To understand your audience, pay attention to your child. Make something that people love, if you expect to find a business model. And if you’re stuck on an old media barge, grab a kayak and jump ship.
These were just some of the takeaways from the Sept. 19 “Reinventing TV and Video News” event at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, where industry leaders and upstarts shared visions and tools for the future of visual journalism.
VICE News Editor-In-Chief Jason Mojica began the day by discussing VICE’s editorial character, which Mojica described as “based on instinct and guts,” in a keynote interview with Jeff Jarvis, director of the J-School’s Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism.
Mojica, who identified the quintessential VICE story as Bride Kidnapping in Kyrgyzstan, said that he values reporting on the immediate and untidy.
Stories “may not fit into the grand narrative,” but aim to capture “a moment in time,” he said. To find them, Mojica said that VICE staff simply speak with each other and pick what they like.
“Do what you believe in, and hopefully…” he said.
Mojica, Jarvis, and the rest of the conference’s attendees converged at a time when traditional TV watching has declined among younger viewers but TV news revenue, especially at local stations, has remained relatively strong.
From 2006 to 2012, the percentage of 18-29 year olds watching TV news fell from 49% to 34%, Amy Mitchell, the director of journalism research at the Pew Research Center, told the event’s audience.On the other hand, Americans’ online video and news video viewership has jumped, with the most recent surveys finding that 53% of smartphone users watch video news on the devices.
Conference presenters were asked for “blue sky” ideas on how to expand the audience for visual news, particularly among younger, digital viewers, and responded with visions for new storytelling models, various social viewing experiences, and ways to use emerging digital technologies.
Adam Ellick, a video journalist at The New York Times, described a template for conveying meaningful footage without the narrative contrivances—supporting elements, transitions—that viewers don’t want.
Edo Segal, the chief executive of bMuse, a media investment and development company, demonstrated how to quickly produce a newscast that blended graphic elements, a viewer poll, clips from different web sources, and a near-live standup using his firm’s TouchCast platform, an iPad, and a portable green screen.
Fred Graver, who leads the TV team at Twitter, imagined a show that would present issues and events from two opposing points of view – one reflecting the unmediated views of online users, the other reported by journalists. His show, which he called “You People,” would “depict the imperfect process of making news” and also ask viewers to choose the winning side – perhaps after learning something about the news they didn’t know to begin with.
“Who are [journalists] to tell me about things?” Graver asked, explaining the show’s function as “deconstructing the news.”
Jason White, who manages Facebook’s strategic partnerships with news and broadcast organizations, also proposed letting users carry more of the story. He suggested tinkering with American Pickers, the show about a pair of traveling antique hunters on History, to make “The American Pickers of News.” Instead of presenting vintage finds from attics and childhood collections, viewers would arrive with stories, sometimes news-related, always personal.
He spoke wondrously about Fast Eddie, and encouraged attendees to Google the Mole Man, characters that the antique-focused Pickers encounter in their search for neat stuff. News viewers might respond to similar authenticity, he suggested. Digital natives “consume news in feeds,” White said, where a “lack of variety stands out.”
Robert King, senior vice president for SportsCenter and News at ESPN, said live sports broadcasts could include “data layers” for viewers interested in statistics, team playbooks, and gaming – perhaps displaying the likelihood that a player would make a shot and allowing viewers to predict the outcome.
David Dunkley Gyimah, a media scholar at the University of Westminster, urged attendees to “stop making TV news, and start making cinema.” And Adriano Farano, the founder of Watchup, an app to create personalized newscasts, displayed an early version of a “digital living room,” an online space where viewers could discuss news events as if sitting together, family-style.
To conclude the conference, Jarvis asked a panel of industry leaders to discuss the forces driving innovation in visual news.
King said that journalists must prioritize serving their audiences, who are constantly presented with new, appealing experiences online and expect them to be part of the digital sports experience.
He recalled when his pre-teen son discovered a new elevator at the house of his 101-year old great-grandparent, and rode it non-stop during a weekend visit. When father and son returned home, “He goes, ‘Where’s the elevator?’” King said. “That’s audience expectation.”
Jenni Hogan, a former local news anchor who had earlier described connecting with her viewers via Twitter, relayed a description of “large media companies [as] barges going down a river the wrong way.”
Hogan left KIRO in Seattle to found TVInteract, an iPad app that helps anchors communicate with audiences during live broadcasts. She said that leaving her station to develop new tools made her a more nimble agent for change.
“I’m in a kayak now,” Hogan said.
CUNY Graduate School of Journalism students documented the conference, which lasted from noon until 5:45 p.m., with iPhones and DSLR cameras. WNET CEO Neil Shapiro noted their presence, and encouraged them to keep shooting.
Even amateur video, he said, can make powerful TV news, recalling material that a WNET station’s viewers submitted for broadcast.
The footage was “not shot well, the lighting was bad, and there were moments so unbelievably authentic that it didn’t matter.”
Editor’s Note: Photos of Fred Graver and the panel comprising Rob King, Julian March, Rahul Chopra, and Neil Shapiro were added to this story after its initial publication.