In January, media consultant Mario Garcia wrote that 2016 would be “the year of (more and better) video” and argued that “video should be central to any newsroom’s digital strategy.” Last month, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in his keynote to the Mobile World Congress that “we’re going to be in a world a few years from now where the vast majority of the content that people consume online will be video.” And his company is tweaking their algorithm to privilege video more and more.
“… the rise of video on the web doesn’t have to leave local newsrooms behind.”
Doing video right can be expensive and resource intensive, and we’ve largely seen big newsrooms (BuzzFeed, Huffington Post, Washington Post) and video-centric start-ups (AJ+, NowThis) lead the way.
However, the rise of video on the web doesn’t have to leave local newsrooms behind. In New Jersey, four tiny local newsrooms are experimenting with the role of video at the hyperlocal level. All of these projects are very early in their testing and development, but each contain some useful ideas about how local newsrooms can test video with their audience.
1) Social Video as a Tool for Community Engagement
Jersey Shore Hurricane News (JSHN) is a local newsroom with three part time staff and was born on Facebook, where it now has more than 220,000 fans. In the last year, it has also grown its Instagram community exponentially and started a new project called #OneJerseyShore, in which they focus on different communities up and down New Jersey’s coast, asking people to submit photos and videos of their home towns. They then create videos along with a mix of original reporting and community content.
This is part of a strategic effort by JSHN to cultivate what they call a “contributor culture” where people are a part of the journalism process. The #JSHN tag has over 30k images on Instagram, and their goal is to build on people’s desire to share and connect by producing stories and engagement opportunities. The final videos are uploaded to YouTube and Facebook, as well as chopped up for use on Instagram.
Scrolling through both their Facebook and Instagram accounts, you see a ton of community-submitted footage. Some of that footage is of tranquil sunsets and beach scenes, but the Jersey Shore Hurricane News community also regularly submits video that breaks news, like this Coast Guard rescue.
“JSHN closes the gap between user-generated content and formal news reporting by producing stories that stem from community submissions,” Justin Auciello, the founder of Jersey Shore Hurricane News told me. “For example, with the Coast Guard rescue, JSHN confirmed the activity rapidly, posted the video, and then used that tip to contact the Coast Guard. The formal report — which included a gallery of user generated photos from the scene — came shortly thereafter, and it was posted on WHYY’s Newsworks, which partners with JSHN.” This unique pro-am model gives local people deep buy-in to the work of the newsroom.
2) Bilingual Weekly News Summaries
New Brunswick Today reports in English and Spanish online, in print and via a new video series. The New Brunswick Today team focuses on watchdog investigations, accountability reporting and daily news. Their week in review is just a few weeks old, and they are still developing the audience around it, but initial feedback has been positive. They are one of the only newsrooms I have seen investing in bi-lingual video at the hyperlocal level. New Brunswick Today currently has a crowdfunding campaign focused on expanding their original Spanish language reporting.
New Brunswick Today also regularly shows up with their cameras to local committee meetings where no other journalist is attending and shares the video on their site. Their work is forcing city departments to be more transparent. “The city council only started filming their meetings and putting them online after we made a commitment to doing it first,” said Sean Monahan, New Brunswick Today’s publisher, “It was something we had asked them many times to do.” But it wasn’t until after a few months of Monahan recording the meetings that the council began doing it themselves.
3) News in 90 Seconds
Brick City Live is a two-year-old hyperlocal site covering New Jersey’s largest city, Newark. Brick City Live’s founder Andaiye Taylor developed the video idea based on feedback from her community, and because no one else locally was covering local news this way.
The videos focus on repackaging content from the site and highlighting important stories from other outlets. She creates the script from headlines and Facebook posts written throughout the week, and the video includes images from the stories. Taylor uses text overlays to make sure people can still watch the videos with the sound off. Hers is the only one of the four sites doing that so far. All the videos are directly uploaded to Facebook, where she sees the primary audience for the videos. Once she builds up her audience for the videos, she plans to look for advertisers and sponsors.
4) Turning Videos into Revenue for Local News
Kevin Coughlin, the founder of Morristown Green, has had video on his site since its earliest days. I rarely see him without a video camera by his side. That fact recently helped land his footage on network news when he recorded a bear that took up residence in the local town green.
His video coverage includes local cultural events, high school talent shows, town committee meetings and much more. On his YouTube account, many of his videos have over 10,000 views, and some have more than a 100,000. That’s nothing compared to national newsrooms, but for a small local site like Morristown Green, those are big stats.
Coughlin makes money from his videos in a range of ways. He’s occasionally paid to record events at local universities, and he edits and sells videos of local events to performers and parents.
He has also been hired to create a video reel for a local guy auditioning for The Bachelor and a music video for a classical ensemble. On YouTube, some of his videos have preroll or pop-up ads on them, but those have produced very little revenue at this point. Finally, building on his love of video, he has run summer camps in video journalism for local teens and created a local film festival that was revenue positive the last year he did it.
Each of these journalists is developing video strategies rooted in their unique communities, but together they show a terrific range of experimentation. These aren’t the only small hyperlocal news organizations working with video. The Center for Community Journalism in the UK pointed me to other great work happening at sites like YourThurrock.com and Wrexham.com, which are doing great work on local politics and election videos.
With new tools like Periscope and Facebook Live, local newsrooms can marry these edited videos with livestreaming from news events. If you want to think through the role of video in your newsroom, this report from the Tow Center for Digital Journalism is a good place to start. Also check out the lessons learned from Kasia Pilat’s work developing video products and strategy with the Daily Dot.
Josh Stearns is the Director of Journalism & Sustainability at the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation. Follow him on Twitter and sign up for the weekly Local Fix newsletter on innovation, community engagement and local news.