Good video should connect emotionally to your viewer


 In order for video storytelling to be effective, I believe it has to connect with viewers on an emotional level. The hardest part about my job as multimedia editor is that I have to be the “no” man.  I get lots of requests from reporters  to shoot video to go with their stories. Many of these requests are turned away because they don’t meet a threshold for good visual storytelling.

I come from a still background and have lots of experience shooting picture stories. Because of that, I am able to quickly identify whether video would work as a story. Word people don’t always approach video the same way I do. They see the sum of all the facts they’ve gathered as being the story. What they fail to understand is without strong visual components, you can’t tell a video story very well. I tell them: “If there is nothing to show, it is not a video.”

As I think about some of videos that my visual co-workers and I have produced, the most successful of these have always been the ones that connected to viewers emotionally rather than on just the facts. Don’t get me wrong; fact videos do have their place. We do a lot of breaking news videos based mostly on what the police or fire public information officers say. Those videos serve their purpose—to disseminate information quickly.

When I cruise through the story budgets, I’m always searching for that elusive emotional gem. When we package a daily video with a print story, I look for ways to tell the story a little differently then what the reporter is doing. Instead of thinking broad, I think defined. That can mean focusing on just one or two subjects out six the reporter might have talked to.

I have a self imposed “No Epics” rule. That means when I am out shooting, I try not to go off on tangents. I force myself to define my story by distilling it down to its simplest form. At the Platypus Video Workshop, before we could start shooting our final projects, we were forced to state what our story was in one sentence. It is an exercise I use to this day.

With a short focused story, it’s important to have something that people will care about as they watch. Asking the right questions of subjects becomes incredibly important. One of our MoJo reporters was jesting the other day that TV news reporters always ask the “How do you feel question?” I now understand why. When people share their feelings, it can paint a stronger picture than with words alone.

One of the greatest benefits that newspapers online sites have over TV news is that we have the ability to go deep with the facts with our writing, then give viewers a different approach to the same story with video. When the stories, photos and video are combined in to one neat package, no other media can match us for depth of information. 


9 thoughts on “Good video should connect emotionally to your viewer

  1. Pingback: Why good video matters « Jason Kristufek’s We Media blog

  2. I wholeheartedly agree. Thanks for the great post. It seems an age-old issue of working to find real-people element in a story. The basics of good storytelling extend to video, and I think a lot of people, myself included, forget that when we’re trying to create multimedia content with print stories and photos a habit. I have a hard time balancing the “no” with encouraging our new-to-video and reduced staff to work with video for anything.

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  5. Colin – what do you mean by successful?

    1. These videos get the most hits?
    2. These videos get the intended pay-off (donations etc)?
    3. These videos are easier to make?
    4. These video win awards (esp. if they pair emotion with important social issues)?

    I think (3) & (4) – because (1) and (2) and demonstrably false.

    Looking for the factors that prevent web video from being successful (in terms of criteria 1 & 2) I think overt emotionalism is up there.

    Any thoughts?

  6. Peter, I’m not sure what you are saying here. Producing boring videos that do not connect on an emotional level with the viewer is a waste of everyone’s time. How many stories on local TV news stick with you 30 seconds after they’re over?

    We have all seen crappy video that newspapers are producing. Lack of training, clueless management, horrible content management systems and display all lead to video stories that do not live up to their potential. I view the success of a video; not from the hits or contest potential, but on whether the story resonates with the viewer.

    As to # four on your list. Video that connects on an emotional level is not easier to produce. It takes time to build trust with a subject. The easy videos are the ones where all I have to do is slap together a talking head and cover it with some b-roll clips.

    Finally, I’m not sure what you mean about overt emotionalism. I’ve haven’t done a lot of video where I’ve tugged the heartstrings to a point of it being over the top. Sensationalistic and emotional are two different things.

    What I have found looking at Google Analytics for our website is that if a video is well told and has those emotional gold coins sprinkled throughout the story, it will get strong page views (especially over time) with lots of time on the page–even on our crappy designed site.

    The proof in the pudding for me is going to come in the next three weeks. We launch a ground up redesign of that will put video and multimedia front and center throughout the site. The failure of good video, in my opinion, has more to do with the way newspaper websites hide their web-only content. We all have a lot to learn, but I am hopeful that video will finally gain traction at my newspaper. Today I finished training six more newsroom co-workers in video storytelling. How will I judge their future success? If I remember their stories 30 seconds after I’ve left the page, that’s how.

  7. Colin – I appreciate the thoughtful response.

    The notion that film/video is an appropriate medium for emotionally charged stories is generally true. But I’m not sure how well the theory translates to the web.

    TV viewers are like goats – they will essentially eat whatever is placed before them. They might move from a tuft of grass to a piece of fruit (channel surf) but if they are in the mood to eat – they eat.

    Web surfers are like tigers – they stalk their prey, and go for days without finding anything worth eating – however hungry they are. They want a guarantee of sustenance before they bite.

    When you take an emotional story and edit it down to 3 or 4 minutes you often transform authentic emotion into shallow sentimentality. You might watch a story of a 5 year old kindergardener greeting his Iraq returned marine dad on the netwwork news. You might even get choked up over it – but are you really going to search such videos on the net?

    As to emotional videos being easier to produce – it’s easier to capture the little boy’s elation with a video camera than with a pen. Agreed?

    So a video with emotional overtones/undercurrents is more likely to be successful from the producers POV, in the sense that it adds something to the story.

    But is it more successful from the consumer’s POV?

    If you are a judge in a competition, or a teacher then certainly you will say “that’s a memorable video – good job”. If you are watching a 30 minute news show on a day when there is only 10 minutes of news – likewise.

    But if you are a web surfer – are you going to click on it in the first place?

    To me the jury is still out – but my (casual, half-assed) research is leading me to question the assumption that, web video is better suited to conveying emotion than information.

    Historically video and emotion go together like newspapers and high profit margins…..I’m not saying the assumption is false, just that it might benefit from more critical examination.

  8. All good points Peter. I too think the jury is still out on this. Newspaper journalists across the country are still learning the fundamentals of video storytelling and editing. Likewise, web surfers are starting to see that newspapers are offering content more than just text and static photos. My feeling is that if you build a cool site that makes the video content easily accessible, shareable, and playable, you will be way ahead of the game. Add to this, a diverse flow of local video content–the kind that resonate with viewers everyday lives–that in my eyes, is recipe for success.

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