Even as online media consumption habits change, traditional journalists train in new media and new departments emerge, incorporating video journalism continues to be a challenge. How long should the videos be? Should they support text stories or be considered separate pieces entirely? How do you deal with translation? Or translate the complexities of a story, even in the same language?
The Poynter Institute recently caught up with Emmy-nominated video journalist, Travis Fox, to discuss best practices in creating web-based video.
What follows is an edited transcript of what appears on the Poynter Institute's website.
Al Tompkins: How does video help this story?
Travis Fox: I think you're getting at the relationship between the video and the related article? ... Many of my pieces are aired on PBS, so they need to stand on their own, with their own reporting and context. This is a challenge for us on the Web, because we don't want to totally duplicate the reporting that's in the article, but at the same time we need to provide enough context in the video so when viewers come first (or only) to the video they fully understand the story. It also makes an interesting study of the differences of reporting for video and articles ... but that's another question for another time.
This story could be so complicated that nobody would read or watch it, but you simplified it to "Rwandian Women Emerge As Business Force," which is a story that has appeal far beyond those interested in foreign affairs. How do you think about the focusing and clarifying process when you are working on a story?
Fox: I would hope that all of the pieces I do have appeal beyond those interested in foreign affairs, or whatever topic I'm working on. It's difficult to go into the kind of detail you're talking about in short-form video, period. What works well in video -- namely characters and emotions -- has universal appeal no matter the story. When I do a complicated story (and every story is complicated), I have to fully understand the nuances of the story to know how to produce it in video from. This means I'm often doing interviews on background and doing interviews without the camera rolling just to find the right character to base the story around. It's a kind of casting process. In some ways, it's two processes: the journalism and the video production.
People always ask you about your gear and editing/transmitting process, so let's get that one out of the way.
Fox: Yes, let's do. I use the Sony high-definition video camera, but hope my editors soon buy me that new Sony that doesn't have tapes so I don't have to capture anymore. I edit on a Mac laptop with Final Cut Pro. I almost always transmit via hotel Internet, but if I'm in an out-of-the-way place I use a satellite phone transmitter.
A lot of online photojournalists like to use natural-sound-only pieces, but increasingly, it seems, your stories look more like a marriage of National Public Radio and documentary TV. When is it best to use a reporter track, and when is it more effective not to?
Fox: Thank you for that. I think it's always more effective to produce pieces without narration, but it's more difficult for a couple of reasons. First, most of the pieces I produce are in a foreign language, and I've found a translated audio track doesn't have the same connection with viewers as one in English, even if the content of the voice is the same. Much about the settle nuances of delivery are lost in translation. Secondly, I often find good characters with good stories to tell, but they just don't give you the sound bites you need to build a bed of quotes that takes the place of narration. Often these characters aren't concise enough, or their pacing is too slow. Lastly, I feel that I'm increasingly trying to tell more complicated stories -- ones that are based less around a central character -- and those require me to write narration to tie it all together.
What is the next big step online video will take that will improve journalism?
Fox: One thing I think we should be looking at is video going offline. Let me explain: We will see the Internet used more as a means of delivery, as opposed to a medium (the Web). At washingtonpost.com, we've already seen this in the huge increase of traffic to our various video podcasts on iTunes. Not that podcasts are the future, but the technology of delivering video to several devices, like your phone -- and especially your TV -- is. ... In short, it's the hub model. We are becoming a production company that creates work that goes out in many directions like spokes on a wheel -- to your computer, your phone, your TV. And let us not forget, your morning newspaper.
This piece is close to 10 minutes long. What are you learning about the ideal length for video stories? What keeps people watching online?
Fox: I get this question often, and almost always from my friends in TV, where time is everything. This is one of the big differences between Web video and TV. We talk about pacing, about character development, context -- not so much about time. That's not to say we don't care about videos dragging on or becoming redundant, we do, but we let the story dictate the time, not the time dictate the story. We hope quality video journalism keeps the viewers watching.
On TV, if viewers lose interest with a story, they change the channel and you've lost them. If viewers lose interest with a video online, they often just click on the next video, or maybe go to an article or blog on the same site. We haven't lost them as viewers like on TV.
Also, the advertising model right now is that the ad runs before the video. From a business viewpoint, if viewers watch two minutes or 10 minutes, it's the same advertising impression. Of course, less viewing adversely affects the important "time on site" metric, so we'd prefer they stay and watch the whole video.
I'm not trying to say that every video we do should be a long documentary. We need to have a balance between all the types of videos we do, but saying that every video should be a minute and 30 seconds long doesn't make sense online. The Web is a different beast, and the more we learn about viewers' habits -- which are still developing as technology like podcasting changes -- the better we can meet their needs. We just need to be careful not to apply the same technical standards from any traditional media to new media.
Source: Poynter Institute