New standards needed for judging online video

Doug Fisher is wondering how online video should be judged. His post is in response to one by Al Tompkins on Poynter. Doug pulls this quote:

“The category itself is in its infancy, and it showed,” judge Erica Simpson, a photojournalist from KGTV San Diego, said. “It is obvious these were people who came mostly from newspapers and were trying to learn a craft. They were making basic mistakes in telling stories with pictures. Since we have no bar set, since this is the first year NPPA has offered these categories, we didn’t want to set the bar too low and say this is what national award-winning online video looks like. We chose the best of the lot, but this is not where the bar of excellence should be.” The judges said the most common mistakes they saw were backlit interviews, sound bites that lasted far too long, jump cuts that were jarring to the eye and stories that were overwritten. The judges also said some stories used too many special effects. The best surprises were sometimes buried deep in the story, and while many of the entries were heavy on useful facts and information, they lacked memorable central characters. The judges also are put off by natural sound “pops” that constantly and unnecessarily interrupt the storytelling.

In the absence of specific examples, it’s hard to respond with Simpon’s remarks. Obviously, online video that is marred by basic mistakes, such as backlighting, jarring cuts, etc. should not win awards. But online video is different from TV. Online, long sound bites might actually be a feature not a bug. Whether something is overwritten is in the ear of the listener. It’s hard to believe that all the entries in a national contest were so fatally flawed by basic shooting and editing mistakes that they weren’t worthy of honor. I suspect, more to the point, is that the judges were unwilling or unable to come to terms with the changing face of video news. The flaws were not necessarily in frames of the video, but in the eyes of the judges.

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28 thoughts on “New standards needed for judging online video

  1. […] While Doug has questions, Howard Owens is more certain about what’s going on. In New standards needed for judging online video, he writes: It’s hard to believe that all the entries in a national contest were so fatally flawed by basic shooting and editing mistakes that they weren’t worthy of honor. I suspect, more to the point, is that the judges were unwilling or unable to come to terms with the changing face of video news. […]

  2. I couldn’t disagree with you more, Howard. The audience we share is too sophisticated to endure sub-par production for very long. It doesn’t have to be slick and overproduced but it has to be clear. I’m afraid no number of grand proclamations about new frontiers will, end the viewer’s eye, make up for inaudible sound, glaring backlight and monotone narration.

    Nuthin’ personal.

  3. The technical aspect and perfection of any video presentation on any medium can certainly be forgiven with the inclusion of the the “emotional connection”.

    That emotional connection could be as simple as one poorly shot piece of video that just happened to capture a “moment” that evokes an emotional reaction (happy, sad, glad, sad, wowed, horrified) from the viewer.

    Just look at what some of the most watched and most popular videos are on YouTube and you can understand this principle. All of these popular video have captured a moment that are interesting to watch.

    So it’s not the quality, neccesarily, especially when you have a “moment” caught on tape.

    Absent a truely spectactular moment, however, competent shooting, lighting, audio gathering, and writing sucessfully for video (which is a totally different art from writing for print) can evoke the same emotion for all of the stories that have to be produced without a frame of truely shocking, aweing, or inspiring video.

    Chris Weaver

  4. Ah Howard, Don’t get your feelings hurt.

    The guys @ have posted good as well as bad examples of newspaper video journalism.

    The time is upon your end of the business to realize that what we do is, in fact, journalism, and not easy to do well.

    I cringe at the thought of myself busting out a newspaper print story. .
    I’m sure it would not pass the editorial standards much less win awards.
    Which brings us to the judges point, no technical standards for newspaper video.
    It’s lazy and disingenuous to blame a perceived prejudice.

    I’m sure when you started your writing career, the edits on your work were a travesty, brutal, sucking the soul and emotion of you hard wrought words. Those old guys didn’t have a clue at your new form of expression!
    I’m sure when you re-read those old stories you agree the old guys were right.

    Same deal here. The newspaper VJs guys will learn.
    Blame us for training the viewers to expect our type of storytelling, but if you want to compete, step it up and stop feeling sorry for yourself.

  5. “But online video is different from TV.”

    Sorry, Howard, but once a story crosses the line into video, it must be visual, regardless what form of media it’s coming through. Your excuses (as we’ll touch on later) are just that: excuses.

    Out of curiosity, how long is the typical online piece? I’m guessing they’re lengthier than packages you’d see on television.

    I ask because, regardless of your claim that online video is different, you should note that a few NPPA categories involve television pieces that can run more than five minutes. I love these spots: they not only show some incredible creativity, they show incredible endurance of the reporter and photog team.

    When I saw the title of your article, “New standards needed for judging online video,” and read your complaint, I had to chuckle. It seems accurate that replacing “new” with “lower” would be the correct fix. As an experienced, professional news shooter, it’s not hard to see what’s going on here.

    Every new photographer goes through this exact same thing. The contest is what you make of it.

    Chalk it up as a learning experience. My first stories were torn apart by critiques. Nothing was ever sugar-coated. If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the edit bay.

    The NPPA is not a scapegoat for potshot excuses — it’s a tool. Use it as such.

  6. By the way, I noticed you have a series of blogs under your Media heading to the right.

    I suggest filing Lenslinger among them. The guy knows what he’s talking about.

  7. “Blame us for training the viewers to expect our type of storytelling, but if you want to compete, step it up and stop feeling sorry for yourself.”

    You haven’t trained the viewers. The fact of the matter is, and this is very much a FACT, is the viewers are training us.

    The TV people don’t get it. Refuse to get it. Advantage newspapers. Thank you. You make my job easier.

    There is a reason newspapers are kicking the butt of local online TV on video viewership and revenue (it’s a fact, look it up).

    Go read: Innovator’s Dilemma. Then maybe you’ll get it. Until then, we aren’t even talking the same language. After Lenslinger reads it, then maybe he’ll be somebody I can pay attention to on things like online video.

    There’s no doubt there’s a lot of crap newspaper video out there, but there is also a ton of stuff, that as a matter of being online video, is way better than 98 percent of the stuff being produced for online by TV people. Go read my post with comments from Chris Jennewein about TV news … very much correct. TV news lost its way about the same time cameramen lost hand cranks on their cameras.

  8. It’s really too bad, Howard. The comments from TV guys I see here are relatively straightforward and (if you’re open to it), thought-provoking. I’m sorry you’ve found it necessary to throw up such a defensive, borderline venom-spitting position.

    Given your little tirade, all I can say is:

    Happy potshooting!

  9. ChiD … I don’t even know where to begin.

    Suggestion: Start at the top. Read down. Repeat. Maybe after 100 or so tries, it will sink in. Take your time. Read each word.

    Tip: Look up the definition of straw man.

    How many of you TV guys who want to throw up in my face what experts you are, how experienced you are, and that only you know it all, have even stopped to consider that I might actually know what I’m talking about? Have you even bothered to consider that maybe I know a thing or two about web publishing? I mean, I’ve been doing it for 12 years or so … even won a few awards along the way. Lenslinger — I’m sure he’s a good shooter, and might even be a good guy to do a workshop for newspaper reporters, but that doesn’t mean he knows anything about the news web site business. That’s what I know and that’s what I write about. I wouldn’t tell him how to shoot video, but he wants to tell me how to run a news web site.

    BTW: In your last comment, it’s worth a mention that you didn’t address a single substantive point of my previous comment (which was, contrary to your characterization, full of substance mingled in with the snarkiness). And you say I’m taking potshots. LOL.

  10. Howard,

    What’s getting lost in all this is the fact that most news shooters would wish you well in any video endeavors – were it not for your constant assertions that your print colleagues will easily surpass us at our own game. You cannot expect a group of individuals dedicated to their craft to take that lying down. Get used to it.

    It’s a shame, though. There is much we could teach other. Here in Greensboro, North Carolina I know many newspaper folk. We often gather in and outside the local blogosphere to discuss the many issues of emerging media. What’s missing in those exchanges however are the grand sweeping proclamations of print superiority thatI regularly find here. I’ve no desire to tell you how to do your job, Howard. Stop pretending you can do mine. Quite simply, it’s insulting.

  11. I’m sorry you feel that way, Howard. That’s too bad.

    Point is, your “colleagues” didn’t win any awards in their own, brand-new category, and crying about it isn’t going to do any good.

    By the way, I’d gladly put one of my pride-and-joy stories up against any of yours.

  12. Howard, I am really proud of you 12+ years experience publishing to the web. Please understand. Video is a living moving breathing subject. It can be boring, exciting, colorful, beautiful, and ugly. It’s what you want to make of it. Now, if someone wants to enter into a TELEVISION competition using video, (s)he must expect to uphold to a standard that had been established somewhere down the road.

    With that said, I know of some excellently produce stories from newspapers from around the globe….aparently none of those were entered into this particular competition.

    You made mention that a long sound bite might be good because it’s for the web. Well, yes…but if it is distracting, annoying, too long then maybe it needs a number of things…edited, the question may need reasked, find a better bite etcetera. You see, just because the writer says it’s a sound bite worth hearing doesn’t make it true.

    Have you watched MTV? YouTube? These medians exist because people want variety and want it now. Often people will click onto the next clip of video if they are bored in less than 10 seconds. So if I produce a three minute story, I am sure as heck going to do my best to keep the viewer interested so they see the end.

    Disturbing factors such as technical aspects are minor if the story is decent…not good…just decent. Now give me a Decently crafted story journalistically and technically and I’ll show you a Good story worthy of considering for an award. Do both “Good” and you may place, Do both well and not only win but get best of show.

    But lets face it… it’s not about awards is it. It sounds as if you are still trying to beat your chest yelling about how those tv people finally found a way to screw the elite print folk out of something they deserve. Let’s face it, you may deserve it, but it still must be earned.

    Good luck with your web publishing. Buy the way, the print folk in Ohio requested a “video 101” seminar at this years ONPA conference…Why do you think that is? Oh, that’s because they recognize we do it differently and want to LEARN as opposed to wining about not winning.

  13. Once again, thanks for the comment, but you’re just reading into what I’ve written what you want to read (as per Lenslinger), not what I wrote.

  14. Lenslinger, it’s been long obvious to me, you have no interest in learning. Every time I post something about video, you read into it what you want and then tear down the straw man you construct of your own pure fiction of what I’ve said. You do that rather than honestly dealing with the actual words I’ve written. We can’t have an honest discussion on this topic because you repeatedly fail to comprehend what I’m saying. The simple fact of the matter is, you use random posts about video from my blog to rally your readers into righteous indignation, and the only way you can to that is to completely misrepresent what I write. That’s a great way to build readership for yourself, but not a great way to have a conversation that can be mutually beneficial.

  15. It’s too bad you’re going into all of this with nothing more than a closed mind and bag of excuses. If you actually took a minute to comprehend words beyond your own, you’d see that you’re saying the exact same thing Slinger’s already said:

    “It’s a shame, though. There is much we could teach [each] other.”
    Comment by Lenslinger — 9:08 pm

    “That’s a great way to build readership for yourself, but not a great way to have a conversation that can be mutually beneficial.”
    Comment by Howard Owens — 12:28 am

    He beat you to the punch three and a half hours ago. Pity you can’t see beyond your own nose — or keyboard, as it were.

    Slinger isn’t “twisting” anything. He’s providing input based on what you’ve written. Do you realize how lazy you look when you claim we’re misunderstanding your point, but decide not to clarify?

    Of the two of you, he’s definitely got the edge:

    “Once again, thanks for the comment, but you’re just reading into what I’ve written what you want to read (as per Lenslinger), not what I wrote.”

    You work in publishing? Yikes. You’d better work on your written words before you decide to start dabbling in video, big guy.

  16. On the Newspaper-Video list, this argument has become a mention in a thread on the same topic … in response, I just posted the following:

    From my perspective, my dispute with Lenslinger is that I don’t like having my words turned into something I didn’t say. Lenslinger has characterized my position as defending shoddy technical quality. I don’t like that.He says, pointed at me, for example, “no number of grand proclamations about new frontiers will make up for garbled audio, distracting backlight and meandering narration.”

    No where, especially in the post he links to, do I make such proclamations or claims. In fact, I say the exact opposite. My position has always been that lo-fi can be and is successful, but it still must be done right (which means no garbled audio, distracting backlighting … though I haven’t addressed “meandering narration,” I have talked about the need to get the reporter’s voice right).

    But even beyond that, there is a ton of high quality newspaper video out there (NOT talking about lo-fi stuff here) — stuff that is well lit, in focus, steady, well composed, with a great story, etc. So my question is, why can’t that stuff win awards? Why can’t the stuff of a Chuck Fadely or a David Leeson or a Seth Gitner win awards? Is it because it doesn’t look like TV? Well, then, maybe we need new standards. OnBeing doesn’t look like TV either, but a lot of people like it.

    The way I read Lenslinger is that he’s saying ALL newspaper video is crap. I read him that way because he doesn’t acknowledge the good work being done by newspaper video shooters, and can’t seem to admit that something out there might be worth an award or two, even ones granted by TV shooters. I read him that way because he takes my post defending the good work of SOME doing newspaper video as doing nothing more than defending crap video.

    I’m sure, Chuck, you wouldn’t agree that all newspaper video is crap.

    And really, on my blog, all I’ve done is pointedly reject Lenslinger’s straw man of saying I think crap is great and defending it with “grand proclamations.” If that’s a Jerry Springer moment, so be it.

  17. The way I read Lenslinger is that he’s saying ALL newspaper video is crap.

    I’d love to see you explain that one. ‘Slinger is one of the most respected folks over at’s Forums, and that’s because he dishes it out as much as he gets it. Nowhere did he say “ALL newspaper video is crap.” Likewise, nowhere did I see you keep the debate “civil,” simply by asking, “Do you think ALL newspaper video is crap?”

    Had you gone and asked that very simple question instead of tossing around an assumption, you’d be thinking very differently about him right now. Instead, it’s almost as if you’re willingly missing the point.

    First problem: your article is titled, “New standards needed for judging online video.” When nobody wins first place, it seems like you’re complaining because the bar is set too high. In reality, the judges refuse to lower the bar. Crap video is still crap video, award or not.

    Second problem: instead of blogging about “stepping it up,” you blame the contest. Yes, those bad television judges are obviously out to get the newspaper guys! Finally, an opportunity to stick it to the elitists of the media world, right?


    Folks who enter these contests usually go one of two directions: they take the critiques in and find chances to improve, essentially stepping up their shooting.

    Or, they get miffed at the judges. “How can this be? My stories kicked ass.” They complain about the critiques, but never actually do anything with them. Opportunity disappears, gives way to excuses, and before you know it, the NPPA suddenly becomes a scapegoat instead of a tool.

    But even beyond that, there is a ton of high quality newspaper video out there (NOT talking about lo-fi stuff here) — stuff that is well lit, in focus, steady, well composed, with a great story, etc. So my question is, why can’t that stuff win awards? Why can’t the stuff of a Chuck Fadely or a David Leeson or a Seth Gitner win awards?

    Did they enter?

    Third problem: have you actually watched any of the entries? You openly admit the absence of specific examples. How is it remotely possible you can defend these entries? Maybe they are crap, maybe they are not. The only thing you’ve provided is the completely unnecessary and unfair assumption that it must be “flawed judges.”

    I don’t know where you work, but assumptions can get you fired in my business.

    Fourth problem: you’re jumping down ‘Slinger’s throat without even understanding what he’s talking about. Another wild assumption about him, as you’ve obviously never read his blog. He’s quite level-headed and knows what the hell he’s talking about — as I’ve noted before.

    He was very truthful and very correct when he said:

    The audience we share is too sophisticated to endure sub-par production for very long. It doesn’t have to be slick and overproduced but it has to be clear. I’m afraid no number of grand proclamations about new frontiers will, end the viewer’s eye, make up for inaudible sound, glaring backlight and monotone narration.

    Instead of taking a few minutes to comprehend what he was talking about, you brushed it off. It looks like you brushed him off not because you disagreed with his opinion, but because you didn’t understand it. That’s just ignorant.

  18. I agree with parts of both positions here.

    Agree with TV photogs
    Video and audio quality are really important. I often argue with Howard about this. Right now, the majority of newspaper video folks are doing video wrong. We could learn a lot from studying good TV video journalism. Videos with technical errors should not win awards.

    Agree with Howard
    Video for the web should be different than TV, and right now newspaper folks are doing it right (regardless of previously mentioned technical errors). Newspapers are creating video specifically for the Web. TV stations are still simply shoveling their TV content on the web. It’s 2007; That’s pathetic.

    Two possibilities could level the playing field
    1. TV stations get their heads out of their asses and start creating video content specifically for the Web. If they do that NOW, the TV photogs will clearly produce better work than newspapers are producing (NOTE: I haven’t seen any indication TV stations will pull their heads out of their asses).
    2. Newspaper folks continue on the upward trajectory they are already following. They learn from their mistakes and get better (NOTE: This is happening as we speak).

    If I was a TV photog interested in online video, I would quit my job at the station and go work for a newspaper.

  19. All,

    I’m NO fan of Jerry Springer, so let me adopt a more civil tone.


    At no point did I say all newspaper video is crap. In my own casual surfing, I’ve run across entries that I thought were quite remarkable. Early next week I hope to point to specific examples in a separate post (all pointers welcome). Though you may find it hard to believe, I am all in favor of journalists embracing new mediums. I am, after all, a TV cameraman who fancies himself a writer. Here where I live, the Greensboro News and Record is doing exciting things with the web. I count their editor John Robinson as a valued peer and though I haven’t solicited his endorsement, I think he would asssure you I’m neither a kook or demagogue.

    What I am is your typical news shooter, albeit one with a thesaurus. For 17 years I’ve produced just about every type of TV news story there is – sometimes while holding my nose. Read my blog and you’ll discover I’m no cheerleader for my industry. The broadcast model we operate under is often (but not always) shallow, fleeting and vain. On that we can probably all agree.

    I tell you this to better explain my position, and possibly those of my fellow TV photogs. We are a surly bunch, wary after propping up too many prettier colleagues and meeting too many imposible deadlines. Taken for granted (when taken at all), we tend to eschew the poltics and retreat into our craft. For it IS a craft – an amalgamation of everyday skills that when done right can produce symphonic results. But mastery of these various elements doesn’t come quickly. More than a decade and a half of time on the job, I’m still learning (Thank God), most recently from the laptop generation and all their wonderful new toys. It IS a revolutionary time for ALL media and I’m thrilled to be in it. New delivery methods, ubiquitous web presence, cell phones with hard drives…the possibilities truly boggle the gourd.

    But there’s a few things we journeyman shooters aren’t willing to overhaul – the basic mechanics of visual newsgathering. Clean sound, good pacing, adequate light – facets of the craft we who look at life through a tube hold no less than sacred. Thus, it’s been hard watching a new generation eschew these principles, declaring them wrongheaded and outdated. ESPECIALLY when it comes from of all people, newspaper folk – the very people that have so disparaged everything broadcast since the first local test pattern went inexorably black. So, do I have a chip on my shoulder? You’re damn right I do; it weighs 18 pounds including is shiny logos and I can make it cry or sing. That doesn’t give me the right to pass judgement on others work but it should entitle me to an opinion or two. Or three.

    Despite my earlier bombast, I come in peace. What initially tripped my trigger was the feigned outrage expressed at the NPPA’s snub, an organization I respect but am not a member of. Some of the most gifted TV storytellers that I have ever known have entered their work in NPPA contests for Y-E-A-R-S, without ever winning dick. That you called for a new paradigm after your peers didn’t make your very first cut was more than I could (or can) silently abide. If ou’re gonna be pissed at an NPPA diss, you’ll have to get in line.

    I’ve no interest in trading any further blows. Rather, I’d like to exchange thoughts minus the vitriol. That’s the closest to an olive branch as I can extend – as the act of communicating with sights and sound is something I (and my kind) have dedicated our working lives to, and our opinions run very deep. I suspect you feel the same way of your professional endeavors. Peace.

  20. Lenslinger, that’s a very nice and respectful comment, and I appreciate that.

    Here’s what got my lather up: I said specifically that bad technical video doesn’t deserve an award, but the way I read your response was that I was trying to excuse those liabilities and even say that it should be rewarded. My point is that there is good online newspaper video. I have no bone to pick with NPPA, nor am I pissed at the NPPA … my post was very simple: There is good online video out there. It isn’t TV video. It’s different. It should be recognized as such. For the good of the industry and the good of journalism, it should be recognized as such.

    The logical next step of that thought process is if you want online video to get better, the best of it should be recognized in whatever stage it is today. Let’s find the good stuff and say what it is. At some point, the learning process stops if you only ever talk about the bad stuff. I’m not picking on the NPPA per se, just saying …

    Just as a matter of further background on my thinking … here’s something I just posted to the newspaper video list in response to a comment by Seth Gitner:

    ” Remember we are all storytellers trying to tell great stories.”

    Absolutely right.

    Here’s the thing … online isn’t TV and it isn’t newspaper.

    I’ve been doing this online thing a long time (in web years). I’ve watched a lot of newspapers just treat the web as another distribution channel: “we can get this web thing. We just need to post our text stories every morning right after the paper goes to press and people will love us.”

    It didn’t work like that. It hasn’t worked like that. Bloggers and social networks and YouTube and others have kicked our butt in online audience growth.

    Why? Because those content producers who have got the personal communication nature of the web — the one-to-one nature of the web — have prospered. Those of us who have engaged in the web as just another Packaged Goods Media channel have faltered.

    This is the disruptive nature of the web. When you approach the web as a channel, as mass media, as a top-down distribution channel, you are bound to failure, or at least mediocre audience growth, or a flat line, at best.

    Contrary to popular belief, I do not argue in favor of lower standards. I argue in favor of standards that FIT the web. That doesn’t mean that basic technical standards shouldn’t be pursued — steady shots, focus, good storytelling, lighting, etc. — aren’t important. But what is most important is a voice, an ability to connect with people as people. It’s personal journalism not institutional voice journalism that matters.

    Newspapers got their butt kicked because we just repackaged our print stories for the web. Now TV is getting its butt kicked by newspapers (look at recent coverage on this topic) because TV hasn’t yet gotten beyond repurposing TV news coverage.

    That said, there’s no doubt that there are many very talented journalists at TV stations, especially, I imagine among the behind the camera talent — if their station managers would ever give them the freedom to freely pursue online video as its own discipline, then we might (as newspaper video people) be in a lot of trouble. But then you have so many TV shooters who insist that there is only one way — their way — to shoot video. That’s a classic tail of disruption (read, as I always say, Innovator’s Dilemma). It’s the middle managers and such that stop innovation in its tracks. Many, many businesses have failed not because the executives failed to see the need to change, but because their call for change was ignored, discounted, even ridiculed by the people (the staff and managers) who needed to carry out those changes.

    I take this stuff seriously and maybe some times get too worked up because I believe in journalism. I believe most in newspaper journalism. I also believe in TV journalism when done right (unfortunately, rare). And there was a time when radio journalism really mattered (it doesn’t much any more). Journalism is important. We’ve got to get it right on the web. And the only way we’re going to get it right is to challenge comfortable assumptions and really try to understand where the audience is going.

  21. I agree that online video works best as a bottom up distribution system.
    That said, how many web video content providerproducers do you regularly visit? I know I only hit the shocking/hilarious/incredible captured moment web clip.
    I will do a search for Seth Gitner.

    You guys are talking about creating an new web audience, since by your own admission, you screwed up the chance with the one you had. But stories lacking traditional visual storytelling paradigms on a regular basis aren’t gonna keep people glued to their monitors in uncomfortable computer chairs.

    I hope you guys do figure it out. I’m a online paper reader and viewer and I’m ready to see something different.
    But for the life of me, I don’t see how you guys are gonna be different. Long self indulgent sound-bites, crossed axis, and back lit interviews wont be bringing me back.

    And if content is king, why are folks buying $1000+ computer ready HDTVs and those beautiful Mac 30″ monitors?

    Angela, go easy on the coffee. We aren’t the enemy.

  22. Why doesn’t NPPA allow readers/viewers to judge too? Pick a random panel of real people/give them the stories and see what they have to say and what they choose and WHY. Maybe we should listen to our audience every now and then.

  23. Personally I have no objection to newspapers doing video. What annoys me is the half assed way they are going about it. The assumption they can hand someone/anyone a handycam and they will shoot well enough for the web. Howard gets defensive about his 12 + years in web publishing but is happy to ignore the experience of people like me a 20 + year cameraman. I think I do know something about my craft. As a freelancer I do a lot of deferent stuff including for web only shoots. Along with the good basics there are a bunch of extra things to think about. It’s not easy.
    If Newspapers are serious about competing with TV news my phone is always on and I’ll be happy to shoot them some award winning stuff, I already have eleven.

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