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NHK’s long-standing documentary programme, Today’s Close Up, is broadcast multiple times a week on television and runs for 25 minutes, but the average person who tunes in is aged 60 or over.

Young people do not seem to watch, regardless of the stories shown by Japan's national broadcaster.

Hirohisa Hanawa, senior producer, works on the Digital Lab team with three other colleagues. The team set out to reformat their documentaries for audiences on social media.

NHK now produces one-minute documentaries based on the investigative work undertaken for the television programme, which are published on Facebook.

“We took a 25-minute documentary programme and condensed it into one minute,” he told delegates at the News Xchange conference in Denmark today (1 December).

“This is not just a teaser, but a complete product to deliver our journalism.”

Hanawa joined NHK as a documentary maker to produce long programmes, but since he started working on the experiment, short form has grown on him.

“I love longform documentaries but after I started this trial, I gradually realised that the length of video is not so important – [making a] documentary is not a matter of length, but of storytelling. What kind of message do you want to deliver? That is the point.”

One of the experiment's success stories is a video on student loans and bankruptcy, which exceeded the team's expectations on audience reach.

"The largest number were men between the ages of 35 and 44 who don't normally watch our programme on TV," he said.

The video also generated 600 comments, and for Hanawa, "fostering a candid discussion on an issue of national interest is crucial for journalism".

And while 600 comments may not seem like many for some media organisations based in Europe or the United States, it's important to note that Facebook is only the third most popular social network in Japan, Hanawa explained.

The first, Line, is a chat app used primarily to communicate with friends and family, and the second, Twitter, is mostly used for entertainment.

The audience on Facebook however is more interested in news and current affairs.

"Facebook users in Japan seem to be conscious individuals using social media for gathering news, information and insights. Facebook is the best platform for one-minute documentaries."

The team working on the project consists of two directors who create each story, one video editor, and one data analyst. Monitoring metrics to find out who is watching and at what point they stop is an important part of the process.

In a video, Hanawa explained the three mistakes to avoid when creating short form documentaries for social media, based on mistakes and challenges NHK has faced since starting the experiment.

He advised news organisations to think creatively when choosing the footage they use in short videos – not to rely on location footage, avoid experts and talking heads in favour of more engaging footage or animated graphics, and to focus on the message rather than a particular scene.

Watch the video below, courtesy of News Xchange.

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