So far, much of the coverage of Vine has focused on its “porn problem,” with commentators being distracted by the Twitter-owned short-video tool’s propensity to be corrupted by dildos and dominatrixes. Thanks to that perhaps more alluring subject (which, I’m sure, requires intensive research), there has been less discussion about just how powerful a tool Vine will be for the practice and consumption of journalism.
I’m tentatively excited for Vine’s potentially transformative powers. Its six-second looping films will expand Twitter’s abilities as a broadcast network while arming journalists with greater storytelling firepower in the digital form. Its advantages are already obvious, and they will become only more so if the tool is integrated natively into Twitter’s website and apps, thereby nixing the need to use a separate piece of software. Of course, it is early days for the technology, which is still a long way from confirming its worth, but with Twitter’s distributive power behind it, Vine has a shot at becoming important. Consider the following points.
1. It’s quick and easy
It takes only a few seconds to shoot a serviceable video, which can be instantly uploaded without a second thought. That makes for decent, quick visuals of very timely events and scenes, such as tours of hurricane damage, snippets of celebrations, or audio-visual perspectives on riots. Like Instagram with its filters for photos, the basic “jumpcut” function – which allows users to splice together scenes just by touching the device’s screen at various intervals – helps mask amateur camerawork. Sometimes a breaking news nugget is better told visually, and Vine will facilitate that.
2. The audio is just as important as the video
For the first time on Twitter, we have a very quick and easy way to not only listen to audio, but to upload and publish it. When it comes to news events, the noise is often as important as the picture. So, imagine audio snippets from sports games, concerts, protests, or the roar of a waterfall in flood conditions. Sounds add more than just context for a story – sometimes they are the story.
3. People will actually watch the video
Online video can be great for news, but for people in a rush, or in the office, or even on a mobile phone, sometimes the video can take too long to download, buffer, or simply play – asking someone to take even one minute out of their day to watch a news story they can quickly skim in print in 20 seconds can be a tough ask. As a chronic multitasker, I infrequently interrupt my workflow to watch a news clip. But if I know the commitment is only six seconds and I can watch it without having to leave my Tweet stream, I’m all in.
4. It has invented a new form of storytelling
The six-second looping video offers a new way to tell a story. As there are with haikus, sonnets, feature films, and the inverted pyramid, there will be masters of the Vine form. Just as it is possible to tell a good story in one sentence, it is possible to tell a strong audio-visual story in six seconds. There will be a Vine Film Festival. Art forms will emerge, and so will pithy brand messages. Toyota Spain has already demonstrated how that’s possible. In journalism terms, the six-second video might be thought of as the audio-visual equivalent of a written lede.
5. It will help put a face and a voice to a name
For television and radio journalists, this obviously isn’t an issue, but for many print journalists, bloggers, or highly-followed Twitter users, Vine can be used to round out aspects of their personalities – namely, the visual and audio aspects. The potential for journalists to broadcast snippets of their own voices and faces without the mediation of traditional recording equipment helps expand their “personal brand” beyond the photo by-line or Twitter avatar.
6. It consolidates Twitter’s position as the first port of call for news
Many people already turn to Twitter first for breaking news, even as some rely on live blogs and continuously updated news stories on news organization websites. Now that Twitter has added instant, quick-hit video to its repertoire of 140-character accounts, links, and pictures, it is making less and less sense to look anywhere else for the first take on a breaking news story. I suspect it won’t be for a while, but this development should ultimately be freeing for newspapers, agencies, TV, and radio, who can instead position themselves as an authoritative port of call for news. (All the above should use Vine, too, though.) Once people have got the “raw” version of the news on Twitter, they can turn to those organizations for more facts, context, depth, and, hopefully, assurance that the facts being reported are actually true.
Vine is far more than just porn and cat gifs. It just so happens that the porn industry and cat lovers are the earliest adopters in any new medium. Same happened for the Web, same happened for online video, and same happened for online payments. The news industry will be a little further behind, but not by much. Once journalists, editors, and producers catch up to the porn innovators, Vine will help Twitter become a critical part of the news infrastructure.