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Integrating Video into Magazine Articles

Today I’ve been playing around with the idea of a magazine-style insert for articles in online publications. It’s part of my exploration around better ways to integrate video in the overall online user experience, and not just as some isolated component.

Some of my inspiration for this exploration comes from Walter Murch. If you’ve ever done a film class or are one of the many kids who’ve decided that film school is a great option (even if the film industry is getting smaller by the year), then you may know who Walter Murch is. Walter was and is one of the great innovators of contemporary film. I had the good fortune to work under him on my first job out of film school. I’ve written about him for Mix Magazine, and he’s one of the reasons I left the film industry after 10 years and 35 features.

What? I’ll explain: In his book, In Blink of An Eye, Murch basically says that film 100 years ago was a low-brow medium, more a novelty for the masses and not taken seriously by the elite. 100 years later, film is very highbrow, still popular but the dominant medium it was in its heyday in the 1940s. There is still innovation but the more groundbreaking stuff (and this is me talking now) is happening elsewhere; online. I loved working in film, and was able to work for some of the best filmmakers (Lucas, Cameron, Luhrmann, Minghella, Verbinsky, Kaufman, and many others), but I’ve never regretted my decision to leave. I’m having a great time working the technology field in San Francisco, which could not be more exciting.

As a writer, who also does video, I’ve always said that video editing has its own grammar (again see Walter’s book), only less people are aware of it than they are about grammar for writing and speaking. The web also has a grammar or needs to have one, only we haven’t yet truly defined it. We use terms like user experience to describe it. Because we are at such an early stage and still bedazzled by the number of devices being used, much of what we see online is not very coherent for users. As someone with an interest in seeing video succeed online, I’d like to help define what that grammar needs to be. It’s a big subject so I’m starting first with the two things I know best: writing (include traditional print media practices) and video.

Below is a stab at something basic, an insert of the kind one might see in a magazine article, only instead of a photo you get a video image that you can click on; essentially a video quote. As this is just intended as an example, I’ve reformatting content I used previously on IdeasProject.

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One of the things we sometimes lose sight of in online journalism is the wonderful design aesthetic of the best magazine layouts. While it no longer makes sense to think in terms of the folded page, why not find a way to go one better on some of the great conventions of magazine articles. Another thing I want to emphasize here is quality. I chose this particular example because the quality is relatively high. It looks good as a still, the speaker is a well-known thought leader (Brian Solis), and what he is saying is compelling and topical. While quality in the traditional sense has become less important on places like YouTube, where so many other factors contribute to a video’s success, the kind of quality we’re used to seeing in a great magazine layout can and will become a component of online journalism as tablet formats continue to proliferate. And one of the many things we can add to improve on this is video. The example I use here is merely a quick sketch (as I am not a designer) and intended merely as a starting point.

A few other notes about this particular example. I’ve included a visual excerpt as a split screen in the video itself. This could have been tackled in other ways but the intention is to effectively diminish the gap between text and video. My overall intent it to integrate this video content with the flow of a written article, leaving it up to the user to decide whether or not to activate the video, which could effectively expand their experience beyond the written word, an opportunity to see and hear the subject (Mr. Brian Solis) talking. A real magazine piece that incorporated such a video would be about Brian.

I’ve also chosen to limit the amount of video content so as not to undermine the textual basis of the piece. To me, this is all about finding the right balance between video and written content, and not assuming that video is more important. It might be, but not in the context of a magazine-style article. It is merely an enhancement. Decisions about how much video or written content should be available remain for the publisher, but the user can also have a say how much or how little of each he or she wants to take in. An article such as this one might include several video inserts and even the potential to access a complete interview. That remains again for the publisher/writer/editor to decide. But I would suggest that, as we’ve learned with Twitter and I know from video editing, sometimes less is more.

Of course, I’m not the first to play around with the integration of video into article content. NYTimes.com has been one of the leaders, effectively and refreshingly adding concise and well-produced video inserts to much of their content. Indeed a majority of online publications incorporate video to greater and lesser extents. My work as editor of IdeasProjects has included a strong element of video integration, and many of the articles I’ve written include video inserts. But in the above case, I’ve worked within the framework of structured design, and am now looking to create a more fluid and optimized flow between design, UX, video, and journalism. This is just one of many starting points.