Several years ago, when I was active in the online virtual community for guitarists, WholeNote, I learned an interesting term: Gear Acquisition Syndrome (GAS).
The symptoms of GAS? Every spare dime you get finds its way through the doors of the local guitar store. You might have stopped by after work for a set of strings and walked out with a new effects pedal and Monster Cable. You had to have all the latest and coolest stuff. You needed new and better toys.
I think about GAS when I read yet another videographer arguing that publishers should just shut up and buy them all the best equipment. Forget strategy. Forget other spending priorities. If you aren’t buying them Canon XH-A1s, then you just don’t get video.
I have the deepest respect for PF Bentley, whom I met while I worked in Ventura. I have no doubt that every aspiring videographer could learn a lot from the man, who is truly one of the icons of the field. But, memories of GAS came flooding back while reading his piece on DigitalJournalist, “Just Say … Wait A Second.” (Link via Doug Fisher)
So now you need to make the switch to video and the bosses are asking if you can do “that video stuff” on some ultra-mini DV camera and edit in iMovie. Ask them if you could shoot the big game with a digital point-and-shoot. Hey, cut costs more by only using Photoshop Elements. Finally, tell them you could further cut costs if they’d move out of their plush offices and sit in the newsroom with a plain, unfinished pine desk with a rotary phone with dial-up Internet.
Going back to another memory, I think of the first post I ever did encouraging newsrooms to equip reporters with point-and-shoot cameras. It was comical the level of hostility my old posts aroused among many otherwise level-headed journalists. I’ve gotten pretty hot under the collar writing about this topic, as have others. But the bottom line is, it still doesn’t make sense for newsrooms to get a case of GAS.
PF says IT shouldn’t be making video equipment purchase decisions. I agree, but I doubt any newspaper IT department in the country is making these decisions. Those decisions are usually made by the online editor or online director. The actual purchase order may be processed by IT, but only after getting clear direction from an experienced online professional.
And that experienced online professional isn’t making purchase decisions based on your case of GAS. He or she is making STRATEGIC decisions.
GAS is not a strategy.
Thinking about how best to grow audience through video, how best to leverage the strengths of the newsroom, and about where you want your newsroom to be in regards to video three to five years from now are all strategy questions. Once you answer those questions, then you can move onto finding the right equipment to suit your strategy.
I agree with PF that digital content is moving toward video and that there is a huge opportunity for newspaper web sites to grow video advertising revenue. But going out and spending $20,000 on just a couple of video kits is no way to ensure your newspaper.com will be well positioned to reap those advertising dollars. In fact, it’s damn near a sure fire way to ensure you’ll fail to get those dollars.
If you don’t widely develop video literacy within the newsroom, you will not have the resources to move rapidly with the changing video world; you will have too little talent concentrated in too few people. Most importantly, you won’t be producing enough video on a daily basis to grow audience.
Critics of the disruptive video strategy seem to think that buying smaller, more mobile cameras is all about cheaping out, as Bentley says above. But if you’re doing this strategy right, it’s not cheap. For example, our company has bought more than
140 (make that at least 280 — see note from Sarah Corbitt in the comments. Ed: Don’t you know how many cameras your company has bought? They’re breeding like rabbits. I can’t keep track.) point-and-shoot cameras with extra memory and carrying cases. That isn’t cheap. We’re also investing in training, and will invest more.
One of the interesting lessons of our video purchases is that not all photographers who want to do video want to be hobbled by the Canon XH-A1 (we’ve purchased some of these, too). Some photographers are asking for more nimble equipment, such as the Canon HV20. They have print obligations and the XH-A1 is too much equipment. Lugging it around and setting everything up slows them down.
Just to be clear, pursuing a disruptive video strategy isn’t about being cheap. It’s about being smart. It’s about taking limited resources — all newspapers have limited resources — and deploying them in the way that seems best to suit strategic needs. It’s about getting Return on Investment, not about saving money. In fact, if you’re doing it right, you’re spending just as much money on video as you would if you took PF Bentley’s advice.
One last thought: Do you know what your newspaper’s video strategy is? Whether your company is buying pricey video kits or sending reporters out with Casios, have you made sure you understand the strategy? You should be asking the questions, for two reasons. First, you want to make sure the work you do aligns with a well articulated strategy, so you work efficiently and in concert with the other parts of your company. Second, if your company is spending money on video just because everybody else is, then your company is in trouble. You should know that. And if that is the case, it doesn’t matter how good your equipment is, or how poor, because your efforts will be without direction and soon peter out once people lose interest or think video just isn’t working.
Strategy is important. Make sure you have a strategy before spending a dime on video. Don’t get GAS.
UPDATE: Ryan Sholin can’t stop writing about this topic, either. He has a related post on video strategy as a long-tail strategy.