A round up of my thoughts on newspaper video

In the midst of this discussion with Andy Dickinson, I thought, maybe I need to do a post that rounds up, clarifies and even modifies my position on newspaper video. I don’t expect this will change any body’s mind or end the debate. Maybe the only thing it will accomplish is helping me organize my own thoughts.

Spending Money – I’ve advocated buying lo-fi equipment because I have enough experience in the newspaper business to know that funds are always limited. Nobody is getting a blank check to do this stuff. Whether you have $10,000 or $100,000 at your disposal, you should get the most bang for your buck. And if you are a lone reporter with no money but your own, and no other way of doing video, you should buy whatever you can afford and start producing your own video. If you can’t post it on your newspaper.com, post it on your own blog (you do have a blog, don’t you?) and start looking for a new job, because you’re working for a dying newspaper. In other words, don’t wait for some executive to sign a big check, just do what you can with whatever you can. Get started. Now.

Quantity vs. Quality – To me, this is a bit of a false dichotomy. I would never advocate accepting poor quality for the sake of convenience or laziness, but if you’re equating quality content with quality equipment, you’re setting yourself up to overspend on hardware and software, or unnecessarily delaying the launch of video for your site.

Quantity as a strategy – Concentrating on producing as much video as possible has two advantages. First, you’re getting your audience used to seeing video on your site because there is something new everyday if not more often. Rob Curley has said it takes 18 months to introduce something new to audience before you know if it’s working. I agree. You are not going to get mass audience acceptance and grow audience with just one video, or fewer, a week. Second, the more you do, the more you’ll learn. Newsrooms need to be learning organizations, especially now, especially when it comes to video. If you buy only one reasonably expensive set up, you’re not going to be a learning organization. You’re going to concentrate the effort on just one or two people. Getting more people involved in video has all kinds of strategic benefits that have nothing to do with video. It helps change the culture from a print-centric environment to one that sees the whole media pictures.

The importance of quality
– You should do everything you can to create quality video. It doesn’t take talent to create video worth viewing (though, obviously, it takes talent to produce great video), but it does take training and enough intelligence to think ahead about the video you need and how to get it. You must understand how your equipment works and its limitations (whatever the equipment is). You must be mindful of audio, lighting, framing, vocalizing during the shoot, subject, starts and stops and your shooting environment. You can get good enough video with any video camera if you know what you’re doing. Point-and-shoot doesn’t mean just point and shoot mindlessly. Be smart about it.

What to buy – I would rather see as many cameras in the hands of as many journalist as possible. So, if you only have $10,000 to spend, I’d try to outfit the entire newsroom with the best stuff you can afford in audio and video equipment rather than get only one decent kit. If you can afford lots of lo-fi cameras and one DV kit, then by all means, get the kit, too. Just don’t waste all your money on only one set up.

Video topics – I think many people, when they read me advocating lots of lo-fi equipment, they assume that I mean we should be using this equipment to produce stand alone stories – meaning, news segments that stand apart from any written words. That’s not what I’m saying at all. There is a place for story pieces in newsroom video production, but there is also tremendous value in just getting quick quotes from news subjects, or just a few seconds of an accident scene, or a little bit of a high school football game, and attaching it to a story. Done right, this kind of video adds tremendous value to a story and has high reader interest (if embedded in the story page for easy viewing).

Photographers shooting video – Previously, I’ve advocated the idea that photogs need to get more involved in video. I’m going to modify that. Great still photographers should spend most of their time shooting great stills. Stills have tremendous value online, but more importantly, you’ve got to have great stills for print, and print ain’t dead yet. Photographers are the one area of our newsrooms that still needs to be dedicated primarily to print. That said, if you can afford to get your photo department one quality video kit and convince them to rotate using it, and they produce just one kick-ass piece a week, it’s money well spent (provided, of course, you’ve taken my advice and also bought point-and-shoots or other lo-fi equipment for your reporters).

Video as disruption – When I talk about disruption, I mean this — come in at the low end, figure out what job people are trying to get done, be good enough at that job, and start growing an audience. This is a fairly proven strategy. It is disruptive to television because the vast majority of TV news stations are still stuck shoveling segments of their news broadcast onto the web. Rather than trying to figure out how to make video more suitable to the web, TV news departments think the same glossy junk they put on TV is going to work on the web. I’m not seeing that model get any real traction. So while TV is stuck in a sustaining strategy, newspapers have an opportunity to use video in a fresh way, a low-cost way that gives them a great deal of flexibility to learn and grow and adapt to the audience.

Video blogging – video blogging is great. There are some great examples of newspaper.com vlogs, such as TimesCast in Roanoke and what the New York Times is doing. If you’re going to do a vlog, it is something you commit to, plan and do right. It takes more than one person to do well, and will require the support of management. To do right, you are going to need to invest more heavily in hardware and software. But it is something you should do when you’re ready for it.

The YouTube effect – There’s a lot of anti-YouTube bias out there, just as a few years ago, there was a lot of anti-blog bias (and I supposed still some residual anti-blog bias, but it’s melting away). Newsrooms have been painfully slow to adopt and adapt to blogging, much to our collective detriment. Now the same mistake is being repeated with YouTube and video sharing. It’s critical to really dig in and understand YouTube, rather than take positions on it based on cursory looks, faulty assumption, professional arrogance, other’s myth-making statements, and so on. YouTube can teach us a lot about what the audience wants and where it is going, but we’ll only learn those lessons if we invest time in understanding YouTube, the good and the bad about it. YouTube is complex and multifaceted. It’s more than just people dancing with cats, or fake porn, or clips from Comedy Central, or LonelyGirl15. It’s all of that and more. Do you really understand why YouTube is popular? Understanding YouTube is tremendously important for anybody with any role whatsoever in newspaper.com video strategy.

Learn, learn, learn
– everything about your organization’s, or your own, video strategy should be about learning and getting better. You need training material, training sessions, critiques and a steady demand to get better with each and every video. Learning and teaching needs to be a key component of your video strategy.

No options – newspaper video is not optional, just as newspaper blogging is not optional. These are things newspapers must do and learn through and grow if they want to survive as news organizations.

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14 thoughts on “A round up of my thoughts on newspaper video

  1. Howard,

    You’ve done a great job at summarizing the state of video on the web among newspapers and have suggested some good ways to implement it across the newsroom.

    One thing to consider though.

    “LO-FI” VERSUS DV — money well spent would mean that that you purchase AT LEAST a 3 chip Camera — 3CCD — Panasonic makes a few with this option — 3CCD’s means a different chip for each color obtained — this is important — it means good quality at a semi – inexpensive price.

    Just using the video option on a still PHD camera is really bad quality — remember garbage in = garbage out.

    Here in Roanoke we have purchased several of these for use with our TimesCast — and have had great success.

    You also need to make sure that everyone gets some type of training before heading out with a video camera. Even if it is a 30 minute introduction to the camera and all you say is that record is the red button and and play is the arrow. A little training goes a long way.

    Remember that it is not the technology, it is the story.


  2. Great list. Thanks for summarizing your thoughts and posts.
    Have you checked out this little camcorder? $129 for 30 minutes:
    I have one and seems that this is a perfect lo-tech solution.

    NOTE: Edited to fix link

  3. Howard, some great thoughts. Two questions though: You mention video blogging is great, but does it work? Roanoke and Naples Daily News both seem to have downplayed it on their sites. Is that because it wasn’t getting the traffic/interest they had hoped it would? Seth, perhaps you can help answer this question, as well.

    Also, Howard, you advocate YouTube. I love YouTube. Watch it a lot. And I spend a lot of time using a studying social media as a professional, but also as a scholar. However, how does YouTube help a local site. Most of the traffic that one gets on YouTube isn’t local, so in terms of reaching local audience and creating value for local advertisers, what purpose does it serve? I ask because some of my colleagues have encouraged me to post more videos on YouTube, and while it is trendy and fun, I am having trouble understanding the dynamics of why this is important for a local publisher to do. Thanks for your input.

  4. Brenden, vlog as a strategy I think is important, if you believe we have an opportunity to be disruptive to TV news. Last I heard, Roanoke’s traffic is growing. The big test won’t come, however, until it becomes easier and more common to watch web video on the big box in the living room.

    A couple of things about YouTube. They are rumored to be working on a local strategy. What TVJersy has done recently is a great idea on how to use YouTube for local video. I’ve found that its not unusual for video to be tagged with a local city or community name. But my main point about using YouTube is just as quick, down and dirty way to convert your files to Flash and embed a Flash player on your site.

  5. Can you please recomend some good Point-and-shoot for journalists? High ISO performance, small shutter lag and good enough video are the preferences.

  6. I started with Sony Cybershots and still carry one personally.

    The Panasonic Lumix is highly rated by Consumer Reports.

    However, Davin McHenry at Bakersfield.com is recommending the Casio Exilim.

  7. […] Multimedia is new enough to local audiences that readers are searching to find it – or more accurately not looking for it at all. Few people are going to newspaper sites looking for video or anything that moves. I know this, because Howard Owens quoted another Kansas guy – Rob Curley’s research saying it takes about 18 months for people to find a new feature. We’ve been providing videos in earnest, if not in consistency, since January. About this time next year, maybe people will notice. […]

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