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Aug. 27, 2012, 4:12 p.m.
Reporting & Production

The Wall Street Journal wants its reporters filing microvideo updates for its new WorldStream

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An internal video-filing app goes public, featuring super short videos that reporters capture on their smartphones.

The Wall Street Journal has been busy expanding its video offerings and experimenting with dedicated news streams in recent months. Today, the natural merger of the two debuts: a stream of reporter-generated videos called WorldStream.

WorldStream is a bit like what it would be like to follow a bunch of WSJ reporters on Twitter — except if instead of posting 140 characters of text, they were each filing in 30-second-video chunks. It’s a reverse-chronological stream filled entirely by what reporters in the field are capturing with their smartphones.

Because it’s a stream produced by many, narrative flow is replaced by the dissonance of multiple stories, multiple voices, and multiple styles. Here’s Grover Norquist doing a standard-issue interview on Mitt Romney (35 seconds). And here’s Liz Heron giving a quick tour of the Google presence at the GOP convention in Tampa (41 seconds). Here’s…wreckage in Syria (17 seconds). Here’s WSJ reporter Arian Campo-Flores doing a standup about Hurricane Isaac (41 seconds). Here’s a moment-of-zen watching golf carts pass silently by (12 seconds). And here’s a still shot of a bunch of chairs in an almost empty room (10 seconds).

While WorldStream aims to be a way for viewers to get a potpourri of fresh video content, it is first and foremost an internal newsroom tool that the Journal has opted to make public. Alan Murray, deputy managing editor and executive editor for the newspaper online, says he had long been looking for a way to, er, streamline the filing process for video.

To do this, the Journal worked with Tout, which created an app especially for the paper so reporters can file video straight from their smartphones with little fuss. (Tout users can normally upload 15-second videos, but The Wall Street Journal’s proprietary Tout app gives reporters a luxurious 45 seconds.) Before showing up in the WorldStream, videos have to be cleared by an editor. In WorldStream’s nascence, Murray says videos that are filed but kept off the stream are the exception to the rule: Most of what they get is what you see. But there will be times when the Journal opts to keep a video private so as not to “tip off the competition,” or in cases where further explanation is needed for proper contextualization.

“This is kind of like an internal work tool that’s being exposed to the public,” Murray told me. “The work tool still functions even if we don’t expose it.”

For the 400-plus reporters whom The Wall Street Journal has trained to shoot video, WorldStream conceivably makes the process much easier: They see someone or something interesting. They shoot, and they file. “They don’t have to worry about it after,” Murray said. “It actually removed friction from the process… What this does is just give them an outlet.”

Reporters who are being asked to collect video anyway finally have a place to publish it in standalone snippets. Depending on what they shoot, videos could also show up embedded in stories, as part of larger packages, in cutaways during one of The Wall Street Journal’s produced shows, etc., etc. Murray says just about “anything shot by reporters could and should go into the stream.” And to battle that somewhat disjointed mix of content, viewers can apply thematic filters — if you just want videos of what the GOP is up to in Tampa, that’s all you’ll see.

The filtered view is more in line with the Journal’s previous forays into streamy news, which have focused on niche topics and events. (The 2012 election stream will likely become the most content-rich example of one of the Journal’s topic-specific streams.)

The neat thing about the unfiltered version of WorldStream is it reflects Journal operations any given day, not unlike that notional Twitter list. (WorldStream entries also use a Twitter-inspired system of #hashtags for internal tagging of videos.) And it plays around with some of the ideas many have been promoting as critical for news’ future: the importance of video; the boom in information streams; the birth of new shells to contain new formats of journalistic output.

But as with Twitter, the fact that WorldStream is available for breaking news won’t mean that it’s where management wants you to see the really big exclusive.

“Suppose you ran into Joe Biden at the Democratic convention, and he told you something he hadn’t told anybody else, that he was going to cede his position to Hillary Clinton,” Murray said. “That’s not the kind of news we would break on WorldStream. We have protocols in place for that but it doesn’t start with a free video blog.”

Photo by Joelk75 used under a Creative Commons license.

POSTED     Aug. 27, 2012, 4:12 p.m.
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