Hoping for the best, I continued to search. Return number eleven was actually a pretty good video story, an excerpt from a show on the satellite and cable broadcaster G4, which targets eighteen- to thirty-four-year-olds with a steady diet of video game-oriented shows. Host Kevin Pereira takes you on his tour of the Gulf, and his co-host attempts to interest viewers with this unusual lead-in: “All right, so you remember that time you spilled a Pepsi on your PS3 and you thought it was the worst spill ever? It wasn’t.” As the segment ends, the viewer knows she’s not on CNN when the camera returns to the show set and pop-up boxes helpfully inform viewers where to buy the blue jeans Pereira is wearing and what hair products he used. Hmmm.
Searching Google News and specifying video did pull up stories from mainstream media organizations, but most were print stories that referred to BP’s well cam. Nowhere in that search, or in a YouTube search for “news BP Oil Spill,” did a video story I knew about turn up: AP’s unique Web video of journalist Rich Matthews’s June 7 scuba dive into the oily Gulf.
Although it’s not a candid essay, it is pretty gutsy journalism. Matthews zipped himself into a wet suit, clutched his camera, and dropped down over the side of a boat to give viewers a first-hand look at the foul miasma beneath the waterline. The swirling, reddish ooze had the consistency of cake batter, Matthews reported, and though it quickly gunked up his goggles and smeared his camera lens, he was able to record oil in every direction, in plumes and blobs, along with what one diver called “snot balls” of oil dispersants. “It was a different take on a story that was getting tedious” to cover in constant drips of breaking news, says Kevin Roach, AP’s vice president and director of U.S. broadcast news. “The story opened up a lot of eyes.”
But the AP story wasn’t anywhere near the top of my search query returns a month after it was originally posted—though the video was widely noticed when it was first shot. It had logged more than 160,000 views on YouTube, and Matthews had been interviewed on the Today Show, CNN, Fox News, the BBC, and numerous radio stations.
Executives at both YouTube and its parent company, Google, recognize that finding and categorizing news video is still an elusive goal. “Video is a rich media type and there are added complexities to making it easily discoverable and useful,” a Google spokesman says. “While we constantly work to improve our understanding of video and other information, in the meantime we encourage video publishers to submit video sitemaps so their videos are more easily discoverable in all Google’s services.” In other words, returning relevant material for video search queries is really hard.
Search today still generally begins with text, with people like me typing “BP” and “oil spill” and “video” into a query box. Google takes that query and attempts to match my key words with documents and images online that Web folks have tagged with matching key words. Although the Google spokesman says the search should be able to sense that I’m looking for news video, there’s no easy way to tell it to do that. Google is working on at least two projects that might eventually help improve its video searches. The first is a speech-recognition process being employed at YouTube that can automatically caption audio files, creating a text transcript that could then be searched. The second is Google Goggles, an experimental application for smart phones that offers hope of enhanced visual search. I take a photo of, say, the Eiffel Tower and upload it to Google, essentially asking it to tell me about this image. Google Goggles recognizes the image and sends me information about it.