The pivot to video is not going to ‘save’ journalism

Day 2 of the GEN Summit in Lisbon saw Cory Haik, publisher of Mic and acting President of the Global Editors Network, Kim Bui, former editor at NowThis News, and Ilan Greenberg from Coda Media, unpack the buzzphrase pivot to video. The session was moderated by Jeff Kofman, founder of Trint.

Was the pivot to video a simple chase for dollars? Or is video a good way to reach new audiences? What does quality video journalism look like? And should we all be on Snapchat Discover like Generation Z?

These were just some of the questions that were covered during the ‘Pivot to Video: Strategy or hype?’ session at the GEN Summit in Lisbon.

‘There’s been a maligned, reductionist narrative about the pivot to video’, said Haik, publisher of Mic, a distributed media company that creates identity-based news content for a millenial audience. While some believe that the pivot to video was ‘borne out of the lure of advertising dollars’ and implemented as a way to pander to platforms, Haik said that it was actually driven by a consumer trend: more and more people were consuming video on social and mobile. Platforms were just the ones to ‘put their thumb on the dial and turn it up’, she added.

It’s not all about pleasing the platforms

Coda is a non profit news organisation that produces almost exclusively video content. Their long format pieces don’t adhere to the short format that’s usually flying around on Facebook. Greenberg told the audience that Coda began its life in 2016 with a pilot project on LGBT issues in Russia. It was a three part series, with each episode lasting about 25 minutes. The organisation usually covers single topics over a long period of time, rather than focusing on breaking news.

What role is mobile revolution playing in pivot to video?

Around 85% of Mic’s audience is mobile.

Jack Smith IV, a senior writer at Mic who covers grassroots movements in North America, normally reports from the front line on his phone even though he has a production team around him.

‘We’re not snobs about using mobile for reporting’, said Haik. ‘Everyone does it’.

Cory Haik and Kim Bui — © Tom Franklin for GEN

During the session, Haik also revealed that Mic is launching a Snapchat Discover channel. While about 80% of the audience had no idea what Discover is, Snapchat has an impressive 60 million active users. Most of them are Generation Z and a large part of that audience is female.

‘Discover is what television used to be’, added Haik. ‘It’s a multimedia environment that very much feels like the daily news’.

Discover is also driving mobile reporting, seeing as videos need to be shot vertically to work on the format.

‘There was a time where videomakers thought vertical videos were terrible, but guess what happened? The Internet won!’ said Haik.

According to Bui, working on Snap requires an entire team that’s dedicated to the medium. While correspondent interviews and some other reporting will be brought across, packages tend to be produced for Snap itself.

At NowThis, there’s a team of fewer than 10 people working exclusively on Snap and they produce two videos a day, which are based on templates to make the job faster. A graphic team is also required in order to produce original animations.

Video comes at a price

Kofman pointed out that about ten years ago, legacy media organisations were creating ‘really bad video: it was dry, it had a nervous voiceover, clunky writing, and bad video editing’.

According to him, news organisations are now getting it right and it’s not just the big players who are competing in this space. But creating video is expensive: it is not a one woman job and there is pressure to produce it very quickly.

‘How the do you justify the huge cost of producing good quality video?’, Kofman asked.

According to Haik, there are some essential questions news organisations need to ask themselves: What stories are you telling? Are you revealing something new? Or are we just churning aggregated text on screen?

The challenge, according to her, is to create something that is long lasting and that defines your brand.

‘What is the future in this existential moment in journalism?’, asked Haik. ‘Is it cheap video? We are seeing the pendulum swinging back to quality original reporting in video and Mic is currently figuring out what that looks like on platforms’.

Greenberg added that Coda is looking at ways of reducing cost by introducing animations into their video content.

Algorithm change

Bui pointed out that everyone wants to know how Facebook’s recent algorithm change has changed the businesses that do a lot of video. She revealed that NowThis had previously already moved away from 90 second aggregated video towards much higher quality 9-minute video. This content is distributed through Facebook Watch, a service users have to subscribe to.

What about YouTube?

Mic publishes longer interviews on YouTube making it an important platform for the publisher.

Bui added that YouTube is particularly appealing to a younger audience.

‘There are a lot of explainers on YouTube. My nephews watch more YouTube then Netflix and they adore explainers about science. It’s a pretty good revenue source if you do it right’, said Bui.


Correction: The article previously incorrectly stated there were 100 people working on Snapchat at NowThis. There are fewer than 10.