The following article was published in the Wall Street Journal and covered the news surrounding my participation in the video blogging of the huge Tsunami that hit southeast Asia in December of 2005. If you’re looking for the videos, scroll down to the bottom and click the link.
Video Blogs Break Out With Tsunami Scenes
By *ANTONIO REGALADO* and *JESSICA MINTZ*
January 3, 2005;
When twenty-one-year-old Jordan Golson launched his Web diary, or blog, in early December, his conservative views on news and politics weren’t exactly in demand, attracting about 10 surfers a day. But by last Thursday, he was struggling to keep his site named “Cheese and Crackers” up and running as it racked up 640,000 hits.
The difference: tsunami videos.
Mr. Golson’s site — at jlgolson.blogspot.com — is just one of dozens of locations on the Internet hosting amateur videos of the Indian Ocean disaster. Many have been deluged with visitors eager to see more of the gripping footage than TV offers, or to watch videos over and over again on their own time. Some of these “video blogs,” like Mr. Golson’s, are pre-existing text blogs, which typically include commentary and views on current events.
Others have just sprung up in the last week. WaveofDestruction.org, created by an Australian blogger to host tsunami videos, logged 682,366 unique visitors from last Wednesday through Sunday morning, and has more than 25 amateur videos of the impact so far.
“The ease of putting something online is pretty much instant,” says Geoffrey Huntley, the founder of Wave of Destruction. “At a media company, I’m sure there are channels you have to go through — copyright, legal, editorial, etc. Blogging is instant.”
Even before the tsunami, media watchers had predicted that 2005 would be a big year for video blogging, also known as vlogging. Jay Rosen, chair of the Department of Journalism at New York University and a media blogger himself, says the unique videos of the waves hitting shore could be a “breakthrough” event for the Web.
Last year, video bloggers already showed their muscle by rapidly distributing a clip of singer Ashlee Simpson caught lip synching on “Saturday Night Live,” and another of the Daily Show’s Jon Stewart clashing with the hosts of CNN’s “Crossfire.” According to Andreas Wacker, founder of blogsnow.com, a site that ranks blogs, the Crossfire video was downloaded by more people on the Internet than saw it on TV. “When the Internet wants to see something, it sees it,” he says.
Even so, the genre is still in its infancy — and like much on the Web, its protocols are still evolving.
To obtain the videos, many bloggers linked to TV Web sites, pulled them from Internet bulletin boards or snatched them from each other, in a chaotic rush to make the unedited scenes available to curious surfers. There’s a big premium for dramatic videos showing the moment the waves hit land.
Some TV networks, in turn, were alerted to amateur videos first by bloggers.
A tourist in Thailand tries to help two others escape the tsunami in an amateur video found on a blog.
Bloggers don’t charge for access, but they haven’t been paying for copyrighted footage, either. And bloggers seldom ask each other for permission. “The law really hasn’t caught up,” says Mr. Golson. “The rule of thumb is you can take stuff as long as you say where you got it from,” and as long as you don’t sell it, he adds.
The story of one particularly vivid video, labeled “Tsunami hitting Phuket Beach” by Mr. Golson, is a case in point.
The video, which shows an elderly couple overpowered by a wave, was filmed at the Kamala Beach Hotel near Phuket on Sunday morning by a 31-year-old factory worker from Sweden named Tommy Lorentsen.
Reached in Thailand, Mr. Lorentsen said he salvaged the tape from his camera after it was soaked and gave a copy to Fredrik Bornesand, a Stockholm police detective who appears in the footage trying to rescue the couple. Mr. Bornesand handed a CD of the clip to journalists with Norway’s Dagbladet newspaper who then uploaded to their Web site on Monday.
“It wasn’t too steady a shot, but we thought it would be good to show what happened,” says Det. Bornesand.
The Phuket video has since been one of the most widely aired on television networks, but only after bloggers spread the word. Mr. Golson heard about it from other bloggers and posted it on his site on Tuesday at 3:45 p.m. in Boston.
Dagbladet editor Oliver Orskaug says once the clip began circulating on Web blogs and forums “suddenly the networks were calling from Japan, Spain and France and everywhere to buy the video.” He says within 12 hours he sold rights to CNN, ABC News, and others for a total of about $20,000. Mr. Orskaug was not surprised bloggers grabbed the video without paying. “That’s the Internet. We expect that would happen,” he says.
The networks typically seem to ignore competition from news blogs that post videos, although that may change as video-blogging expands. Bill Wheatley, Vice President of NBC News, says during the last six months the network has begun adding a digital watermark to its video “so electronically we can determine if it’s our video.” He says the marking is mostly to know if other TV stations are using its video, rather than keeping tabs on the Internet. “But the day may come when we may need to deal with that,” he says.
Beyond copyright issues, videoblogs are facing another challenge brought on by their sudden popularity: too little bandwidth, or the amount of data they are able to transmit over a period of time.
For Mr. Golson, the rush came when the Drudge Report, a popular online news site, posted a link to his tsunami videos on Tuesday afternoon, just half an hour after he’d posted the films. Later that night, *Apple Computer* Inc., which hosted his site, took them down. The video files were so large, and so many people had tried to see them, that Mr. Golson exceeded the limits Apple set on his account for the amount of data his site was allowed to send. But offers to help store the files poured in from other bloggers, and Mr. Golson spent the rest of the week shuffling video files between about 20 different computers — or “mirror” sites — that are now sharing the load.
Another blogger, known as “Pundit Guy,” wasn’t so lucky; the rush on the tsunami videos on his site cost him $1,000 in additional fees when his service provider charged him for the extra activity bandwidth fees, according to his Web site, www.punditguy.com.
Blogsnow’s Mr. Wacker says the Internet has handled other popular videos in a similarly ad hoc fashion, in which bloggers put out a call for help storing big, popular files when their own servers crash. But new file sharing programs are likely to make distribution more efficient, and will make video blogging more commonplace.
The tsunami films may be a break-out moment for video blogs, but observers say its still unclear where the phenomenon is headed. Jeff Jarvis, a blogger at buzzmachine.com and the creator of Entertainment Weekly magazine, predicts video blogging will evolve into “the new definition of a TV show,” especially as bloggers start to add their own content and commentary to news footage.
He thinks producing a professional-looking TV-like program would cost little, and suggests that advertisers, who are now just starting to experiment with blog ads, could jump at the chance to run commercials targeted to specific interest groups. “It’s going to take a while to get decent video content, and to get a critical mass coming in to discover that content,” says Mr. Jarvis. Most bloggers see posting the videos as a pastime and a public service, with exposure on the Web as recompense.
Kevin Aylward, who runs Wizbangblog.org, says blogs fulfilled an important role in letting people experience the tragedy. “When you see it, and you see how it’s happening to just ordinary people, it brings home the enormity of it. That is the fascination with the videos.”