Pilot: UMD Students Explore Local Journalistic Vlogging

The PILOT Innovation Challenge, an initiative of the National Association of Broadcasters, “recognizes creative ideas that leverage technological advances in the production, distribution and display of engaging content.” More than 150 ideas were submitted to address the challenge question, “What is an unconventional way broadcasters and other local media could serve communities?

TV Technology recently spoke with Josh Davidsburg, a lecturer with the University of Maryland, about NewsBIN Vlog, the project his students are working on, which has been named a finalist in the Challenge. Winners will be announced on Nov. 13.

TV TECHNOLOGY: Please explain the project in detail and the new format of video journalism. How many students are involved?

JOSH DAVIDSBURG: What do your kids watch? Chances are they are watching YouTube. One of the most popular formats of video production on YouTube is “vlogging.” At its core, vlogging is a cross between personal blogs and video, but it has evolved into so much more. Vlogging is a very stylized, personal form of video storytelling. It consists of a mix of raw, natural elements, such as high-quality editing full of jump-cuts and in-camera transitions. It is a medium native to streaming media and not seen on traditional television. 

[An example of a vlog] that is most interesting for the scope of this project is Casey Neistat’s channel. Neistat not only boasts 7.8 million subscribers, but his company was also bought by CNN for $25 million.

I have eight students working directly on the project and a second class has another eight covering similar stories in a more traditional format. 

We are going to look at vlogging-style video production and editing, popularized by YouTube and Neistat, to explore how we can apply it to local journalism. We will create a proof-of-concept news vlog, covering the Maryland General Assembly and use YouTube analytics to compare it to traditional journalism pieces covering similar stories. My students will be vlogging throughout the 90-day session, covering similar stories as our traditional broadcast students, and analyze statistics such as the retention rates to see which is more successful. We will also create educational materials (videos or a website) for local broadcasters and journalism outlets to explore journalistic vlogging. 

TVT: What led to the development of this project?

JD: I currently teach a class a class called “Broadcast Innovation” at the Philip Merrill College of Journalism. After brainstorming with students a few semesters ago, we developed a behind-the-scenes YouTube vlog showing what was happening in our class. When NAB’s PILOT Innovation Challenge announced a call for entries, we decided it was time to take vlogging from behind the scenes to see how we could use it to create external journalism. 

TVT: What is unconventional about it?

JD: This is a format that exists only in streaming media, mostly on YouTube. While all vlogging is personal, no one is exploring the intersection between local news and vlogging. It's not only a cost-effective format (shot on DSLRs or mirrorless cameras, usually by one-man-bands), but it is a popular format, especially with the coveted millennial audience.

A story published by The Guardian noted: According to a study by Global Web Index, 42 percent of internet users say they watched a vlog within the month of January 2015, although this rises to 50 percent for 16–24 year-olds and 25–34 year-olds. The vast majority of vlog viewers—93 percent—are watching them on YouTube.

TVT: What equipment are the students learning to use when producing the videos for YouTube?

JD.: The students will be using DSLR or Mirrorless cameras on small Joby tripods with a RØDE Videomic shotgun mic. It's a setup popularized by YouTube vloggers like Casey Niestat. 

TVT: How do you see this project impacting the broadcasting professional?

JD: As our TVs become more and more connected to the internet, we will become more accustomed to web-style video production on our large screens. In addition, as millennials and cord-cutters grow up, they will look for similar content. Local broadcasters will see more video competition from newspapers and vloggers, so local TV must evolve and adapt. Whether we like it or not, we're going to start seeing challenges from nontraditional video producers. 

Vlogging is a format that is inexpensive to produce, but resonates with younger audiences. Local news professionals can create vlogs to connect with millennials, both in covering traditional stories and producing behind-the-scenes content.

TVT: Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know about the project?

JD: My students are incredibly excited about this project. They're finally working in a medium of video production that they connect with and watch on a regular basis.