Crossing from words to other worlds
The intersection between video and newspapers is perplexing.
Video journalism or even citizen video journalism isn’t particularly new or surprising; by the time I was growing up in the nineties, video equipment was just getting accessible enough that my local newscast offered rewards for “Newshawks” who sent in tapes of newsworthy happenings. Even though it’s now hard to imagine news outlets that don’t do video, it’s the incorporation of video into newspapers that can provide the hardest questions. Can it be done? Who knows how to do it? How much will it cost? Should we bother?
We are currently in a stage of growth when it comes to video in Canada’s student press. About 20 student papers across the country promote some kind of video; although the most prominent of those are large papers with big budgets and volunteer bases, there are many just sticking their toes in the water. With skyrocketing online audiences and digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) cameras that can now shoot professional-quality video as well as photos, more papers are beginning to experiment to see how they can use video to best cover the story.
By the time the latter half of the 2000s rolled around, newspapers had already tiptoed online and seen their audiences expand rapidly. But a number of things happened at once: YouTube was founded by PayPal employees in 2005 and made videos a lot easier to share and track. Video equipment got cheaper and smaller. Social networks began to change how people connected on the Internet.
All of a sudden, newsworthy video was being produced, promoted and consumed over the Internet in a way that both bypassed both the distribution and format of traditional broadcast media. Newspapers had to start making video alongside their print product, in other words, because that’s how their audience began consuming the news.
By 2008, student newspapers began dabbling in video. Equipment was often borrowed from the university’s film or journalism departments, and often it just relied on having people around that were interested.
“It was always very much driven by the fact that if we had a volunteer there who could do video and was interested in it, we would let them do it,” said Alex Migdal, multimedia editor at The Gateway, the University of Alberta’s student paper in 2012-2013. “It was never really something that was formally something that was solicited.”
The Ubyssey, at the University of British Columbia, had hired its first Multimedia Editor, Dan Haves, in 2008, and early efforts included a three-part series where a culture writer tried out for the varsity football team. The 2009/2010 school year would see The Gateway launch a joint project with Edmonton’s Film and Video Arts Society, where volunteers were able to gain access to professional audio and video training and resources from local independent filmmakers.
Rise to the occasion
My first experience with video came in 2010, when I traveled to Vancouver as the Canadian University Press’ Western Bureau Chief to cover the Winter Olympics with The Ubyssey. As part of the paper’s coverage during the extended Spring Break period, it produced videos of events, press conferences and protests.
I got off the Greyhound from the Okanagan, rushed downtown to the Convergence protests, and got a camcorder shoved in my hand. There was almost an emergency when the DV tape ran out. (With DSLRs, video can be recorded straight to a flash memory card, meaning lengthy sessions capturing tape onto a computer are no longer necessary.) The results, seen above, were a shaky early effort, sticking closely to broadcast format, but conveying the story differently than a print version might have done.
For The McGill Daily, in Montreal, street protests also provided a jumpstart for multimedia efforts:
The Daily’s multimedia editor, established in 2012/2013, largely worked on podcasts, rather than video. But according to second-year McGill student Hera Chan, who was the paper’s photo editor last year and just moved into the position, the Quebec student strikes presented the Daily with stories that could be conveyed better with video than print or words.
“People just did it because they felt that a certain demonstration would translate well on video,” Chan said. “We had footage that couldn’t translate totally into photographs or into text, and we had also a lot of interested videographers that wanted to work for the Daily.”
Outside of protests, any papers that do video often do their best work during student elections season. For the last three years, The Ubyssey has done short video interviews with election candidates, and a number of papers, like The Gateway, The Martlet, Silhouette and The Cord, record or livestream debates and roundtable for their elections. In a way, this event-based coverage shows why papers move towards video: because the occasion demands it.
Keeping a schedule
Video sections need a period of growth in order to succeed. The Ubyssey‘s structure changed in 2011 to create a separate video editor, and the web is now managed via a dedicated managing editor. Under David Marino, production became more regular, with a weekly news show.
According to Migdal, who was The Gateway‘s first Multimedia Editor, there wasn’t a lot of expectations at first, but production got steadier over the course of the year. “It was never anything very specified. We barely made any stuff before, so even one video a week would be great,” he said. ” I kind of just took it upon myself to see just what things we could do.”
The Gateway has seen some of its best responses from Streeters videos, which incorporate comedy and awkward humour, and that can often help connect to students.
“It was more important to focus on video projects that, maybe while not so much news based, would engage our readers and our followers and get them to talk,” Migdal said. “Those ones are the ones that usually get passed around on social media. People are just, you know, responding and saying, this is hilarious.”
Ultimately, whether they’re news features or humour, the most important part is engaging students. “I think that students are actually much more inclined to read an article that might have video and podcasts than just text and photography,” said Chan. “Videos are much more likely to be shared and to go viral and are able to show something and allow people to interact in a different way than with [print].
“It’s become a much more interactive thing that all the papers have to do to catch up.”