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Credit: By derekGavey on Flickr. Some rights reserved.
Microvideo is a phrase that, for many, may bring to mind the shaky "selfies", stop animations or how-to guides often found on Vine or Instagram, the video extensions of two of the most popular social networking sites on the planet. Both have received a great deal of fanfare in their unveiling, but neither have had much uptake by news organisations so far.

"Can you really encapsulate a story in six seconds?" questioned Marc Settle, a trainer in mobile reporting at the BBC College of Journalism, speaking to Journalism.co.uk for a podcast on the subject.

Many have created accounts but few have yet to use them; on Vine, a small number of active BBC channels make up a fraction of the dormant accounts for news outlets while on Instagram's new video capabilities, the Washington Post is a rare case of a major news organisation creating video content among the large number of national and international outlets with accounts.

There are, however, other platforms which are gaining more credibility and use among forward-thinking journalists.

"I'm not saying it's never going to be possible but the 15 you get on Tout – or the 45 if you've got a corporate account – is much more the kind of length that fits the dynamic of news," said Settle.

"Certainly the new app Vizibee, which some BBC colleagues put together, have gone for 75 seconds because they say that's the standard length of a report, what's called a 'rant' on the BBC, where someone will talk to the camera and explain what's happening. Seventy-five seconds is about the maximum length.

"But six seconds? What can you really do?"

Instagram may yet start to fill this temporal gap, but Tout has been playing a similar role for some time. Created as a social video platform, Tout now has partnerships with the BBC, Wall Street Journal, Europe1, and Digital First Media (DFM), among many others, while Vizibee has been designed specifically for professionals to create short videos of behind the scenes footage or quick updates on news stories.

Why news outlets are turning to microvideo

At Digital First, editor-in-chief Jim Brady said they had been looking for a way to make more short-form video content and get it onto the website much faster.

"When you're out reporting on a story real-time sometimes you don't always have the production bandwidth or the time to go through the whole process of getting something from camera onto your website," he said. "So with Tout, one of the things that Tout does that was very appealing to us is a very simple straight-shooting, straight-to-the-web sort of technology."

Tout's founder and CEO, Michael Downing, describes this as "helping [newsrooms] take about 10 steps forward" in terms of their reporting technology, while also responding more readily to the consumer demand for "bite-size bits of data" that has developed along with the "real-time web".

Short form video has a good fit with mobile and it's easier for journalists to report from the mobile deviceNeha Manaktala, co-founder and COO, Vizibee
"We call it the 'show me, don't tell me' kind of movement," he said, " where people in general, if you look at behaviour online, it's starting to shift away from the kind of paragraph-laden, text-heavy experience.

"They're craving more visual content – more direct and more video content specifically – and that visual content actually helps them or enables them to process information much quicker, no big surprise."

The importance of visual content is fully understood at the BBC, but with Vizibee, co-founder and chief operations officer Neha Manaktala said the way audiences are looking to receive that type of content is changing.

"Our audience is moving away from television and they are on mobile all the time," she said, "and they want access to the latest news all the time. So we think that video news – and mobile video news – is where news is headed, which is the whole thesis for having Vizibee there."

In this "rise of the visual web", Downing says mobile devices compete on screen size and picture quality, meaning mobile-ready visual content holds a greater importance in terms of attracting and retaining users to the site.

"People are becoming wildly more information efficient," he said. "They have to be able to take the massive fire hose of news and information and they have to be able to put it into a format that is not unwieldy but is manageable in some sense."

Twitter is one highly successful way by which news organisations make their articles and traditional reports manageable and accessible, acting as a gateway to the site as a whole, and, says Downing, the same process can apply to video content.

"It's not to say that people aren't going to watch 20-minute videos or 30-minute in depth documentaries but the way that they're going to get there, to discover and find it, is going to be fundamentally different."

At Vizibee, Manaktala sees the combination of mobile and video as being perfect for this type of content.

"Mobile is our primary focus," she said, "we do have a web platform and and our aim in the future is to be across the four screens, but mobile is where our starting point is and where the audience is as well.

"Short form video has a good fit with mobile and it's easier for journalists to report from the mobile device."

How this platform is being used by reporters

For journalists throughout Digital First Media, short-form has added a new dimension on how they are able to present stories and provide a greater layer of context to those stories.

Michael Anastasi, as vice president and executive editor of the Los Angeles News Group, was one of the first people under the wide umbrella of Digital First Media to experiment with Tout when his outlets picked the platform up at the start of 2013.



He highlighted three ways in which the platform had been used: in quickly relaying breaking news stories from the scene to the reader; for "tent-pole" events, such as Pasadena's Rose Parade, and in providing background to local sporting events in the area.

"All three of those things have worked very effectively," explained Anastasi. "They are different types of audiences but Tout is not a hard to produce video and that's the point. It's a video that you can get up to your readers in a short amount of time and that's the great advantage of it and that's it's great strength.

"It makes every reporter who has a smartphone into a videographer and so the number of people that you have in the field potentially providing video for your organisation is trebled or quadrupled, just like that. I think the success that we've had can be quantified in the numbers of our video views have risen approximately 50 per cent since we began using this tool."

In addition, Jim Brady said that in a climate where time is one of the key pressures on newsdesks, using these kind of tools can streamline the reporting process and give readers and viewers snapshots of a story while bypassing much of the lengthy editorial process that can slow down reporting.

"Instead of filing a four-inch mid-day story from a trial or from a sports event, reporters can just do a 45-second Tout that says 'this person testified today, here's what they said and the trial will continue this afternoon'," he said."

"That should, in theory take a lot less time than writing a story and having it go through the editing process."

By giving every DFM journalist a professional account and therefore the ability to produce these videos, be they updates to an ongoing story or background colour to breaking events, the scope for the range of content that the audience can access has mutual benefits for readers and newsrooms alike.

"We were looking at some of the Touts from one of our reporters in Boston," continued Brady, talking of the days following the Boston marathon bombings in May, "and she was taking 45 second videos of interesting events going on in Boston that easily could have just been text tweets.

"She could have just written 'police are now coming out of the area, the crowd is cheering' or you could actually show a video of police walking out of the background and into the picture and having the crowd cheering. Would you rather see that or would you rather read it?"

At Vizibee, Manaktala said the tool had seen similar use by BBC reporters in creating behind-0the-scenes footage, trailers for longer-form video or contextual pieces from the field of where breaking news is happening.

Is this the future?

Each journalist needs to have a multitude of multiplatform tools in their tool box todayMichael Anastasi, VP and executive editor, Los Angeles News Group
Marc Settle says this rise in microvideo is another step in the wider evolution of news coverage.

Rather than being a fundamental shift in how audiences get their news, Settle believes this development is broadening the agenda in terms of how audiences can get their news.

"There will always be different people consuming news in different ways," he said, "I think the market place shows you that's the case, it's been the way ever since newspapers came out.

"There will always be different ways that people want to consume information, whether it's short form or long form, and videos on mobile are just the latest version of that."

And for journalists, it is a way to present stories in a way which may be more fitting for the subject matter.

"I think it's a valuable tool in our tool box," said Anastasi.

"It's incumbent upon every journalist to know – in the same ways that a workman knows what is the appropriate tool to use in certain situations in their profession – each journalist needs to have a multitude of multiplatform tools in their tool box today as we go about our mission of reporting the news."

Update: Since the interview with Neha Manaktala, Vizibee has signed an official partnership with the BBC to host the broadcaster's microvideo content.

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