Return to Hope: NATO’s Journey in Afghanistan – A Client Case Study

30 Oct 2014

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This year marks the end of NATO’s mission in Afghanistan, it’s longest running and most challenging. To mark this occasion they  have created an award winning immersive multimedia experience. We spoke to Chris Riley, Head of the Strategic Communications team and the Principal Editor in the Public Diplomacy Division at NATO.

Inside Agency: Thanks for your time Chris, please tell us about your role at NATO?

Chris: I am responsible for the creation of digital content for NATO that is not explicitly the domain of our press and media service. We publish that content on our website and via other digital channels. We also have NATO Review, which is an online magazine that looks in depth into issues that are relevant to the security community, but not necessarily representative of NATO’s own position. We also get independent experts coming in and giving us their opinions.

IA: Could you tell us about your latest project Return to Hope – NATO’s Journey in Afghanistan, the conception of the project and the editorial process.

Chris: This year marks the end of NATO’s biggest, longest running and most challenging combat mission in Afghanistan. We decided we needed to mark the end of this enormous effort in an appropriate way. We had been discussing how we might be able to do that using a multimedia storytelling format and we engaged an external company to help us, if you like, break out of our own self censorship. We wanted to be as candid as we could about the challenges and the successes and to put things into a broader context. If you look back on NATO’s engagement in Bosnia and bear in mind that conflict finished in 2001, we did not really do anything to mark it digitally. If you look back on our website now, you wouldn’t find very much and now that we have the tools and a bit more know-how, we wanted to try and do something more durable.

The other key element was that since 9/11 quite understandably, a lot of the news that had come out of Afghanistan was negative. We wanted to do something through storytelling to illustrate that actually a tremendous amount of good work has been done, that many people’s lives have changed for the better. At the same time, we didn’t want to gloss over the problems, the risks or the difficulties, but we did want to put out an alternate view of what’s been going on in that country over the last 12-13 years.

We worked out that over 3.5 million men and women had served in the ISAF mission from 50 different nations over the course of that time. Nearly three and a half thousand gave their lives for it and we felt that we owed it to them to provide a deeper context through story telling of what has been achieved in that country.

We spent a long time in the conception stage with our external agency looking at the type of target audiences that we thought would appreciate the content and this type of storytelling. The primary audiences we were aiming for are not Afghanistan followers, they’re not experts, and they’re not people who are necessarily politically active. They are those people who may have seen that Afghanistan has been on the news over the last few years and maybe have a vague view but are interested in personal compelling stories and that through that storytelling we interest them in the subject.

IA: What type of team did you need for this project?

Chris: We worked with a web design company called Boondoggle who are based in Leuven Belgium, with expertise in user experience, web design, content development and social media marketing. From the NATO side we worked with our press and media team who are very experienced on all things related to Afghanistan. We also had the support of web editors, picture editors and our audio visual team that are based in Brussels and in Kabul, (we have a team that’s been working on illustrating Afghan stories for the last 5 years), and we created one large team.

We chose 6 main protagonists to tell their stories, through a mixture of sound, images video and text. Those individuals have come from different walks of life and will appeal to different types of people. Take the story of Nancy Dupree, an American woman who has lived in Afghanistan since the 1960’s. Her story is really a love story both for the country and for the man that she met and married out there.

We felt that this is a way to get beyond the hard news agenda, to show people that things have been hard in Afghanistan but there are other stories out there which are inspiring, uplifting and frankly get people to ask the question of themselves, whether they think it has all been worth the effort. We didn’t presume to answer that question, we wanted people to look at this project and question their own opinions about Afghanistan through storytelling.

For the NATO team it was a new experience of working out at which point do we stop using text and insert a video, or insert a still image which illustrates far better what we want to say rather than 50 or 100 words. From a technical point, that was a real challenge, quite time consuming and exhausting. We spent a lot of time re-refining the individual chapters to try and get the balance right between video, still imagery and text.

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IA: Looking back would you say the project has been a success so far?

Chris: I worked in Afghanistan in 2004 before I joined NATO and then lived and breathed it for the best part of 8 years so for me, there is no question.

I did a couple of interviews myself for the project as we needed all hands on deck, and I went and interviewed a young soldier from my own former regiment, and he told me a few stories about some of the earlier engagements when, quite frankly, NATO was under resourced to carry out the operation.

We basically ended up fighting an insurgency that really crept up on us. When we  deployed into southern Afghanistan in 2005-2006, we were expecting to do stabilization work, reconstruction and development work, but we ended up in quite a brutal fight and for me it was important to me to be able to tell this guy’s story. We got some very good insights from him on what it was like to be in those remote outposts every day. They got caught in a very bad incident in a mine field, several of his friends were injured and one of his close friends was killed. It was a very personal experience he shared with us which we represented on the site.

To a lot of the NATO team on this project it was personal I think. Those of us who had invested time and effort but from a distance in many cases, we wanted to make sure it was something that was of intrinsic value that reflected back on what was a monumental human endeavor, which involved a lot of sacrifice. So from an institutional point of view we feel good about the project we feel that it is a fair representation of what happened and something we will be able to look back on over the years and be proud of.

We are analyzing the statistics as we go along and we are able to conduct ongoing promotion and marketing of the site to different audiences. We feel that the project has legs, it has won a couple of web design awards which has given added traction to the project.

We want to see it reaching broader audiences over a period of time and hope it can generate a discussion. The one thing we definitely know is it is a very, very brave man or woman who claims to have the absolute truth on Afghanistan. It’s very complicated. There have been mistakes, there have been tragedies, there have been lost opportunities but there also have been successes and we don’t want that to get lost in the murk of all the politics that are inevitably discussed about Afghanistan.

The things that we are taking as good lessons learnt, things that have even surprised our external company, are that the qualitative metrics are very good. We are finding that people are staying on the site for quite a long time. We are getting people spending between 8- 10-12 minutes on individual stories. The bounce rate is very low, particularly for people who are looking from tablets, or laptops, or desktops, rather than mobile phones. The way the site is constructed meant that it is best viewed on tablets, desk or laptops. But we realized that we are losing quite a lot of traffic by only providing the video teaser on smart phones, so we are in the process of optimizing the site for phones now. One thing we did want people to do was go from those individual stories into what we call the second layer which offers the individual NATO related chapters towards the bottom of the screen. That seems to be working well also, with healthy average times of between 2.5 to 5 minutes on page.

IA: Is there anything in particular about the project that you’re most proud of?

Chris: I think that we are proud that it works, it seems to work in a way that is structured and it was not easy to arrive at if you like. We were very nervous at the beginning, realizing how complicated Afghanistan actually is, to be able to find not only an appealing way to tell all these individual stories, but to find ways to link them to a storyline that actually tells people what NATO, the international community and the Afghans have been through over the last 12-13 years.

So I think overall we are very pleased that through that collaborative process with an external company we held the mirror up to ourselves in regards to what we wanted to say. For NATO this is unusual, we have got segments in the website which are not the traditional NATO messaging style, if you like.It’s not a messaging tool in the traditional sense. This is not an easy story for us to go outside of the normal messaging scenario, where we basically communicate our policies, our principles, our news and we knew right from the offset that this project would not work if we adopted that approach. Senior management said go out there and try and tell the story in the best way possible. Yes, cover the pitfalls; cover the mistakes, cover the difficulties. We all knew that that was a risk and I think we now feel more confident that that risk was one worth taking.

We have some quite edgy combat footage in there, we’ve have soldiers under stress, we have people talking about losses to them and their families, we have people talking about some of the mistakes or problems that could have actually undermined the whole operation. So we are proud of the fact that we were able to do that and that our own organization has accepted that and welcomed it. I think it bodes well for the future.

IA: Could you tell us a little bit about how Reuters content factored into this project.

Chris: Our relationship with Reuters pre-dates this particular project, providing pictures and video for the NATO review online magazine. Which again has got the same spirit of looking at things more broadly, and again it was a very practical reason why we wanted to work with Reuters. If you look at the Afghan story NATO was not directly involved until 2003. We wanted to take the story back into the 1970’s in some cases, in the 1980’s with the occupation, the Mujahedeen period, the Civil war, 9/11, and quite frankly we just didn’t have the content that we needed. What we also found is that there is a temptation on our part, because of the projects sophisticated audio/video capability, to go to heavy on video and in many cases what we were looking for was a striking image that captured not just a moment in history but a feeling or a sentiment. We went through the Reuters archive to illustrate the devastation in Kabul at the end of the civil war and just after 9/11. Is there an image that captures the euphoria that followed the fall of Taliban in late 2001? And we found it straightforward and easy. It was one of the easier content challenges that we had because we knew you guys had a very, very big archive and the quality was good. Reuters images fed into the storytelling philosophy. We wanted something that helped us illustrate the story whilst complementing the quality text and videos we were using. Some of the stories where difficult to illustrate, there’s not a huge amount of imagery floating about, about the Taliban especially when they were in power and we were very keen to be able to access some of those things and again Reuters was the perfect agency to help us do that. We really enjoyed the process.

Beyond the Box – Interview with Christopher Slaughter, CEO CASBAA

24 Oct 2014

Christopher SlaughterChristopher Slaughter, CEO, CASBAA spoke to Reuters Inside Agency in the lead up to their annual conference, held in Hong Kong from 27th October – 30th October 2014. The convention’s theme – Beyond the Box – promises to explore how technology is changing the region’s TV consumption habits.

CASBAA is the association for digital multichannel television, content, platforms, advertising and video delivery across Asia. Could you tell us about your organisation and your role?

 

As CEO of CASBAA, I lead the Executive team, which is responsible for representing the interests of CASBAA’s 130 member companies across 17 Asian markets.

The mission of CASBAA is to promote the growth of pay TV and video content through industry information, networking exchanges and events while promoting global best practices. The Association is also dedicated to the development of regulatory best practices which assist the interests of both domestic and international participants within the multichannel and communication communities.

CASBAA undertakes a number of initiatives including the pursuit of copyright enforcement, promotion of multichannel TV as a key advertising medium, the promotion of regional technical standards, regulatory roundtables, and educational seminars on the business environment for traditional, electronic media, and telecom companies.

CASBAA works to inform, represent and connect our Members through a variety of platforms. We lead the industry by developing and publishing research and reports on key markets, share news and trends, and communicate with the media and general public. Through our committees and events, we inform our members, and work to create real time connections for this community.

Could you tell us about the current landscape of television and video delivery in Asia?

As of 2014, there are now more than 500 million pay TV households in the Asia Pacific region, making it the world’s largest multichannel video market, in terms of sheer number of subscribers.

That market is characterized by aggressive digitization efforts and increasing adoption of emerging IP technologies. In some markets, however, significant problems with piracy and regulatory barriers inhibit growth.

Cable dominates the Asia Pacific multichannel landscape, with China and India hosting the largest cable populations in the world. Although increasing competition from both direct-to-home (DTH) satellite services and IPTV operators is set to reduce cable market share over the coming ten years, the platform’s dominance is expected to endure long-term.

What challenges are unique to Asia?

The Asia Pacific is a geographically vast and disparate region of differing cultures and languages where a “one size fits all” business model won’t work. The region is also characterized by varying levels of market maturity and infrastructure evolution, ranging from highly developed markets such as Korea, Japan, Hong Kong and Singapore to emerging markets including Vietnam, Cambodia and Myanmar.

The regulatory environment also varies wildly from one market to another.  Policies in some markets are improving – becoming more market-friendly, more pro-competition and more pro-growth — but in other jurisdictions, policies are stagnant, and in a few they are, unfortunately, less favorable. Asia certainly has some clear examples of regulatory-induced pay-TV market distortions and regulatory failure.

What opportunities are unique to Asia?

While the buzzword of the day seems to be OTT (“over the top”), here in Asia, there is still huge opportunity for growth to be realized from linear TV and traditional pay-TV business models. The linear television business remains a powerful driver of the industry in the region. There is still a substantial upside to this traditional format, and growth continues in a variety of markets in the Asia Pacific.

Looking forward, it is critical to get the digital piece of the puzzle right and the industry is developing the tools needed as well as changing its collective mindset about how to embrace this change.

What has been the biggest game changer that you have seen in the past 5 year?

The business of delivering video to consumers is undergoing a revolution; driven by new media devices (such as tablets and smartphones), growing broadband penetration, the rise of platform competitors in most markets, and the emergence of a new generation learning to consume media via multiple devices in multiple settings.

Many of the “new media” services arrive in the consumer’s home over broadband networks which access the vast amount of media available on the global internet. Unlike traditional pay-TV offerings or even the relatively newer IPTV services marketed by telcos, a tremendous amount of the video available on the internet is obtained from third parties, who are disaggregated from the networks over which the data is transmitted.

This has given rise to “OTT” video for television delivered “over the top” of the traditional set-top-box. OTT video uses internet infrastructure to reach the consumer with an ever-growing array of offerings from major media companies as well as new entrants.

How are your members reacting to these changes?

The biggest lesson to learn is how to embrace OTT and digital delivery as an opportunity, and not to perceive it as a threat. OTT it is only a threat if we ignore the trends among our audience, and working to provide them with the great content they want, when they want it, where they want and in the format they want.

As an industry, we are developing the means of doing this in partnership with platforms, existing OTT services and stand-alone offerings.

We should not look at this as a case of either/or – linear TV vs OTT – the future is both.

What are the hot topics you will be covering at CASBAA this year?

This year’s CASBAA Convention theme, “Beyond the Box”, encompasses linear TV and what lies in the future for the industry as well as promoting innovative thinking to take advantage of new opportunities.

Our speakers have been drawn from across the industry and around the world, and they will touch upon various important topics regarding the evolution of multichannel TV in the region. From LTE and 4G mobile video to Multi Channel Networks, social media engagement and UHDTV deployments, the Convention explores how channels and operators are developing their digital strategies and what this might mean for the ecosystem, from offering non-linear content to moving outside their traditional geographic boundaries…and everything in between.

What trends do you see affecting the industry in the next 5 years?

Trends in digital content delivery will continue to evolve and influence how consumers enjoy television content on a daily basis. Technological development from non-traditional players such as Microsoft, Intel and Amazon are pushing the boundaries of who can be a broadcaster, and the industry will have to continue to adapt in order to survive and thrive.

In terms of the television itself, we’re confident that the increasing affordability of Ultra High Definition TV (4K) screens will lead to a critical mass of consumer acceptance.  That, in turn, will drive further development of transmission standards and adoption among broadcasters, who will begin rolling out premium 4K channels in select markets.  As a result, we’ll see ongoing improvements in picture quality and the level of detail available for home entertainment.

To find out more visit www.casbaa.com

 

 

Documentary “Terror at the Mall” marks first anniversary of Westgate Mall seige

15 Sep 2014

On September 21, 2013, Al-Shabaab, an Al Qaeda-linked Somali militant Islamist group, attacked Nairobi’s Westgate Mall in neighboring Kenya. The siege lasted 49 hours, leaving 71 dead and hundreds wounded. Told using hours of previously unseen CCTV video, extensive frames taken by Reuters Photographer Goran Tomasevic and testimony from survivors and rescuers,Terror at the Mall” recalls the horror of the attack, as well as the courage and resilience of ordinary citizens in the face of mass murder. Marking the first anniversary, the harrowing documentary debuts on HBO in the United States on Monday, September 15 (9:00-10:00 p.m. ET/PT) , on BBC2 in the United Kingdom on Wednesday, September 24 (9:00pm-10:00pm GMT) and on CNN on Friday, September 26, at 9 p.m (9:00-10:00 p.m. ET/PT).

“Westgate was one place where you meet people of different cultures, different tribes, different religions, different everything. I think that was the most special thing,” says survivor Jasmine Postwalla. Chaos reigned in the early moments of the siege, with frightened shoppers running for their lives. Harveen Sihra, a 15-year-old girl who was shot in the thigh, stomach and foot, recalls the gunman’s words, “The only thing he said was that we are here to kill. You killed our people in Somalia. We normally don’t kill women and children but you kill ours in Somalia and so we are here to take revenge.”

Forty-five minutes after the attack began, the Kenyan security forces remained outside trying to decide how to proceed. A handful of plainclothes police and civilians decided to act, with Goran Tomasevic in tow. (more…)

Q&A with Kathey Battrick, Director of Operations, ITN Source

21 Aug 2014

Kathey Battrick TW242small (2)ITN Source has been Reuters archive video licensing partner since 1998. They recently opened up the Reuters video vaults and discovered a goldmine of rare and unseen archive material and have just completed digitizing 69,000 clips. We spoke to Kathey Battrick, Director of Operations to find out more.

Thanks for your time Kathey. Could you tell us a little about ITN Source?

ITN Source is the footage licensing division of ITN and represents some of the world’s largest and most diverse archive footage libraries across the globe, including Reuters (and its historic newsreel collections), ITV Studios, NBC, Fox News, Fox Movietone, Asian News International and many specialist collections. ITN Source is a gateway to an incredible source of moving imagery, from news to drama, celebrity, comedy, music, wildlife, natural history, entertainment programmes and film, captured over three centuries. The archive is vast, with over 2.8 million clips online and growing at a rate of over 20 hours of digitized content a day. We are an international business, our headquarters in London and main sales offices in New York, Paris, Sydney, Tokyo and Singapore.

Could you tell us about your role at ITN Source?

As Director of Operations for ITN Source, I plan, define, develop and lead the operational and technical strategy for the business. This incorporates management of the archiving and cataloging teams and the workflow and infrastructure associated with the Reuters video management services.

How does  ITN Source work with Reuters? (more…)

Reuters Phil Noble wins Barclays Premier League Photographer of the Season

13 Aug 2014

Reuters Photographer Phil Noble has been awarded the Barclays Premier League Photographer of the Season.

English Premier League accredited photographers around the country were invited to submit their best shots from the football season. Portfolios were then shared with a judging panel including:

 

• Andy Dunn, Chairman of the Football Writers’ Association
• Martin Tyler, Sky Sports football commentator
• Alan Sparrow, UK Picture Editors’ Guild Chairman
• Dave Shopland, Mail on Sunday photographer and last year’s Barclays Photographer of the Season winner

70 photographers entered across the country with 350 photos submitted from websites, national papers and news wires.

Here are some of the winning images. Congratulations Phil!

Liverpool's Suarez celebrates with Skrtel after scoring his side's third goal during their English Premier League soccer match against Manchester United at Old Trafford in Manchester

Liverpool’s Luis Suarez celebrates with Martin Skrtel after scoring his side’s third goal during their English Premier League soccer match against Manchester United at Old Trafford in Manchester northern England March 16,2014. REUTERS/Phil Noble (more…)

Hackday Insights: How to make the most from online video?

18 Jul 2014

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Reuters partnered with the Global Editors Network on two Hackday events this year. Each winning team from the series was invited to the Hackdays Final, ‘The World Cup of Newsroom Innovation’, during the GEN Summit 2014 in Barcelona.  In this post we speak to Josh Boswell from The Times, the overall series winners.

Could you tell us a little bit about your Hack Day team?

We were all in teams of three: a journalist, a developer and a designer. Aendrew Rininsland was the developer in our team. He’s fluent in several server and client side coding languages, but he’s also a pretty darn good ideas man. Eoin Tunstead was our designer. He does more than just make things pretty – he’s got a good eye for UX and UI design too, and when it comes to making straplines for a project he’d give Don Draper a run for his money. Then there’s me. I’d enough coding knowledge to help build the front end, and my other big responsibility was the presentation of the idea. As well as being colleagues on the same desk, we’d worked together in a team of five for the regional hackathon in Dublin. Between the hacking and the whiskeys, I think we cemented a pretty good team, which meant we were all on the same wavelength when it came to the Barcelona hackathon.

How was the Hack Day experience different to your usual working day? (more…)

Hackday Insights: How to make your website stickier and more engaging?

11 Jul 2014

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Reuters recently partnered with the Global Editors Network to present a Reuters Hackday in New York. In this post Eric Frederick, Online Managing Editor of The News and Observer of Raleigh, NC spoke to us about their highly commended project and how to make your website stickier and more engaging.

Could you tell us a little bit about your Hackday team?

Our team represented McClatchy Newspapers. The members were Tom Markart, senior design engineer at McClatchy Interactive; Peyton Vaughn, a senior web application developer (more…)

World War One – Lessons from the catastrophe as Great Power tensions rise again

04 Jul 2014

Sir Harold Evans, Moderator, Editor at Large
June 28 marked the 100th anniversary of the assassination in Sarajevo of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary, and his wife. Five weeks later Europe was engulfed in World War One, and America, too, by 1917.

The conflict yielded more than 20 million dead, missing and wounded, reshaped the map of Europe and led directly to World War Two and then the Cold War. Who—if anyone—was to blame for what George Kennan called, “the great seminal catastrophe of this century—the event which…lay at the heart of the failure and decline of this Western civilization.” And what can we learn from the serial miscalculations of risk now that Great Power tensions rise again over Ukraine and the South and East China Seas?

(more…)

Unique World Cup perspective from “On the Sidelines”

02 Jul 2014

A boy carries a soccer ball through neighborhood of the stadium, ahead of the World Cup soccer match between England and Italy in Manaus

A boy carries a soccer ball through the colorfully decorated neighborhood of the stadium, ahead of the World Cup soccer match between England and Italy in Manaus June 14, 2014. REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach

In a project titled “On The Sidelines”, Reuters award-winning photographers are sharing pictures showing their own quirky and creative view of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Their images offer an insight behind the scenes of the tournament, revealing the photographers’ experiences as they live in and travel around Brazil.

We have selected some of our favourites from the tournament so far, you can see more of these images on the on the REUTERSSPORT Instagram account. You can also see the best match pictures and near real-time results on our new Sports Reel mobile application for iPad, iPhone and Android devices  (more…)

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