Better online video for news: Short movies = long pictures

Today’s great post from Mindy McAdams reminded me of some thoughts I’ve had recently about online video. News organizations are trying too hard! There’s an easier way to tell video stories on the web.

The web is not TV

Television news has gotten us used to a specific format of video. But a TV piece doesn’t make much sense on the web, especially when you’re accompanying a written story. I don’t need an intro, talking heads, or scrolling text updates online. I’m already reading the story! All I want is the payoff.

Show me the gaffe. The explosion. The kid saying something adorable. I don’t want to see a reporter, or your logo, an ad or anything else. Just the goods. Use video when words fail to capture the moment.

This bit from does it right. News videos are usually a separate piece from the written article, this one is the exception to the rule. (Compare to this other piece from The videos cut to the chase and go straight to her dialogue — they are an interesting accompaniment to the story.

But wouldn’t they be more effective embedded directly into the story, as illustrations? Couldn’t we treat videos like photos in a magazine? Instead of using video as an alternative to reading, use it to punctuate ideas.

Enter the long picture

When Flickr introduced video support earlier this year, their photo-loving users flipped. To calm them down, Flickr suggested that the community thought of them as “long photos.” By limiting the time of a video to 90 seconds, they encouraged brevity and simplicity of production.

& by striatic

Blurry, short, and fan-freakin-tastic

12seconds and Seesmic are already thinking this way, but about conversations. They show us something very important: Video doesn’t need to be perfect to be compelling. Watching John Cleese and a little girl have a conversation is totally great even if the video is brief and grainy.

Re: Ella /: John Cleese on Seesmic Tuesday 7th at NOON Pacific Time
Re: Ella /: John Cleese on Seesmic Tuesday 7th at NOON Pacific TimeThanks John!

You don’t need videographers

I’ve found the sweet spot length of a video is under a minute for sure, and I’ve been quite happy with videos eight to twelve seconds in length. With a video that short, folks don’t really care if the camera shakes or if it’s a little fuzzy. And you don’t need to edit it! Just shoot a bit of video, upload and embed.

And the gear couldn’t be simpler. My $300 Panasonic TZ5 digital camera takes great pictures and shoots *HD video*. Plus it’s got image stabilization and a mother of a zoom lens. Or you can keep it super simple and pick up a Flip – they’re cheap and do a great job. (I shot the video embedded above on my TZ5. For more examples, check out my Long pictures set on Flickr.)

This is simple stuff. You don’t need expensive equipment or a video production team. News organizations are already encouraging their reporters to take photos — why not ask them to shoot a bit of video too? It doesn’t need to be perfect to tell a great story on the web.

CNN’s new embedded videos (Plus: Why headline widgets suck it)

ReadWriteWeb sez:

Starting today, CNN will allow all users to embed videos from CNN on their blogs or social network profiles. With this, CNN is following a growing trend among news organizations like MSNBC, FoxNews, and CBS. … CNN is clearly hoping to see some of its clips go viral, and with the political season in the U.S. heating up in the run-up to the November election, they might just have chosen the right time to enable this feature.

It doesn’t work perfectly yet: I couldn’t get the embed button to work properly in my browser (Firefox on Ubuntu Linux, it works on my Windows virtual machine), and for some reason the embed button is disabled on the front page item on the video site (maybe a conscious choice, but if you’re clever enough to find the video at the bottom of the page and click it, the button comes to life.). UPDATE: the button doesn’t work until you click play. Doh.

Why I hate widgets

Embedded video players look a little like their evil twin, headline widgets, which (sorry, 10K) always always always suck.

Widgets are arrogant. They give me the privilege to advertise for you.

An embed lets me add value to your content.

It gives me power to create something new.


@cnnbrk ain’t CNN, but with >30K followers, he owns the brand

TechCrunch posted about CNN’s twitterings the other day: Apparently, the feed’s followers were upset about a tweet that spoiled their Olympic viewing experience by revealing golden boy Michael Phelps’ latest feat shortly after he kicked the aquatic asses of the world’s other really freakin’ fantastic swimmers.

But it wasn’t CNN that tweeted. It was cnnbrk, a bot written by news junkie James Cox that simply rebroadcasts CNN’s breaking news email alerts.

cnnbrk on Twitter

Twitter is the perfect medium for a news organization like CNN — they’re the first place you turn to see what’s going on, right now. cnnbrk has gathered 31,502 followers delivering that immediacy on the the most ADD site online, Twitter. CNN’s official feeds lag far behind: their cnn, CNN_Newsroom, cnni, politicalticker, and cnnireport have just over 8,400 followers, combined. (I’m pretty sure these are all maintained by folks at CNN — it’s kind of hard to tell.)

This *isn’t* CNN

The Guardian wrote about the brand confusion a couple of weeks ago, check out what Cox had to say:

“I do indeed wield the power of their brand: if I posted right now that Bush is due to be impeached, or that Diet Coke really still contained cocaine – I think the repercussions would be unpleasant. So I’ve been walking a fine line, ensuring that I keep somewhat under the radar, whilst also wishing that it would become even more popular.”

Cox isn’t pretending to be CNN, but the Olympic boondoggle did result in angry tweets directed toward CNN, and TechCrunch reported that CNN was the spoiler source — since then some twitterers have figured out that cnnbrk is not CNN, and TC has corrected the story.

I doubt that Cox will be able to keep this up if CNN decides to drop the hammer — I’m no expert but it seems like his use of the CNN name miiight be against the rules. (cnn follows cnnbrk, so Cox isn’t flying very far below the radar.)

Drama trumps truth and importance, Seth Godin on the news

Marketing guru Seth Godin wrote two great bits last week on how the news is screwed up.

First: The New York Times should only publish something if it’s true and important.

If I were editing the Times, I’d look at every single editorial feature, every single article and ask if it met either of the two things the Times could stand for. If not, that piece should be gone, deleted, unassigned. No sports section, for example. If you can’t be the best in the world, don’t bother, because someone else is going to get my attention. The Times needs 50 more bestseller lists, 20 more trusted stories about real political fact and insight, ten more cultural touchstone features… and a lot less filler, a lot less copycat stuff and nothing, nothing about Barbara Walters.

Second: Even reporting on hard news like election results CNN favors drama over truth.

There isn’t media bias in favor of Hillary…. Nor is there media bias in favor of floods. There’s media bias in favor of drama.

Most of us are inclined to believe that government officials, doctors and the media are making an effort to tell us the truth. Actually, just like all marketers, they tell us a story.

The new arms race

A new arms race is on, but its not being fought between the usual players. Media outlets, nationalist groups, coders, and governments are all fighting to control the flow of information.

Some news from the front:

Russia bearing down

Government efforts to block access to websites like The Great Firewall of China are at this point well-known. Now it looks like Russia is getting into the game.

An official at the Russian prosecutor’s general office, Vyacheslav Sizov, told the Russian-language newspaper Rossiiskaya Gazeta that any web site that is determined to host what he terms “extremist material” would be blocked from being accessible from within the Russian Federation. Given the Putin government’s history with the media, “extremist material” may be very broadly interpreted as any content unfriendly to the interests of the Russian government.

This comes fast on the heels of the news that Rossvyazokhrankultura (the Russian Mass Media, Communications and Cultural Protection Service) will require registration of any Wi-Fi device, including hotspots, mobile devices, laptops, and home networks.

Rossvyazokhrankultura’s interpretation of current law holds that users must register any electronics that use the frequency involved in Wi-Fi communications, said Vladimir Karpov, the deputy director of the agency’s communications monitoring division.

Though here is no guarantee that Wi-Fi registration will be used to censor the news, it most certainly could be.

For more on censorship and how efforts to dodge it, see my recent post on Internet censorship.

Chinese nationalist groups attack

Before the web, it was very difficult to shut down a news source half-way around the world. Now all an attacker need do is exploit a flaw in the code of a website, convince an unsuspecting employee to hand over the keys, or if all else fails, just beat the living crap out of the website by flooding it with requests.

In recent weeks, Chinese attackers have tried, with some success, to take down at least three western websites because of content sympathetic to the movement for Tibetan independence.

Most recently, presentation sharing site SlideShare was hit with a huge distributed denial of service attack. Before that, a denial of service attack on CNN mostly failed, and around the same time an attack on a site mistaken as CNN-related, SportsNetwork, was more successful.

Beijing backs off

Though many suspect that the Chinese government is at least indirectly supportive of the recent attacks, the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday that they are now suppressing online nationalist fervor to save face before this summer’s spandex extravaganza.

It is a familiar pattern: Chinese nationalism rears up, sometimes with what seems to be tacit government backing, only to get reined in before it threatens to spin out of control — in this case, before it can mar preparations for the summer Olympic Games in Beijing.

Though this is *slightly* comforting, in no way do I expect this trend to continue.