Tuesday, May 12, 2009

How Do You Update Video Stories?

Here's a vexing problem.

Journalists are learning how to continually update text stories throughout a 24/7 news cycle, so that every time you log on to your favorite news Website, you can instantly determine if and how an evolving story has been revised.

Often you'll see a new headline, new lede, new timestamp, new image, or even the word "NEW" or "UPDATE."

Pragmatically speaking, it's very easy and takes virtually no time, once fresh content is created (e.g. new details emerge), to make text amendations to a story.

Now here's the question. What about video stories? Can they be updated? Should they be updated? If so, how?

  • By adding new footage to an existing video? (But then would viewers have to view the whole thing again? Or would they be advised to fast-forward to the new scenes?)
  • By replacing the current video with an all-new video? (But then you'd miss the backstory.)
  • By compressing the previous footage into short "as previously seen" highlights, and then adding fresh footage -- a la the "Seven Up" series, which documents a group of British schoolchildren every seven years? (We can already hear video editors snorting at how labor-intensive that would be.)
In truth, video stories are hardly ever updated, which is a shame. Often we yearn to know "what happened next" -- to the coinjoined twins connected at the head, or the young drug-addict mom who loses custody of her kids, or the kid with the food disorder that makes him eternally hungry.

Alas, the media has a short memory. A newspaper can spend months planning a big extravagant award-worthy multi-part video story -- and then it's always on to the next hot project. Rarely do we get to look in the rear-view mirror.

The exception seems to be when savvy producers and editors take the time to plan an ongoing series of stories on a single topic, enabling them to check in periodically with their subjects.

Such is the case with the New York Times' video reports on how small businesses are weathering the recession. Instead of simply interviewing a few business owners about how the economic downturn was impacting their sales and revenues, the Times opted to follow a group of them over a period of time, so that we can chart their ups and downs.

The first video report appeared in October '08, the second in December '08, the third in March '09. (KobreGuide.com showcased the second installment.)

By following a butcher, a bikemaker, a tourism service, and others, the Times humanized what would otherwise be merely an abstraction. By continuing to update their story every few months, we are given more than a snapshot of a moment in time. We get to see a continuum. Most importantly, we get to experience one of the key ingredients in storytelling: "Change."

We encourage other media outlets to think of ways to stick with a video story over a period of time, and enable us to follow the progress of its protagonists.

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