I’m obsessed with walking tour videos on YouTube at the moment. I’ve been watching them as a virtual alternative to travelling during the lockdown. I’m also looking at them to learn how they are produced and presented, and the variations in form that they demonstrate. I’m hoping to build-up a picture of how they work, what kind of stories the tell, and why they are relevant as an emerging form of community media.
There are four videos that I want to use as examples in this blog, each recently filmed in a town or city in England. Each has a different approach that signifies a range of related motivations that define their production. The differences between them are subtle, and this is my first attempt at noting these differences. I’m hoping that over time I can build-up a systematic framework of evaluation that gives a sense of the structure and symbolic relevance of this emergent form of media, and why the differences are worth considering and in what way they matter.
There are a couple of principle styles that I’ve noted in walking tour videos more generally. First, I’ve noticed that walking tour videos are a widespread and common practice on YouTube. They are an international phenomenon, with many examples available from all over the world. Walking tour videos seem to have developed more overtly as a sub-form on YouTube over the last two or four years, with a clear acceleration during the pandemic. I got into watching them as an alternative to going on holiday. I wanted to be reminded of the places that I have been, and where I might like to go when the pandemic travel restrictions are eased.
Walking tour videos provide a good way to explore or reconnect with other cultures. I’ve watched walking tour videos in France, Japan, Thailand, Germany, and here in the UK. They are different from travel vlogging, however, as they don’t tend to focus on a presenter or host who shares their experiences in the style of an expert or ‘lifestyle’ influencer. They are much more stripped back and basic, and don’t over-project the personality of the producer. I’ve found this style to be much more accommodating to my viewing habits and tastes, as I’m not enamoured by personality driven media. Also, as can read and do other things while I’m watching them.
A couple of technical and platform factors shape the increase ease of making these videos for independent and DIY producers, who are sharing these videos as they make them. There’s a number of things that have made these videos more widely accessible and available:
- The capacity of small digital cameras to shoot at 4K resolution has significantly increased.
- The capacity of streaming video services to offer accessible curated platforms for on-demand 4K video has increased.
- Television resolution has improved to the point where 4K video resolution is becoming the norm on larger screens, combined with the integration of streaming platforms within the sets themselves, rather than as separate systems.
- There has also been a shift towards improved and consumer-friendly editing software, both on laptops, and also on tablets and phones, which has enabled video editing on lower capacity devices.
- There has similarly been an expansion of the ‘participative impulse,’ through platforms like YouTube, where it is common to learn from other examples of videos producers work, and the widespread availability of production guides and instruction videos.
- The widespread culture of imitation that defines much of the participative media cultures is enabling new producers to find out in real time how others make video content that they can model and follow as a template.
- Improved microphones, available either as as external or internal devices, with enhanced sound quality and wind reduction processing, has also greatly enhanced the viewing experience.
The two main types of videos I’ve seen so far are:
- Travel Guides – where a formal tour is facilitated.
- Personal Guides – where an impressionistic tour is facilitated.
In the travel guide format, videos are often produced specifically to inform potential visitors who are thinking of travelling to a ‘destination’ place. The tenor is marketing, with the aim of highlighting a flavour of the key features and culture of a town or city. This includes popular and readily available landmarks, the proximity of public transport hubs, the café and street culture of a place, and so on. These videos are often made with a DSLR camera that records high-definition video that is supported with a hand-held gimble to hold the camera steady. These videos are often created as promotional material for the travel and tourism industry. They give a sense of what a tourist visitor might expect as they explore and discover economic and cultural aspects of a town. Cafes, art galleries, monuments, architecture and transport are often the focus of these videos. There is clearly an effort to show the place in a good light, often being produced on sunny days, or on a warm evening when people are relaxing. These videos tend to be about one hour in duration. They tend not to have a voiceover or music, and the duration of the shots is extended, with minimal edits and transitions. Some have titles and flashcards giving information at strategic points of the journey.
The second style of video is more DIY in style, with the producer using a hand-held phone or a low-cost action camera. These videos tend to offer a more personal point of view by the producer, for whom there is a clear link and sense of identification with the place being explored, and who doesn’t necessarily wish to ‘guild-the-lily’ to show a place in an artificially positive light. The sound is captured using the basic onboard microphones, which are often prone to wind noise. The camera movement is often shaky, as image stabilisation is not robust enough to keep the image still. There may be a simple voiceover provided by the producer, and recorded as part of the walk, or simply a conversation held between the people who are shooting the video.
These videos are much more ‘vérité’ in style, in that they don’t attempt to present a place in a ‘cinematic’ light, but are primarily focussed on sharing the experience of the producer in the place as it is, and according to the conditions on the day, as defined by the available capture devices used at the time. These walking tour videos are striped back and they keep editing relatively basic and simple, with stock overlays and little use of music. Most important, the role of the producer in these videos is to facilitate the presentation of the images, rather than profiling a presenter who often acts as a social media influencer.
As I’ve been watching these videos, I’ve been wondering if walking tour videos are a form of community media? I suppose a lot depends on the intent of the producers, and the level of capability that they profess in making them. They have got me thinking about to what extent these videos service the impulses of the participation culture? To what extent are they driven by an alternative aesthetic of self-produced DIY styling? To what extent are these independent and widely diverse producers learning to create and share this content as they go along? What are the skills and media literacies that are being collectively and individually anticipated in producing these videos? To what extent does the culture of YouTube define a pre-cognitive (as in anticipated) state for producing and sharing content?
There is a broad tolerance on YouTube for content that is de-professionalised and ad-hoc, so does the rough-and-ready style of capture and editing bring an authenticity to what the viewer might expect and is prepared to accept? They have a somewhat deconstructed flavour, so does this make them more accessible to viewers, while simultaneously allowing others to have a go at producing their own versions?
What these videos seem to do, as far as I can tell at this point, is to capture a moment and point in time. A moment that illustrates what it was like to be in a specific place on a certain day and under certain conditions. The lack of production values clears a pathway for the individual to connect with their impulse to document and record the world around them. In some ways, the video recording and the sharing of the edited content captures something that would be similar to that which an ordinary member of the public, walking through these streets, might experience. It might be raining, it might be windy, the sounds might be intermittent and discordant. And as the artifice of media curation and editing is abandoned or stripped away, what steps into the centre for the viewer is the motivational impulse of the video creator. It’s a raw and honest way to share and capture images in and for their own sake. This form of walking tour videos seems to be determined more from a participatory impulse than from a strategic (i.e. business or marketing) impulse, or from a representational (i.e. wishing to present a positive face) impulse. They are not journalism, as they do not interrogate a situation. They are not historical, as they don’t necessarily seek to contextualise. They are a document of what is there. They are community reporting.
Two videos stand out in this regard: (the videos are embedded below)
- St Helens – Exploring with JB
- Blackpool – A Walk on the Wild Side
Each offers an authorial mode, however incomplete, that directs attention of the viewer. This is done by either providing a limited commentary, which offers a narrow sense of context and placement of the footage within the present, such as where the video was recorded, what the location was, and what the prevailing conditions were. Alternatively, there is no commentary, and the sounds collected in the environment stand by themselves. My initial feeling is that there is a sense of ‘pull’ between that which is expected to be noted, and that which is actually noted. This is not documentary television or news reporting. What is placed in front of the viewer is a partial vignette. What it’s significance is, and who the people are that are being represented, is not explained. What the social setting is, and why is it relevant, is left to the viewer to decide. In my impressionistic viewing, it would be usefully to add a caveat, that many of these videos may only make sense retrospectively, after there has been an accumulation of many more uploads from different contributors.
Why, then, are these video walking tours relevant to community media, and are they a form of community media? I would answer emphatically yes. They can be defined as an emergent form of community media, as opposed to being a form of social media, because they have a different social purpose than the personalised media that is expressed in social media platforms like Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. What they do, which is a crucial element of community media, is that they focus on the link with places and the subsequently localised identities that are played out in each setting. In contrast to the promotional tours that are used as travel guides, these impressionistic videos are clearly created and shared by people who have an affinity with the place they are located.
Whereas the Liverpool and the Castle Combe videos are created and shared by visitors to the places, the Blackpool and St Helens videos are created by indigenous locals. The intentionality associated with local representation is in contrast to the travel and exploratory ethic that is demonstrated in other videos. Clearly, there will be more development in the practice and function of these videos, and how they are situated in community representations. More defined features may emerge. How these videos are recognised is the essential element of practice. Are the people who create them intending to develop a community as an informed profile? Do they see a need to fill gaps in local information and representation needs? Are they open to collaborative and community-driven accountability? Do they see themselves as providing a service to the members of their community, or are they focussed on appealing to external audiences? There is so much to be learnt and understood about how these tours work, and whet they may possibly offer. These comments are just the start of a long and extended process of study.
Prettiest village in England? Castle Combe virtual walk – Oct 1, 2021
Samuel Rex – Hi!!! am Samuel, I recently picked up interest in creating contents about on events, travels and day to day experiences. I am a Nigerian based in the UK, i will be sharing some of my life stories on my channel and i hope you enjoy watching.
St Helens Town Centre Walk – Jul 13, 2021
Exploring With JB – What’s up everybody it’s JB here I love exploring and travelling. I want to share my journeys with you all as I explore and travel around the UK
Liverpool City Centre Walking Tour – Aug 23, 2021
Relaxing Travles UK – Want to travel & want to feel Relax? Then this channel is for you this “Virtual events” will transport you to the Roads, Parks, shopping malls, Beaches, Jungles, Volcanoes and hidden beautiful spots of World.
Coronation Street Blackpool – Sep 15, 2021
A Walk on the Wild Side – I post walk around video content mainly in my hometown of Blackpool, which looks at different sides of the town from rundown streets to the famous promenade, as well as capturing the various characters along the way. I will include some photography if it is convenient. Sometimes I may venture further than Blackpool to vlog in some far-flung place. Watch and find out.