Adam Westbrook is a freelance journalist, he lectures at Kingston University, blogs here, tweets here and is running a great new journalism business competition
If I were running a hyperlocal website, I would use video. Online video is more affordable, more accessible, and equally, more powerful than it ever has been.
Using video has several advantages. It breaks up the usual day-to-day rigour of text and pictures. It engages a different part of your readers’ brain and holds their attention. As Chris Anderson states in a brilliantly conducted TED lecture last summer, human beings are hardwired to communicate visually. We pick up more subsconscious information talking across the table from a friend than we ever would if the same conversation was converted to text.
If I were running a hyperlocal website, I would use video, but I would do it cheap. I would spend £90 on a Kodak Zi8 camera, £15 on the cheapest lapel mic Maplins has to offer, £20 on a half decent tripod, and £50 on Adobe Premiere Elements/Final Cut Express.
I know that if I use the tripod and the external microphone, hold steady shots, keep off the zoom button, and always shoot in good daylight, my pictures will look as good as something shot on a Pro camera.
But if I were running a hyperlocal I would be choosy about what stories I chose to tell in video. Video is great at capturing movement, events and emotion, but terrible at explaining complicated social issues like politics or economics.
So I would only make films about the events in my area where there was noise and action: extraordinary weather events, armistice day, the Christmas market. I wouldn’t, however, take my camera to council meetings and upload 60minutes of council chatter to Youtube; I wouldn’t turn every press release or update into video.
If I were running a hyperlocal I would not try and emulate television. I would not do ‘bulletins’ because they’re too time consuming to produce regularly; I would not create reporter-style packages because they bore viewers; I would not use cheesy TV-news style music or graphics, because that’s just lame.
If I were running a hyperlocal I would use video for two things: breaking news (where the pictures are good) and features. Video would give me the chance to delve deep into my community and tell the stories which would otherwise slip into history unnoticed.
Each fornight I would publish one short video portrait of someone in my community: maybe the surviving war veteran, or the quirky guy who works at the library, or the busker, or even the guy who runs the newsagents who everyone knows. If I do it right, it will become a product in itself, with a life beyond my local community. Just look at this portrait of The Sartorialist for proof.
If I were running a hyperlocal website and I had an extra £60 spare, I would buy a second camera: something simple and robust like the Kodak Playsport and each week I would give it to someone in my community and get them to record a video diary. Less effort, more content.
If I were running a hyperlocal I would eventually get creative about using my camera. I would put it on top of the townhall roof and get a timelapse; I would attach it to the dashboard of a local taxi, or on the jacket of a local bouncer and show my audience a unique angle on their local world.
If I were running a hyperlocal I would use it to engage local politicians. I would get readers to record video questions they want put to their MP and get him or her to answer those questions – in video.
And so I would repeat this cycle month in, month out, prolifically experimenting, creating and seeing what works. Eventually I would be able to leverage these skills for profit. If my videos were any good I would talk to my local mainstream media and see if they were interested in buying some; if my videos were popular, I would package them into a DVD before Christmas or charge a local business to brand the pre- and post-roll. As a now established video guru in my town I would run evening workshops for anyone else who wants to learn video skills.
If I were running a hyperlocal I would do video, and that is how. Video is still high capital cost (relative to just blogging) but once you are kitted out, the only cost is time, ideas, and juice to charge the batteries. The reward? Video pulls in more people, surprises them, entertains them – all the while establishing your hyperlocal as not just another blog, but as a centre of your community.
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