The Video Generation

Video has the unique ability to draw out feelings we didn’t even know existed.

On August 17th, the Aleppo Media Center posted a video of a bloody, ash-covered, and utterly frightened Syrian child after medical workers pulled him out of the rubble from an airstrike on his neighborhood in Aleppo. The devastating images spread like wildfire across the Internet.

The heartbreaking video captures one tragic instance in the long and unending Syrian Civil War, demonstrating the impact of war on children as well as adults.

The numb face of the dazed little boy, named Omran Daqneesh, is now an image seared in the collective consciousness of millions around the world.

The picture of Omran accompanies a similarly iconic photo, that went viral earlier this year, of a three-year-old boy who drowned off the Turkish shore. These photos serve as a glimpse into the emotion and tragedy of conflict.

63 percent of Americans watch videos online, and more than half watch news videos, according to Pew Research Center data. But, in an extraordinary feat, the video of Omran reached over 4 million people worldwide on the Aleppo Media Center’s YouTube channel alone; this number doesn’t include the millions who watched through other news outlets and social media, and the photo reached even more.

The younger population also watches more video than those that came before them. While 90 percent of people aged 18 to 29 watch online video, only 20 percent of people over the age of 65 watch online, the report said.

And video, just like photography, can be a powerful medium in transporting the audience to a faraway place.

Reading and watching news should make you “feel like you’ve had a distinctive experience that you really can’t get anywhere else. That’s what we strive for in the video department… to create video journalism that is distinctive and differentiated,” Andy Regal, head of the Wall Street Journal video section, is quoted saying in a recent report by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism.

The video from Aleppo is both intimate and intense. The cameraman, although situated extremely close to the wounded boy, is ignored and passed by the frantic workers. The horror is candidly caught on video, and the unscripted segment captures the audience’s attention with the absence of a news anchor.

Such is the trend in both traditional news reporting and in citizen journalism, allowing passersby to capture incidents of unmistakable importance, like the July terrorist attack in Nice, France, and broadly share the emotional events with the rest of the Internet.

“Video that adds drama and immediacy is now valued and expected by consumers on news websites,” the Reuters Institute report says.

A typical news article about the injured boy would include a basic history of the conflict in Syria, a description of the blood and the boy’s dazed expression, and a brief explanation of the current state of the war. Of course, the story would be an interesting read. But without video, the account of the situation would be lacking.

“Bringing a viewer to the heart of the action […] appeals to the raw, unfiltered ethos of the Internet,” Jill Drew once wrote in a Columbia Journalism Review article.

As younger generations grow up increasingly better acquainted with the Internet, demand for video will likely be higher than ever before. The journalism world is prepared for the shift, and media teams are reorganizing internal structures to fit the needs of the new video generation.

BuzzFeed recently announced a company reorganization, where all initiatives will involve “an expression as video,” and will also separate the news division from the entertainment section, according to a memo sent to BuzzFeed staff by CEO Jonah Peretti on August 23rd.

The New York Times is also making efforts to appeal to the young people “who’ve probably never had to wipe newsprint ink off their fingertips” by vamping up their video and visual journalism, according to a Politico article published in June.

More news organizations with video capabilities means more cameras on the ground, and a likely increase in visual coverage of stories like that of Omran Daqneesh. The days of broadcast news channel anchors are not going anywhere, but an era of vivid, personal storytelling is on its way into our Facebook feeds and on-the-go lifestyle.

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