool!

Developing a writing style

Is it ever okay to copy someone else’s writing style?  KARE-TV reporter Boyd Huppert, one of the finest writers in the business, says it’s actually a good way to develop your own.

Saving the news

Uh-oh. It looks like we’ve finally done it; we’ve given people too much news and information.

In an article for the Columbia Journalism Review, author Bree Nordensen writes about frustrated news consumers who have so much data coming at them every day, that many simply choose to ignore it all. She cites research commissioned by the Associated Press that found people suffering from “news fatigue.” With so much information available from so many sources, these news consumers feel helpless and unable to process it all. In reaction, the study found, they stopped trying to stay informed.

Another study by Northwestern University’s Media Management Center found young people avoiding online news of the 2008 election “because they feel too much information is coming at them all at once and too many different things are competing for their attention.”

The study participants said they wanted news organizations to display less content in order to highlight the essential information. “Young people want the site design to signal to them what’s really important . . . instead of being confronted by a bewildering array of choices,” write the researchers in their final report, From “Too Much” to “Just Right”: Engaging Millennials in Election News on the Web.

So, what’s the solution? Nordensen offers this advice:

The greatest hope for a healthy news media rests as much on their ability to filter and interpret information as it does on their ability to gather and disseminate it. If they make snippets and sound bites the priority, they will fail. Attention—our most precious resource—is in increasingly short supply. To win the war for our attention, news organizations must make themselves indispensable by producing journalism that helps make sense of the flood of information that inundates us all.

This article is a great read for anyone involved in journalism today. The article goes on to offer strategies and solutions to help newsrooms begin to save themselves, something too often missing from this kind of reporting. Ironically, a downside to the article, as is referenced in several of the comments, is that it’s probably too long for some readers. I guess victims of information overload are everywhere.

TV narration tips

How do you read a TV news script so it doesn’t sound like you’re reading?  The first step, obviously, is to write the way you talk.  You can’t read stilted language and sound conversational.  But there’s more to it than that.

KARE-TV reporter Boyd Huppert developed his unique delivery style through trial and error:

Some reporters say 3-2-1 before each chunk of track–a holdover from the days of tape-to-tape editing when a countdown made it easier to find the next section of narration. Huppert never uses a countdown. “It breaks my rhythm and cadence,” he says.  “I read start to finish and take little pauses.”  A comma gets a short pause for nat sound.  The end of a sentence nat break is longer. And the end of a thought break can be even longer.

Huppert gives the end of the story special treatment in the tracking booth.  “At the end I wind down my delivery, slow down and lower my voice, all meant to say ‘conclusion.'”

TV writing advice

Writing is hard work, no matter what your medium.  As the German novelist Thomas Mann once said, “A writer is somebody for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.”  Journalist Gene Fowler joked, “Writing is easy.  All you do is stare at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.”

Writing for television can be even more difficult, because you’re not just working with words.  So it never surprises me when excellent TV reporters say they’ve struggled with their writing, especially early in their careers.

Peter Rosen, who won the 2008 NPPA writing award, says writing for TV is about not writing; it’s about letting pictures and sound tell the story.  But the words still matter, and over the years Rosen has learned a few things about how to put them together.

Web video “myths”

Questioning conventional wisdom is often a good thing, so let’s thank Peter Ralph for his recent posts at Shooting by Numbers challenging some basic assumptions about Web video.  Here’s his list of seven “myths” that he’d like to see ignored:

  1. Shorter is better.
  2. Content is king.
  3. Connect emotionally.
  4. Avoid talking heads.
  5. Never shoot with a tripod.
  6. Always shoot with a tripod.
  7. Lots of close-ups.

I agree that several of these “truisms” are entirely bogus.  Shorter isn’t always better.  PBS has had great success with long-form video online.  As former Disney CEO Michael Eisner told a recent Web video conference:

Sex seems to work. User-gen, sports, news, anything with Sarah Palin works. At the end of the day, like in all the other industries from movies to TV, long-form, story-driven content is what ultimately works. But it’s still in the experimental stage.

So what about myth #2?  Eisner appears to be saying content really is king, and I agree.  Ralph says it’s context that matters when it comes to generating value, but if the content isn’t any good to start with, who cares about the context?

Ralph says flatly that people don’t click on emotional videos.  Is there evidence to support that?  I’d like to see it.  On the other hand, I do agree with Ralph that talking heads “work just fine on the Web.”  This year’s winner of the best online video presentation award from the Online News Association, the Oregonian’s Living to the End, is basically just a series of talking head videos.  But they’re full of emotion, which may be one reason they’re so compelling.

Tripod rules that include the word “always” or “never” are just silly, so I’m in agreement on those myths as well but for different reasons.  Ralph says you should “just go with whatever improves your confidence, flexibility, confidence, efficiency and confidence.”  I’d argue you should do what works best for the story.

As for close-ups, even Ralph admits they create visual impact, but he says they’re overused online.  Why?  Because videographers are lazy, he says, and close-ups are easy to shoot and edit.  Not at all, says Angela Grant at News Videographer:

Even though some organizations have massive video players now, the majority do not. So closeups are still important if you want to make sure your audience sees the details of your story. In addition, online video is more personal than TV or movies because it’s usually just one person in front of the computer monitor. Closeups make a story feel intimate.

Are there other “rules” of Web video that should be discarded as myths?

How is Web video different?

Or perhaps the question should be, “Is Web video different?”  Not too long ago, my former employer, WSOC-TV in Charlotte, posted a job titled “Website Video Journalist.”  Here’s what was listed for responsibilities:

Your job will be to identify unique story ideas and convert them into compelling video and slideshows.  You will need to be able to shoot, interview, write, edit and report stories.  Journalist should be able to tell the story differently from what is on the TV broadcast.

But different how?  Sure, we know that the small video player can affect the viewer experience, so some photojournalists recommend less movement in online video and some will tell you that you can get away with a little lower quality video – but how do you “tell the story differently?”

WSOC news director Robin Whitmeyer says they’re still looking for the right person – and that person has to be flexible.  “Our Web goals keep changing, so the person we hire has to realize that is going to keep happening,” Whitmeyer says.

And that may be at the heart of this issue – all of us are still trying to figure out how to do things differently online.  At the washingtpost.com, Assistant Managing Editor for Breaking News Chet Rhodes says they categorize Web video three ways:

Tier 1 – a short, single shot interview or video of a scene that stands alone.  It’s typically no longer than two minutes long and if it’s not embedded with a story, you need to surround it with text to explain what’s going on.  Rhodes pointed to a video on the site titled, Meet Britain’s Baby Penguin, as an example that generated an amazing number of hits.

Tier 2 – what Rhodes calls a vignette, this includes two-to-four b-roll shots and an interview and generally runs no longer than three minutes.  This is similar to a television news package.

Tier 3 – these are longer narratives produced in explanatory or documentary style.  Rhodes says these look just like TV documentaires with the same high quality video and production values.  Good examples can be found in the work of Travis Fox such as his piece A Fragile Renaissance about the changes occuring in Medellin, Columbia.

So, perhaps the Web simply gives you more options for using video.  In combination with text, you can post videos that require little to no editing, even raw video can work well online.  You can produce a stand-alone story that includes the same elements as a typical TV story, or you can capitalize on the unlimited newshole characteristic of the Web and turn your site into a broadcast channel for long-form documentary-style video.  The trick may be in figuring out what approach to take and when.

Here’s Rhodes talking about video back in June 2008.

What do you think?

Small markets, big opportunities

Most new journalism grads start their careers in small market newsrooms.  For many, it’s a first stop on the way up the ladder.  But others may find, as Rhonda McBride did, that small markets offer big opportunities.

As my first boss put it, ‘Every day will be a surprise. It may not be a surprise you’ll like. But it’ll be a surprise.’

McBride,  a reporter at KTUU-TV in Anchorage, spent almost 10 years as news and public affairs director at KYUK-AM/TV in Bethel, Alaska, a community so small that Nielsen‘s “market universe” doesn’t even count it.  That was just fine with McBride.

Many young TV reporters start out wanting to be an anchor in a big market, chasing the big stories. But in so many ways, the stories are bigger in small communities. One Associated Press reporter in Alaska once told me, there are no dull towns, just dull reporters.

McBride wrote about her experiences at the request of Lynn Adrine, who teaches in Syracuse University’s Washington journalism program.  Her inspiring essay, now posted at NewsLab, is well worth reading.

Shooting VJ stand ups

Working as a VJ can be challenging, especially when it comes to shooting stand ups. But Mark Carlson of the Associated Press says that thanks to his small HD camera, shooting good on-camera segments is easier than it used to be. He showed an audience at a recent AP-Syracuse University seminar how he can now work faster and get better results than before.