Readers of this column would have noticed that I have never commented on the videos posted on Scroll.in. Readers themselves have hardly ever written in about the videos they have seen. But videos are an important part of this digital publication and they do need to be discussed.
Over the past fortnight, I have watched almost all the videos that have been put out on Scroll.in. Sometimes two videos, sometimes three are published every day. (They are all there in the Videos section.)
The videos on the site are not the only ones produced.
Naresh Fernandes, editor of Scroll.in, tells me that the Facebook pages of the publication host a larger number of videos, only a fraction of which make it to the website. Some are produced by the Scroll.in team, a larger number are either curated with material from the web or come from independent producers or are just reproduced from the Net.
The editor says that all publications are experimenting with video and are still searching for what works with readers. Scroll.in does not, he says, want to replicate the standard TV format of discussion. That is understandable. To me, it seems that Scroll.in, too, is still searching for the right structure and content. There is a large number and there is a great deal of variety in the video stories. However, after a fortnight of watching videos, I am left with the feeling that they add up to an amorphous mass of material. I do not see the Videos section as a whole adding to the site.
Video list: Good and bad
Here is a very brief illustration of the variety of videos put out from the fortnight beginning April 1.
On current affairs, there was this three-part video on how a group of gau rakshaks operated on the Rajasthan-Haryana border. Then there was this gem, a reproduction of a full-length documentary produced on Kishori Amonkar. This particular video did what no print publication or TV channel did – pay a comprehensive tribute to her music.
A different set of videos tried to break new ground, like this short piece on terminally-ill patients laughing at themselves or something like this music video on lesbian love that no text article can quite convey.
To me, these were exceptions in a large number of skimpy material, some videos that seemed to be there because they were just cute, some that seemed to be just fillers, and a few that made you wonder why they were there on the site.
Take for instance this video that tries to reverse stereotypes on people from the North-East. This is a subject that needs to be addressed in a sustained manner and this video had an interesting approach. But you end up feeling that it is superficial, with the producers unable to invest some effort into a more detailed exploration.
You do need a bit of relief in these difficult times, but there is a lot of such stuff being circulated on WhatsApp groups anyway. Should Scroll.in be putting out material like this one on a badger burying a carcass of a much larger animal? It would have been a different matter if the Scroll.in team had found and filmed this event. Here, the video has been pulled from the Net.
And, why oh why do you need a video on how to come across as smarter than you really are? This should not count even as a filler.
A regular on Scroll.in is one or the other comedy show from the American channels. The past fortnight there have been two – John Oliver and Samantha Bee, who frequently appear on Scroll.in – and a trailer of all things for an upcoming new show on US TV. I cannot understand the reason for so much prominence being given to US comedy/satire stars. They are good and well-known, so those who want to follow them will find them on YouTube, even if with a delay. Why reproduce them on Scroll.in?
There are other issues too. For instance, there was this video on Bharatiya Janata Party leader Subramanian Swamy speaking in Parliament expressing his criticism of the Goods and Services Tax Network. That is all that was there – the speech and an accompanying introduction. The same news could have been conveyed in two paragraphs and the reader/viewer could have been spared having to listen to an intervention in Parliament. It would have been a different matter if the video of the speech was jut one element in a larger analysis of the issue.
For me, the most worrying video put out on Scroll.in the past fortnight is the one on the Massive Ordnance Air Blast, one of the world’s largest conventional bombs that the United States dropped on Afghanistan on Thursday. There is a quiet celebratory tone in the three explanatory videos presented by Scroll.in. What else can one expect when these are US-produced videos being reproduced here? This is made worse by the use of the blurb: “Drop one of these and you can take out one large amount of target, in one big boom.” And the use of the term preferred in celebratory headlines world-wide: “Mother of All Bombs”. The absence of any discussion, comment and criticism in the text accompanying the “Mother of All Bombs” does not do Scroll.in proud, a publication that has otherwise been closely interrogating militarism.
The videos produced by the Scroll.in teams themselves seem to be of the more informative kind. Last fortnight, there was one on PIN codes, another on air pollution and there was even one on something new for India, “pod hotels”.
Naresh Fernandes says “Explained” videos and those with historical footage do well. One can see why – they talk to us about something new, or something we take for granted or about an issue of concern. These are quite different from the videos taken from the Net or produced by others, over which one has no editorial control. (There remain editorial issues even with the home-grown videos. For instance, the one on PIN codes had a factual error that there were no postal codes whatsoever before 1972. And the video on India’s first pod hotel seemed more like an ad for the venture.)
Getting it right
Overall, video on Scroll.in has to deal with being compared with the high standards achieved by text on the same site. In structure and plan, the contrast with the text published by Scroll.in is quite striking. Even an occasional visitor to Scroll.in has an idea of the categories and topics, the kind of writing the website puts out every week, indeed every day: there is a regular stream of material on current affairs, cinema, sports, health, books, arts and more. The reader also knows that she can expect news put together by the staff of Scroll.in from agencies as also news analyses by its reporters. Then there is comment, some from regular commentators and others from those with a column. Such a structure and editorial plan are absent from the video section.
Some see video as the future of digital publications, with print slowly being edged out. Scroll.in has to prepare for that day; it does seem to have some distance to travel.
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