Q&A with the Toronto Star’s Sarah Millar: When video tells it better

We at J-Source are always on the look-out for new and interesting ways of covering big stories and events. Thanks to the increasing social media storm surrounding the so-crowned Twitter election, we’ve found plenty of neat stuff. Last week, we talked to David Skok over at Globalnews.ca about his site’s debate video/Twitter analyzer mash-up. This week, we talk to the Toronto Star‘s web editor Sarah Millar, who, in case you missed it, recently spoke at CNW’s Breakfast with the Media about all things digital. While the rest of us ate brekkie, Millar told us why text-based articles don’t always tell the story best. Take the Star‘s coverage of vote mobs, which is, essentially, a video round-up with the bare minimum of text. It tells the story of the until-recently unheard of movement in a way a text-based story can’t. We talk to Millar about why, sometimes, a video tells it better — and how social media is, and isn’t, changing the way journalists tell stories.

J-Source: Did you run a text-based article in addition to the video round-up? How did the idea for the video-based article come around?

SM: No, we did not run a text-based article as well to go with the story because the YouTube videos are the story. There was some writing to be done to provide context to the videos, so we added that in our video posts. The first post worked really well since it was a video response (the University of Guelph) to something that existed as a video on YouTube already (the Rick Mercer rant). The idea for the video-based article came around because it’s what the story called for. We thought doing it with Storify would add even more of a punch to it.

J-Source: Why does the video-based story work better for the story?

SM: The video-based story works better because this story is a visual-based story. People want to see the videos, not read about them. It made sense to embed the videos since there were so many of them rather than linking away to YouTube, especially when you’re trying to tell a story with the videos.

J-Source: Do you think social media and multi-media are forcing journalists to change the way they cover the election if they want to stay relevant?

SM: This election has been very social media-focused, unlike anything we’ve really seen in Canadian politics before. I don’t think it’s a matter of forcing journalists to change they way they cover the election, it’s about what social media has always been about for journalism — finding the stories and people where they are. These vote mobs are kind of two-fold: they also exist and real-life, so more traditional coverage is appropriate for them as well, however when it comes to the music videos on YouTube, it’s a different story that should be told a different way.

J-Source: What other interactive and innovative ways is the Star covering, or planning to cover, the election?

SM: We have a Youth Nation blog, where candidates under the age of the 30 have been discussing the issues that matter to young voters. Given the vote mobs and rising amounts of youth who are pledging to vote this year, the Youth Nation page has been a great addition to the Star’s election coverage.

J-Source: Some journalists (who may be uncomfortable with social and/or multi-media) still think stuff like this takes too much time. Does it? And is it worth it anyway?

SM: I find it doesn’t take much more time than doing any other story. Once you know where to find stories on social media and decide how they’re best to be presented, it’s quite easy to bring together. I was able to pull the vote mobs post together quite quickly, and even got a traditional story idea out of them. I think it’s worth the time because social media is not going anywhere — it’s here to stay.