Audience Engagement Guest Columns
5 mins read

South China Morning Post: Video Journalism, UGC, and the importance of YouTube

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The South China Morning Post (SCMP) continues to proactively address the global need for reliable news and insight about China – not easy when operating in a country with a history of stringent media control.   

Priding itself as the destination for original reporting and storytelling, SCMP has embraced eye-witness video and user-generated content as a crucial journalistic tool in providing both access to factual, trustworthy and unbiased information, as well as a unique insight into the diversity of modern Chinese culture today.   

To drive increased exposure for its content, the Post believes no other platform competes with YouTube.  SCMP’s YouTube channel reached a staggering 1 billion views in 2020.

Newsflare spoke to Mat Booth, Director of Video at SCMP, about his views on the importance of a strong video strategy, and why YouTube audience growth, in particular, is so important for them. 

YouTube must sit at the forefront of any digital journalism strategy

YouTube’s user base continues to swell. The second biggest search engine after Google, it has 2.3 billion users worldwide, and is an increasingly critical platform for news publishers. YouTube is a crucial tool for publishers when it comes to developing bigger, more engaged audiences, getting ever larger numbers of eyeballs on a story, building greater brand visibility and generating revenue.

SCMP was quick to spot this opportunity. In 2017 it rapidly accelerated its video strategy across all social platforms, but focussed heavily on YouTube in particular under the belief that if you “want to be big in video journalism, you must be big on YouTube” – but not simply because of its size. YouTube is stable, and unlike Facebook, Instagram or perhaps even TikTok, YouTube as a platform is about watch time rather than purely views. 

YouTube is also the strongest platform when it comes to championing quality news content, and being a big brand builder. A large viewership across YouTube has exposed more people to SCMP content than any other platform, which is a massive benefit for a publisher whose mission is to authentically explain China to the rest of the World.  Bringing me in nicely to my next point…

Video is a vital component of quality journalism

People want access to content that helps them understand what’s going on and why it matters. Humans are visual animals. It’s becoming increasingly challenging to impress audiences with copy and pictures alone – audiences crave sensory experiences when it comes to news consumption. They want to see the story, and they want to feel the story.

SCMP’s success has been its ability to mirror the editorial voice of its newspapers in its video content. Every video is backed up by high-quality journalism. SCMP believes independent journalism must embrace video as a powerful storytelling tool, because video, either as the focus of a story or as supplemental content that provides authenticity to help the audience gain a deeper context, is increasingly the way viewers choose to understand the world around them. 

Eye-witness video is a powerful storytelling tool

Today it’s inevitable that the first video we have of any major news event has been filmed on a smartphone. The first take, the first image, the first insight through the lens of eyewitnesses has transformed how news publishers tell the stories of events happening around the world.

The power of eye-witness video is simply its access. Immediate access to stories, and to the exact moment they take place. Access to unique angles and perspectives, and to the truth. Access to stories that would otherwise have been missed, and to insights about stories that might otherwise have remained a mystery. 

SCMP does however believe that to take full advantage of the power of eye-witness videos, it is imperative to tackle the verification issue. It’s important to confirm that what you are seeing is real, authentic and un-doctored. SCMP invests heavily in tracking the source of every video correctly and responsibly. It also works with content partners that are not only quick to provide videos, but also quick to provide verification, in order to ensure it’s fast, first, and highly credible at all times.

User-Generated Content helps shape audience understanding

Explaining China to the rest of the world is top of the agenda for SCMP, and to achieve this it does more than simply tell the news.    

SCMP has staked its claim on UGC clips originating in China and has mastered the art of translating and unpacking them for a global audience. Content creators are capturing both the light and darker sides of life – the happy, the sad, the weird and the wonderful – on their mobile devices. It’s these unvarnished, unbiased, authentic experiences that audiences crave. SCMP loves getting these stories out there by empowering Chinese content creators and elevating their voice. SCMP believes UGC opens up a gateway of discoverability for global audiences.

Compelling video helps beat the perpetual scroll

Video offers publishers more than just the ability to simply and quickly create attention-grabbing news. SCMP believes that if you have enough really compelling content you can hold the audience’s attention for longer periods of time, even on perpetual-scroll platforms. SCMP uses a variety of short, medium and long-form video content, believing audiences don’t simply crave to be dazzled – their needs are much broader than that. Audiences want to be entertained for sure, but they also seek to understand, and demand greater context.   

UGC plays a vital role in delivering that context. Take SCMP’s ‘China’s Rebel City’ video, an hour-long piece of documentary-style video journalism about the Hong Kong protests that previously would have only been the realm of documentary producers. By harnessing the power of UGC, SCMP journalists were able to offer a greater depth and nuance to tell a story of huge global significance. 

China’s Rebel City documentary, South China Morning Post

SCMP has demonstrated time and again that not only does it have the ability to grab people’s attention on a very crowded newsfeed, but also to keep audiences engaged, whether that be for a quick 60 second entertainment clip, an 8–10-minute news feature, or an hour-long documentary on YouTube.  

When asked why news publishers should embrace video journalism, Mat’s response is simply this – why not?! And his biggest piece of advice is to not impose a time limit on video producers – a story should always be as long as it’s worth. The wealth of user-generated content at a journalist’s disposal, in combination with the audience and attention-grabbing power of YouTube, translate to an immense digital story-telling opportunity.

Daniel Braybrook
Head of Editorial Licensing UK ROW, Newsflare

About the Author: Originally from an editorial background, Daniel Braybrook has 18 years’ experience leading business development and content strategies for licensing digital properties across global platforms. He joined Newsflare in 2020 and is passionate about creating narratives with engaging UGV content and driving change for publishers.

About Mat Booth: Mat Booth joined South China Morning Post in 2017 and is now the Director of Video. Mat joined SCMP to build a world-class video production unit. Leveraging the power of social media and the latest digital media workflows, Mat has overseen an expansion of video output to reach new viewers and experiment with new storytelling possibilities. Prior to joining SCMP, Mat was with CNN for 17 years working on projects around the world. Check out Mat’s previous works and learn more: