Thursday, August 12, 2010

5 Things We Can't Believe Are Still Missing from Most Online News Videos

Is it really too much to ask?

When's the last time you saw a text story on a news Website that didn't have a headline?

And aren't you accustomed to also expecting a byline and dateline?

Don't photos usually have a caption and photo credit?

And aren't those photos right there next to the story they're illustrating?

It's common sense, right?

OK, then we have to ask. Why is it so %*#&@$! difficult for news Websites to appropriately label and organize their video stories?

Our KobreGuide scouts -- who search daily to locate for you the Web's best videojournalism stories -- have been looking high and low for great material on a daily basis for more than two years. Nobody has seen more videojournalism, good and bad, than they have. And you know what astonishes them most? No, it's not just the overwhelming overuse of zooms and underuse of tripods. No, it's not just the overabundance of actionless talking-head footage. It's not even all those "single-source" one-perspective stories that would never be allowed to fly on the print side of the operation.

No, what truly amazes us is that, even after all this time, most news Websites are still doing a stinky job of labeling and organizing their videos. Even as they're complaining that nobody watches their videos, they insist on making them impossible to find. And even once you find them, there's nothing compelling about the way they're packaged or presented that would make anybody want to click the PLAY button. We're tempted to link you to some of the more egregious examples, but we think you know who we're talking about.... Just about all of them!

So listen up, folks. Here's the bare minimum of what you need to provide potential viewers if you want them to become regular consumers of your video offerings.

1. TITLE. What's the video called? Make sure the title is in the video and in text adjacent to the video. Make sure those two titles match each other! Make sure they're spelled and punctuated correctly! (Bonus: Text next to a video makes it easier for search engines to find it.)

And don't get us started on this one: Make sure the title is interesting! We can tell that most titles are composed on the fly by the videojournalists themselves, and it shouldn't be expected that titling is their strong suit. Most of the titles we encounter are either too short and dry ("The Yellow Car") or impossibly unwieldy ("A Walk Down Memory Lane with a Grandmother Visting from Russia"). Instead, engage the writers and editors who are responsible for those catchy and memorable homepage headlines.

2. DATE. Put the date the video is posted in at least two places -- on the video (title sequence or credit roll) and adjacent to the video. People want to know WHEN this story happened -- and, remember, not everyone is going to see the video the same day it's posted. They may stumble upon it a week, a year, or a decade later.

3. CREDITS. Put the credits on and next to the video. You wouldn't leave a byline off a staff-produced story; why would you deprive videojournalists of their rightful due? And make sure to include all contributors -- including but not limited to reporters, writers, videographers, still photographers, editors, producers, music composers, and narrator.

4. LINKS. Given that most online videos aren't self-contained to begin with -- and rely on text stories for context and important details -- it's especially important that someone watching the video can quickly find the accompanying text, photo gallery, and all other relevant material. That includes previous coverage of related topics. Furthermore, you must provide links to the video from all those other places, so that anybody reading that text story or viewing that photo gallery can easily find the video (which, ideally, should be embedded right there on the Web page alongside the other story components). Amazingly, most news Websites hide their videojournalism so well that readers would never even know that there was a video that goes with a story.

5. NAVIGATION / ORGANIZATION. This is the one that really gets our goat. Even the top news outlets have made a complete muddle of their Video sections. They are unattractive, unappealing, and an organizational nightmare that prevents viewers from finding anything, whether they're looking for it or not. The worst are the ones that just stockpile videos one atop another, with no eye toward organization whatsoever -- today's burying yesterday's until you can't even find anything more than a few days old. While that scheme works for daily blogs, it's no way to run a video section. Lots have made attempts to sort them thematically, like newspaper sections (e.g. Sports, Lifestyle, Business), but even then it's usually in reverse chronological order, and so a video's shelf life ends up being somewhere between that of milk and yogurt.

Ideally a video should be accessible from multiple locations -- adjacent to its accompanying text story or package, in logical and easy-to-find locations within the video section. Additionally there should be a video box on the Website's homepage that features at least thumbnail versions of several videos, and a link to a video index page. Anybody visiting that video index page should be instantly enticed -- by the layout, design and alluring text descriptions -- to stick around and click on a variety of video options.

You want an example of who knows precisely how to sort and arrange tons of video options so that viewers can find something to watch instantly (whether they're looking for it or not)-- and are seduced into searching for, and clicking on, plenty more? Netflix, that's who! Go take a look at how much thought that company has put into creating an attractive organizational scheme, easy-to-use navigational tools, and appealing design. And all that descriptive text is a copy-editor's dream -- light, tight, bright. Isn't it time that news organizations took a cue from Netflix, which packages and presents its videos like its financial lifeblood depended on it?


OK, now that we've got that off our chest, we've got a bone to pick about most of the primitive and dysfunctional videoplayers that news outlets are still using. But that's another topic for another day. And while we're assembling our checklist of which features videoplayers should have, why not share your ideas on the subject. What are some of the best (and worst) videoplayers you have encountered in your Web travels?

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