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I'm an assistant professor at the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University, where I teach and research how news sites can better reach their audiences. I received my Ph.D. from the Missouri School of Journalism at the University of Missouri where I was one of the founding editors of MyMissourian.com, a citizen journalism site for Columbia, Mo. Before graduate school, I worked as a community newspaper editor in Southern Utah and Southern California.

#JCARN: Maintain reporter’s presence in online video

The timing of the latest Carnival of Journalism couldn’t have been more fortuitous for me. I’ve been conptemplating the future of online video since the beginning of summer, when I started designing an experiment to test the effect a reporter’s presence has on credibility. I’m running participants through my experiments as we speak. (Want to take the study – Click on the surveys link above!)

I have an idea where the results will take me, but I can’t be not sure because it seems there’s such a dicotomy in how news organizations approach online video.

Byron Reeves and Cliff Nash wrote this influential book in 1996 that asked why people find TV news more credible than print, even when the content is so similar.

Previous studies suggest seeing a reporter on screen is important. In fact, Byron Reeves and Cliff Nass say one of the main elements of TV news credibility comes from seeing a familiar face on screen. Broadcast news outlets with an online presence, such as CNN, ABC, and ESPN, showcase online videos that would be a home on their TV networks, complete with standups and voice overs.

On the other hand, non-legacy video outlets such as NPR, Media Storm, and newspapers, such as the Columbus Dispatch and the Cincinnati Enquirer are producing top quality videos where no reporter is present on screen. The videos allow the participants to tell their own stories without a reporter’s intervention.

My first question was if this is a product of the medium. Is connecting the audience to the video’s source more important on the Internet than in other media? Do online audiences reject traditional video presentations after watching so many amateur YouTube videos or are newspaper reporters just camera shy?

As we ponder the future of online news, I think discussing the reporter’s role is vital. So many of last weekend’s messages from the Online News Association’s annual conference (#ONA11) stressed the need for reporters to establish their brand. Credibility is central to that brand, and online video, the research suggests, can be a great way to both connect with audiences and establish one’s authority.

With this in mind, I can’t say I know what the future holds for online video. I can say I definitely think video will always play a role in online news. In fact, I think reporters should look to use it more to establish themselves as expert sources on which audiences can rely. If YouTube has taught me anything it’s that you don’t have to be the most polished presenter with the highest production values. You just have to have compelling content. The more I play with it, the more I realize that online video can be some of the most compelling and most credible information available.

Editor’s Note: Information about this month’s Carnival of Journalism and links to other posts is available from this month’s host Andrew Pergam.

6 Responses to “#JCARN: Maintain reporter’s presence in online video”

  1. Great post about online video. You ask some very important questions. As you stated above that, “…I think discussing the reporter’s role is vital.” This is a very good point of discussion.

    Whether technology will receive “across the board acceptance” as a mediator for informing and entertaining is still up in the air. However, for kids like me, the usefulness of a reporter has vanished from my outlook on information and especially the News. Being able to sort through the clutter and noise is something that technology enables active participants in the News to accomplish.

    If the role of the reporter is to act as a middleman between information and the audience, then it is my suspicion that change is coming. I tend to believe that curating and sharing information through technology is beginning to replace the importance of having an onscreen personality. It almost feels as if the reporter gets in the way of learning. This seems to be less true in regards to being entertained, and that is a key distinction.

    The question I will leave with is, “Do you feel that the role of the reporter is “out of date”?”

    October 1, 2011 at 3:22 pm
  2. Hans K. Meyer #

    That final question you ask Bret is really the heart of my research. So much previous research argues the presence of a reporter is key to credibility in video, but I’m not sure that applies online, where, as you say, we can go around the middleman. I think that’s part of why so many good news organizations are creating online videos with the traditional standups and voiceovers.
    I think reporters will always be important for curation. They can help immeasurably to reduce the clutter. Maybe they don’t need to actually declare their presence to do it. Maybe they can do it simply by actively selecting which information to feature.
    Your comment has really helped me to crystalize what I’m trying to find out. Thanks!

    October 4, 2011 at 11:25 am
  3. Great post, Hans. Will share with my students – we’ve been talking about this in theory class :)

    October 4, 2011 at 2:08 pm
  4. Hans K. Meyer #

    Thanks Carrie. Now the only uncertainty is getting enough students through the lab to take the study. I’m only at 15 now. I might have to open it up online.

    October 4, 2011 at 2:11 pm


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