Snapchat and storytelling

I was at the BBC College of Journalism in Bristol recently where I was participating in a CIRCOM Training the Trainers course. As part of it I had to deliver a complete training session to a group of 11 people who work in media organisations across Europe, the challenge … it had to be done in 30 minutes. In the past I’ve trained people mostly in social media and web publishing and for people with limited skills in these areas you need more than 30 minutes to get up and running on most platforms.

It’s a good challenge to see what skills you can transfer in just 30 minutes. I decided to train the group on Snapchat Stories. For the unfamiliar, Snapchat is a photo messaging app especially popular with people under 23 years of age. Users send each other ‘snaps’ (photos or short video clips) either to one or multiple recipients. The photo or video clip can only be viewed for ten seconds or under, the duration is set by the sender, before it is deleted both from the recipient’s phone and Snapchat’s servers. Where it gets interesting for media companies is Snapchat Stories, introduced late last year. I wrote about it in my review of 2013 and suggested it and other messaging services are going to be a growth area for media orgs. Snapchat stories stay on the platform for 24 hours and they’re visible to everyone following you. Each new snap you add to your story is included in the sequence of snaps that followers see.

By the end of the 30-minute training session, working in groups everyone had learned about Snapchat, they were on the platform and had uploaded a snap. It’s such a straightforward platform. Moreover, after showing them some of the ways it’s currently being used (NowThisNews, Washington Post Politics, Mashable etc), the group were thinking about Snapchat as a really interesting storytelling platform even for hard news.

In particular, I love what NowThisNews is doing with Snapchat (in general, NowThisNews, which is focused on storytelling, does interesting things with platforms, especially Instagram). Here’s NowThisNews’ Snapchat Stories output for 24 hours:

Snapchat-Blog-image.001

It was the day after the Oscars, so naturally there is a lot of Oscar-related coverage. The entire sequence is 40 seconds long and aside from the Oscars (and Oscar-related news) it covers six other stories: a 65-foot crack in a Washington dam, the ongoing cold weather in the North East, the death of a US Marine Corps pilot in Nevada, a Gold Fix study on bank manipulation, Google’s plans to give free bus passes to San Francisco kids and a deal that enable LGBT groups being allowed to march in the Boston St Patrick’s Day parade. It’s the news, but delivered like Perez Hilton had a hand in it.

There are drawbacks. You have to work for every Snapchat-er, this is not a viral platform. Also, if you’re not creating your Snapchat using the platform itself you’ll have a problem with screen sizes. I’ve screengrabbed the above images from an iPhone 4s, but I’d say they were made with a 5 (or larger screen) in mind.

The most important thing with Snapchat is not to treat it as a lesser platform. It would be easy for news organisations to treat it more casually than some of their other channels, but NowThisNews and others have set the current benchmark for Snapchat as a storytelling platform. There is a lot more news organisations can do with the messaging app,  especially if Snapchat enables users to create Stories with other tools or makes more complex tools available for news orgs and brands. There are also opportunities  around audience-created content.

In some ways this type of storytelling reminds me of scanning the headlines and photographs in a newspaper, I think we underestimated how much news we ‘absorbed’ scanning across a page. Snapchat is quite passive, all the user needs to do is hold a finger on the screen and watch, but unlike scanning a paper it’s a mobile messaging platform and it feels a lot more personal.

If you’re on Snapchat, add me, username:  blathnaidh

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Some nice examples of mobile journalism

Ahead of last week’s Circom Regional conference in Santiago de Compostela a group of young journalists from different regional stations met for a short workshop on mobile journalism led by RTÉ’s mobile journalism expert Glen Mulcahy, NRK’s John Inge Johansen (Norway), HRT’s Darko Flajpan (Croatia) and Circom’s Karol Cioma.

The participants shot and edited short ‘postcard’ packages from Santiago. I attended a session at the conference on Friday where the videos were broadcast and we heard from the journalists. The following packages stood out to me:

Patrik Samuelsson‘s video is interesting – it has lots of nice shots that really show off the range of the iPhone. Interestingly, Patrik, who is a Video Journalist at SVT (Sweden), said he got better shots with the iPhone than he would with his usual VJ kit.

I love this story from Adrian Rozenberg of TVR (Romania). What Adrian observed was that his interviewees behaved differently in front of an iPhone compared to his usual set-up. There was less of a barrier and they talked to him much more freely.

This story below was shot and edited by Nadejda Uzunova of BNT (Bulgaria). Before the course in Santiago, Nadejda had never used a camera to shoot a story nor had she edited a package. This package shows that mobile journalism is a great entry point and something that can be taught, if the participant is willing and interested, in a very short period of time.

There’s no doubt that news organisations are using mobile journalism regularly in live and breaking news situations, but what these packages show is the potential for packaging content and how accessible it can be with some focused training and the right equipment.

Sitting in the session watching the videos it also made me think about how organisations could work with the audience to grow and develop user generated content. There’s so much potential considering the huge, and ever-growing, base of smartphone owners.

All of the videos from the workshop can be found here and Glen talks a lot more about the process over on his blog here.

30th Annual Circom Regional Conference Embraces Digital


I attended the 30th annual Circom Regional conference, hosted by SVT in Malmo, Sweden, last week and was amazed by how openly it embraced all things social, web and tech. From Mans Adler’s (Bambuser) session on live video broadcasting to Glen Mulcahy’s mobile journalism tour de force and SVT’s group of innovative News Lab journalists, the event was firmly rooted in media 2012.

Granted, I’m biased (I was invited to present and participate in a panel discussion) but there was something for most digital-minded people in the television industry – a massive shift from last year’s mainly broadcast-focused conference.

Nick Simons (NRK, Ex New Media Head BBC Scotland) and I co-presented a session work-shopping (both inside and outside the room) the question ‘how can social media improve storytelling?’ We had excellent participation and here’s a taste of the contributions from inside the room in Malmo (and from outside including: Romania, Ireland, UK …):

If you missed the session you can look at the slides here:

Or you can watch the full stream back here via Bambuser.

If you have any thoughts on the topic, please leave a comment below!

-Blathnaid

Journalists and smart phones – a good combination

Move over backpack journalism we have entered the era of pocket journalism!

News organisations have been using material gathered on mobile phones for some time now, but mostly it has been photos or videos shot by ‘citizen’ journalists.

However more organisations are equipping their staff journalists with better phones to capture material from the field quickly.

In this interesting article over at Poynter, Damon Kiesow talks to Ventura County Star’s Visuals Editor Ray Meese about using the iPhone to break news.

The paper last year purchased six iPhone 3Gs for the staff and trained much of the newsroom in basic video and audio capture, editing and transmission. Meese said the best approach to making this work is simply to lead by example. “Just go out and do it. If you do that one or two times people see the result and see (the video) on the website 30 minutes after the event happens.” That’s what gets people to buy-in to the concept, he says.

Meese elaborates on the kit being used alongside the iPhone:

Hardware
-Two different battery boosters (the Mophie Juice Pack Air and the Griffin PowerBlock Reserve)
– The Owle Bubo, which lets you attach an external microphone, a cold shoe, a tripod or an interchangeable lense
-Xshot case, which has a tripod adapter

Software (apps)
-PhotoGene for still photos
-ReelDirector for editing video
-ITimelapse for editing video
-Pixelpipe for transferring content (currently unavailable)

So you might need big pockets in many ways for that lot, but as Meese points out smart phones are being improved all the time and many of the items you have to add on or need for improved performance may be integrated into future models.

He goes as far as saying that it is feasible that a smart phone could eventually replace a still camera, video camera and audio recorder. I agree with that.

Now for the results.

Here are some videos recently shot by journalists at the Ventura County Star. They don’t indicate on their site, which videos are shot using an iPhone but after watching a few I’d say these two probably were:

‘Bear rescued from tree in Oxnard’ Video by Staff Reporter Adam Foxman (great part at about 1.40 – easy to see why this has good ratings)

‘Two people injured in Oxnard house fire’ Video by Staff Reporter Adam Foxman

What strikes me about both of these videos is even though the quality is akin to that of any footage taken on a good mobile phone these were produced with a journalist’s eye.

I think the Ventura County Star shows the opportunities that lie in pairing journalists with new technology.

Visual Editor Meese will be taking part in a webinar next month (17 June) called ‘Tools for Mobile Journalists’.

Putting the 17 June in my diary and downloading new apps,
B