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Redefining the News Online

While traditional news outlets supplement their broadcasts with additional footage and stories online, there are an increasing number of Web only news outlets (CNN’s Pipeline, which crafts Web only stories, is a good example). If you want to be in the video news business don’t try to compete with AP, the New York Times, and CNN. Instead, find a special niche. Draw in viewers with informative yet entertaining video. This section highlights some Web producers who manage to do both.

Rocketboom

Some Web video straddles the line between news and entertainment. Rocketboom (www.rocketboom.com/vlog/), one of the most watched video programs on the Web, is a well-scripted news program with an irreverent twist. Host Joanne Colan reads the news and discusses the issues of the day with a wink, giving the show the personality and style of a video blog backed up with solid reporting and a keen eye for issues.

The show is also visually engaging. What at first might seem to be merely sight gags are often skillfully delivered and well-produced visual information. On Earth Day, Colan greeted the audience by promising something special and then spent the next few minutes opening a succession of packaging that resembled a Russian nesting doll. Toward the end she showed the audience the contents, a single videotape. After a moment off-camera, she returns and holds up a sign reading “LOOK at a product and THINK about how much of what you are PAYING for will end up in the TRASH” (FIGURE 4.5). The skit, which was scored with violin music reminiscent of a silent movie, got its point across far more effectively than a diatribe on ecology or a traditional news report ever could.

Courtesy of Rocketboom

Figure 4.5

Figure 4.5 Rocketboom host Joanne Colan says few words in this Earth Day Webcast but makes her point eloquently.

Music often accompanies Rocketboom’s Webcasts. Skillfully done, it makes you feel happy while watching, something the news tickers and triumphal trumpets that herald traditional news broadcasts never make me feel. The program uses stills, video footage, and reports from around the world. A recent show included footage from the Witness project, which documents human rights abuses around the world.

Geek Entertainment TV

Geek Entertainment TV (www.geekentertainment.tv) is one of the best interview blogs currently online. Host Irina Slutsky’s delivery keeps things lively and the show gives a contemporary perspective on technology and its impact on daily life.

The interviews aren’t boring. For example, Slutsky interviews undefeated video gamer Fatality in his bathrobe and then follows him through his day (FIGURE 4.8). We join her at a mass pillow fight in San Francisco. When there’s video to tell the story, Irina stops talking, the producers overlay some music, and they let us see it for ourselves. The shooting and editing make Geek Entertainment TV fun to watch, and it delivers more information than many news channels.

Figure 4.8

Figure 4.8 Geek Entertainment TV’s Irina Slutsky interviewing video gamer Fatality.

Video News “Web Style”

News on the Web is an unfiltered assortment of reports, opinions, and observations that somehow gets the scoop on commercial news media again and again. Its popularity astonishes commercial news operations that are used to filtering our news for viewers. Now a new breed of journalist is going straight to the Web with video. The result is news that is fresher and closer to the truth. Video provides the undisputable evidence to support online news reports. Sometimes a video clip travels “quick and dirty” via YouTube and virally from one Web host or site to another.

The strategy for delivering news on the Web is sometimes called “publish then filter.” It puts the responsibility on readers to decide for themselves what’s true. Astonishingly, it works. Like Wikipedia, the Web’s open source encyclopedia, news on the Web is self-correcting.

Unlike traditional news media, Web news allows for a multitude of perspectives on the same story, and it doesn’t round up the usual suspects when experts are needed for clarity or comment. In fact, news video on the Web helps keep traditional media honest by revealing what would have often been left on the cutting-room floor.

Networks can’t compete with millions of eyes and ears reporting what they see and hear because they care about it. And it’s not as if the two worlds never intersect; many reporters at traditional news organizations have moved to the Web or have presences on the Web in addition to their day jobs.

Traditional media outlets such as the New York Times extend their audiences by posting video on the Web. Television news operations rebroadcast on the Web and add features and footage that don’t fit into their broadcasts. But it’s renegade journalists like Josh Wolf (see his interview in this chapter) and Alive in Baghdad’s Brian Conley (www.aliveinbaghdad.org) who are using Web video to change the face of news.

Alive in Baghdad

Brian Conley created the Web-based weekly news program Alive in Baghdad (FIGURE 4.9) to counter what he calls the sound bite–driven “Live From” news model prevalent on CNN and other TV news outlets. He also wanted to give people in occupied Iraq a voice in the media and to show viewers around an unvarnished view of daily life in Iraq.

Figure 4.9

Figure 4.9 Alive in Baghdad’s Web site, www.aliveinbaghdad.org. The show is hosted on Blip.tv.

Initially, Conley worked with amateur videographers and volunteers in Baghdad to gather the footage for his show. But as the show caught on, professionals started coming on board. The show bridges the language gap with graphic footage that tells the story, along with subtitles and voice-overs.

This is first-rate journalism. A recent Webcast focused on the plight of the Kurdish minority in Iraq, nearly 10,000 of whom are missing. The show has sold footage to commercial news networks. But keeping the production afloat is a daily struggle; Alive in Baghdad’s Web site appeals for donations to sustain it. But funding isn’t the only challenge the show’s producers face. Because of the danger in Iraq, it’s sometimes easier to send footage directly to the United States by DHL for translation than it is to ferry it across Baghdad.

Recently, Conley and partner Steve Wyshywaniuk started Alive in Mexico, which they call a sister show. Its mission is to cover everything from street battles in southern Mexico to Mexican culture and history.

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