The future of news: Reporters and cameras

Reporters are now part of a content engine, cameras in hand. But how solid will that content be? Simon Doyle on the push for video. This story originally appeared in the Canadian Association of Journalists' Media Magazine. Reporters are now part of a content engine, cameras in hand. But how solid will that content be?…

Reporters are now part of a content engine, cameras in hand. But how solid will that content be? Simon Doyle on the push for video. This story originally appeared in the Canadian Association of Journalists' Media Magazine.

Reporters are now part of a content engine, cameras in hand. But how solid will that content be? Simon Doyle on the push for video. This story originally appeared in the Canadian Association of Journalists' Media Magazine.

Last fall, the newly rebranded Postmedia Network Inc., comprised of the newspaper assets of the former Canwest Global Communications Inc., released a briefing document to reach out to potential investors.

It contained the kind of platitudes typically associated with investor relations, including statements about brand reach, growth areas, and shifting investment priorities.

But it also emphasized the “tremendous potential” of the news media in the digital environment, particularly the ability for the company’s “journalists [to] capture important and engaging stories with words, pictures and video and publish them to a growing list of media platforms.”

Postmedia added that the company wants to “align print and digital, eliminating historical silos,” and develop “new tools and training including video cameras for journalists.”

Just about all the major news organizations are giving their journalists handheld cameras now. Video has become cheap to produce and even cheaper to shoot and distribute electronically.

Canadian Press reporters across the country are carrying cameras to provide footage for reports. The Associated Press sells video in “multiple digital formats specifically for web and mobile use,” according to its website.
Subscribers can sign up for raw video feeds or ready-to-publish wraps.

The Winnipeg Free Press, owned by FP Newspapers Inc., also has a video news section on its site. But in February, it launched a new online "branded lifestyle" service called WFPtv. Most journalists probably wouldn't call it journalism, largely because revenue is generated from local organizations that pay to be featured in local content about shops, restaurants, events, or car dealerships.

Bruce Leslie, vice-president of marketing at the Free Press, said in an announcement on the paper’s website that the move expands the way the company delivers content to readers.

"We're trying to find new ways to use our content engine [of reporters],” he said.

That’s right. Reporters are now considered part of a content engine. In many cases, that means they come back to the office with video footage.

So why such a push for video? The strategy is becoming less about delivering video to a website and more about delivering it to smartphones and tablet computers.

People want news on their mobile devices but, increasingly, they want video. Today, reading a news report on your smartphone is, umm, so 2009.

Computer networking company Cisco Systems Inc. released a study in February that predicted, due to demand for video on smartphones and tablets, Internet traffic on mobile devices will increase 26 times by 2015.

By 2015, Cisco said two-thirds of mobile traffic globally will result from video delivery. The demand will be accommodated by faster wireless network speeds, which also by 2015 will increase tenfold over 2009’s average speeds, the report said.

News will be part of the shift toward mobile video. But don’t expect news organizations to make the same mistake they made when they began putting everything online for free in the 1990s. That hasn’t led to much revenue. Instead, expect them to seek out deals for the mobile carriage of news and video.

The demand for mobile video indicates people will be willing to pay for it. It’s not clear how much they will pay, but news organizations will have an opportunity to seek out exclusive content distribution deals with mobile carriers.

They can also look to other revenue-generation models such as advertising-enabled applications for smartphones and tablets, and of course, inserting advertising directly into their videos.

Exclusive video content on mobile services is already emerging as a big-ticket item for major communications companies—particularly as consolidation in Canada’s media landscape raises the stakes.

In a sign that mobile video has significant revenue potential, companies, in discussions about their wireless services, are also talking up their television assets.

Last year saw major moves in the communications industry as Shaw Communications Inc. purchased the Global Television Network and Bell Canada Enterprises Inc. reached a deal to acquire the CTV group of stations.

Shaw now owns Global’s 11 conventional television stations and Bell will own CTV’s 27 stations. Bell, a dominant Canadian wireless carrier, owns a national mobile network, and Shaw is building a new wireless network planned for launch in early 2012. Now they will have access to their broadcasting networks’ local and national news programs.

Just about the rest of Canada’s broadcasting sector is owned by two other big communications players with wireless networks. Quebcor Media Inc. and Rogers Communications Inc., for example, are major companies with broadcasting assets and wireless services. Quebecor owns the French-language TVA network and is launching an all-news channel, Sun TV News. Rogers owns 51 radio stations on the Rogers Radio network, as well as OMNI, Citytv, and Sportsnet.


But other wireless carriers — those without affiliated television networks — will want news too, leaving room for news services like Postmedia, or The Globe and Mail to negotiate mobile rights agreements.

What mobile multimedia means for newsrooms is that “print reporter” is quickly fading from the journalism vocabulary. We are all multimedia journalists now. For some news organizations, carrying around digital video cameras will become a part of the job — if an unfortunate one.

The working experiences of “multimedia reporters” on the ground will depend on how news organizations manage their resources to produce video. In a day’s work, reporters can’t be expected to be on Twitter, file an access-to-information request, follow up on tips, edit a video story, post a blog entry, and file an exclusive print story.

Dividing tasks among designated staff makes the new environment manageable. The approach making print reporters mere collectors of video content — which can then be delivered to a production desk to be packaged into news — seems logical.

But the Globe and Mail is trying to make something of a distinction between print and video. It’s one news organization that doesn’t ask its print reporters to carry around cameras and file video of public events that other news organizations already have access to. Instead, from what I hear, the newspaper appears to be segregating video operations in an effort to produce unique, professional video content.

Separating video production from video collection is probably wise. Media organizations will need teams of editors and producers (or “curators,” if you will….please see this column in the last issue of Media magazine for a discussion of curators) who have the time and skills necessary to package footage — including video gathered from user-generated or citizen channels — into professional-looking wraps.

Today’s “content engine” may increasingly include video, but let’s hope newsrooms experience it as a creative opportunity. As roles in the newsroom change, organizations will have to hire the necessary people to do the jobs.

It should not mean journalists have to be hamsters on a wheel (or hamsters on a wheel carrying video cameras).

Simon Doyle is the editor of The Wire Report in Ottawa, covering Canada’s telecom, broadcasting and digital media sectors.