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 donâ€™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 â€“ Iâ€™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 canâ€™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 youâ€™re working for a dying newspaper. In other words, donâ€™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 â€“ 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 youâ€™re equating quality content with quality equipment, youâ€™re setting yourself up to overspend on hardware and software, or unnecessarily delaying the launch of video for your site.
Quantity as a strategy â€“ Concentrating on producing as much video as possible has two advantages. First, youâ€™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 youâ€™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, youâ€™re not going to be a learning organization. Youâ€™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 â€“ You should do everything you can to create quality video. It doesnâ€™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 youâ€™re doing. Point-and-shoot doesnâ€™t mean just point and shoot mindlessly. Be smart about it.
What to buy â€“ 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, Iâ€™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 donâ€™t waste all your money on only one set up.
Video topics â€“ 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 â€“ meaning, news segments that stand apart from any written words. Thatâ€™s not what Iâ€™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 â€“ Previously, Iâ€™ve advocated the idea that photogs need to get more involved in video. Iâ€™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, youâ€™ve got to have great stills for print, and print ainâ€™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, itâ€™s money well spent (provided, of course, youâ€™ve taken my advice and also bought point-and-shoots or other lo-fi equipment for your reporters).
Video as disruption â€“ 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. Iâ€™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 â€“ 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 youâ€™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 youâ€™re ready for it.
The YouTube effect â€“ Thereâ€™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 itâ€™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. Itâ€™s critical to really dig in and understand YouTube, rather than take positions on it based on cursory looks, faulty assumption, professional arrogance, otherâ€™s myth-making statements, and so on. YouTube can teach us a lot about what the audience wants and where it is going, but weâ€™ll only learn those lessons if we invest time in understanding YouTube, the good and the bad about it. YouTube is complex and multifaceted. Itâ€™s more than just people dancing with cats, or fake porn, or clips from Comedy Central, or LonelyGirl15. Itâ€™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 â€“ everything about your organizationâ€™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 â€“ 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.