YouTube, meanwhile, hired interns this past summer to curate the best breaking-news videos from around the world, creating a feed of top stories uploaded by citizen journalists and learning more about how people find and share what they believe are important videos. “It’s an experiment to understand this ecosystem better and to make it more useful to media,” says Steve Grove, YouTube’s head of news and politics. Grove also wants to gather information to help determine what search algorithms might work best to discover news video.
A few sites aren’t waiting for search to improve, but are using their own people to find and promote what they believe to be worthy videos. For example SlateV, a video magazine for those who favor Slate’s sensibilities, both produces its own videos—an average of five a week—and curates newsworthy videos produced by others, highlighting the best under the headline, “Did You See This?”
SlateV’s videos aren’t full-blown visual essays. Often they are clever takeoffs on the news. And in the curated part of its site, SlateV highlights buzz-worthy videos from all over, most of which aren’t journalism. In the curated news and politics section, users can find parodies and political ads alongside opinion and advocacy videos. SlateV’s editor, Andy Bowers, a long-time correspondent for NPR before joining Slate in 2003, said he expects more news-related videos to be produced by organizations other than the media. The question he asks himself is less “What organizations are producing this?” he says, and more “Is this responsible or is this propaganda?” He adds: “I think more and more you’ll see these organizations produce what we call journalism.”
Colin Mulvany, a photographer and video journalist for The Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Washington, is carrying the flag for superior video storytelling. Mulvany said he trained fourteen people in his newsroom to shoot video but nine of them were subsequently laid off. Now he and a handful of others attempt to produce well-crafted video features as well as news, in collaboration with print reporters. And because there is rarely anyone in newsroom management with enough expertise to critique the work of video journalists, Mulvany started a site called Findingtheframe.com to fill the void. It’s a kind of self-help organization that seeks to improve the quality of online video features. Findingtheframe.com invites news-video journalists to submit their stories for critiques by a panel of experts.
“This is going to be the future of the Internet. Video is the language online,” Mulvany says. “But video journalism is still a goat trail.”
Brian Storm formed his own multimedia production company, MediaStorm, in 2005 to prove that a business could be built around online cinematic narratives. He’s succeeding.
Storm says he takes a “disciplined” approach to his work and pursues topics that he personally cares about, with what he calls “ass-kicking storytelling.” Ultimately, he says, the video that will succeed online is either “cats spinning on a fan or the greatest story done on Darfur. No one’s gonna tweet what’s in the middle.”
In the past five years, his company has produced twenty-seven online documentaries and dozens of other projects for a variety of clients. He won’t reveal traffic, but points to a twenty-one-minute video story—following an illegal immigrant from Cameroon—that he said had a 65 percent completion rate, meaning the viewer stayed with the story for its entire length. Average time on his site was eleven and a half minutes earlier this year, before a redesign that he believes will increase the figure. At press time, MediaStorm has some 5,900 Twitter followers and 8,000 Facebook fans, 54 percent of whom are between the ages of eighteen and thirty-four. “Our entire careers as journalists they told us that eighteen- to thirty-four-year-olds don’t care,” he says.