Way back in 1980, The Buggles released a song called Video Killed the Radio Star (this is the original – amazing how both new and old sound) and so many decades later I still love it, perhaps even more, and it certainly had some relevance being the first music video shown on the newly arrived MTV. I think this was a somewhat seminal moment in history, heralding a major change in not only how we listen to music, but also how we would consume entertainment, news and many other things to come. While my title ‘Video Killed…Everything’ is somewhat provocative, bear with me as I explain what I mean and why I think it’s relevant and maybe even important to consider in the wider scheme of things. Whichever way you look at it, video assails us in every possible way in our ‘connected’ lives and very often when you don’t need it whatsoever. I am just so over video appearing everywhere.
Continuing on from ‘Every Picture Tells A Story‘, I prefer to provide my views with words and photographs, rather than video and background music, or as a talking head. While I’m not against video, I’m finding it increasingly frustrating that you can’t escape video for one moment on the internet. When reading news articles, you are instantly bombarded with a video that runs the moment the page is loaded and all that you can do is press the pause button so that you can read the article in peace, or not have the sound on. This is the ‘new age’ of journalism where ostensibly sound bites are more important than the written word and the problem is that every news site appears to be doing the same. I’ve even come across news sites where the video that runs has nothing to do with the written article that’s being presented, or there may even be several videos running at the same time.
Video has had some profound effects on the way we consume all manner of information and, while video clearly has it’s place, when all that you want to do is read something in peace, the constant onslaught of video clips completely removes any pretext that effort has been put into writing a clear and comprehensive accompanying article. Maybe this is because most of today’s written journalism is of such poor quality that video is placed first and foremost, perhaps in the hope that no one will actually read what has been written. In many cases I’ve found articles accompanying a video completely lacking in quality and, as an aside, the use of Twitter quotes, or fillers, seems to be on the rise to further cloud the lack of quality journalism. But it’s not just news media doing this, every information outlet seems to increasingly rely on video as part of the information cycle, whether you need it or not.
There are a few areas where video is quite good and acceptable and that’s in pure video news and entertainment, as well as the likes of YouTube where independent ideas can be presented, until they can’t, including ‘How To’ videos. YouTube especially allows people, who would never be permitted to do so by the mainstream media, to express their views, much like what is happening in the blogger space. But at least with YouTube and video news, you elect to view the videos, they are not forced upon you. Not so surprisingly, both YouTube presenters and bloggers are the bane of the mainstream media, becoming the go to source for information and views in place of an increasingly untrustworthy mainstream media. That’s not to say that vlogs (video blogs) and blogs are necessarily anymore trustworthy, but at least you can get an alternative viewpoint, and they can often be far more entertaining than the often dry, dull and condescending mainstream media.
The other issue with video is that it has to be done well, or else it just comes across poorly. And I’ll be the first to admit that all the video that I’ve published has been done poorly, as I don’t have the skill nor time (especially on a High Country Cruise) to try and get it right or half decent; the short video clips are just there as a momentary diversion to my photographs, to add to what the photographs sometimes cannot convey to the fullest. And, on a slight tangent, as mobile phones come equipped with better video capabilities, the media is increasingly using these in their news broadcasts, yet much of it can be utterly woeful. A lot has to do with the loss of professional staff, who have been replaced by inexperienced journalists or the general public (citizen journalists) armed with a mobile phone or video camera, which can raise their own issues.
There are issues around ethics and media literacy: citizen journalists may not be aware of questions of privacy or what legal restrictions there may be. As far back as 2009, the American academic Susan D Moeller suggested in a report that government agencies, international organisations and private foundations should fund the teaching of best practice to citizen journalists.
“There is a clear difference between the activist uploading content with a cause in mind, and the accidental witness who stumbles across a newsworthy event and captures it on camera,” says Dubberley.
He adds in the first case, there is a journalistic duty to explain to the audience why this content is being published and with what purpose. In the latter, there is a duty to ensure that the accidental witness is treated fairly and that their wishes are respected. Understanding this difference is paramount, Dubberly points out.
David Wastell, foreign editor of The Independent, says his newspaper tends to avoid using citizens as journalists.
So while the influx of video into our everyday lives, especially internet lives, just increases every day, I hope that there’ll be some moderation eventually happening to limit the ‘in your face’ aspect that we seem to be up against today. However, in some respects, I think this is not something that is going away, as the attention span of today’s readers is often very short and they’d rather have a few seconds of video to inform them of the latest political scandal or whatever, than actually read about it in greater depth. This then promotes more video and less written information, less informative written information and so the downwards spiral continues.
With print media (and online) sales tanking year on year, magazines disappearing and quality journalism becoming an afterthought, if concepts like this come to Australia and the rest of the world, we can just about give up on literacy and video will rule in the information age. When the illiterate become teachers, there’s not much hope left for our future generations. Maybe home schooling will really take off, with retired teachers taking up what’s lost in this strangely evolving world.
Update: Given that this is somewhat close to my heart, I had to post it up. I’m not surprised that this is happening, given the decline in quality of today’s media, especially News Corp. Even if most sub-editors nowadays are just out of school or going to school, having less will degrade what little quality these newspapers have left. Citizen journalists rejoice, your talents will be on call even more now, for free of course.
Australia’s biggest newspaper company, News Corp, has announced that it will be gutting its photography departments at newspapers across the country, axing most of its staff photographer and sub-editor positions in an effort to cut costs.
And in case you didn’t click on the first link: