Cheap camera video journalism going mainstream

Ok, so I’m going to show bad form and gloat a bit.

I read this post from this morning with some sense of vindication.

With hand held cameras, video reporting is a natural extension of print reporting and holds great advantage for newspaper publishers, says pioneering news producer Tammy Haddad.

In the world of innovative television news producing, Tammy is at the top. She has produced “Larry King Live,” “Hardball with Chris Matthews” and others. These days, she’s reporting on the presidential campaign as a contributor to with her small Sanyo video camera.

Newspapers, with legions of print reporters, are positioned to expand in video coverage, Tammy says. The equipment is not expensive . Tammy’s Sanyo costs less than $800. The Flip used by Kara Swisher and CNET’s Dan Farber is under $200.

Last week, we reported that the Washington Post has trained nearly 200 staffers in how to use video cameras.

In the fall of 2005, I handed out point-and-shoot cameras to the Bakersfield Californian newsroom (an idea I stole from Jack Lail). My earliest blog post advocating small-camera video can be found here. Of course, this line of thinking has pissed off a lot of people over the past two or three years. I’ve been called a few names and dismissed as a crank.

For some hint of that, look at this post and this post.

Now you’ve got Newsweek, the Washington Post and even some network TV people, going the cheap camera route.

The party is just getting started.

BTW:  GateHouse Media is approaching some 400 small video cameras in the field.  The results vary (some good video, some bad video, and unfortunately, some “no video”), but we continue to push the effort and are improving and refining our training efforts.

With video, show me something interesting and check your storytelling at the door

Angela Grant:

While I do agree that photographers are uniquely qualified to enter the video world, I know for a fact that reporters can do it too. I did it myself! Reporters must learn how to tell visual stories, but they already know how to craft a narration to tell a story. Photographers already know how to tell visual stories, but they must learn to play a more active role in using narration to tell a story. Everyone has something to learn. We can all do it. (Bold added)

Of course, Angela is right — up to a point.

Every time I read Angela or any other video blogger talk about “telling visual stories” or being “narrative,” I recoil.

Screw the story.

Show me something interesting.

It takes a damn lot of talent to tell a good story, and to really make a story sing, you’ve got to get into that whole production value thing, which as we know, has damn little ROI on the web.

If you’ve got the talent, great, but even getting to the point where you can unlock that talent takes years of practice.  We’re not there yet.  What we need right now is lots of video that people actually want to watch.

As YouTube and other video sites have proven, they’ll watch something interesting, whether it has a story or not, whether it has high production quality or not.

Compare web video to music. In the music business, tens of thousands of songs are cut every year. A large percentage of them are very, very good songs. Unfortunately, only a very small fraction of those great songs ever become hits.

Fortunately for the music industry, even in these more constricted economic times, a few hit singles can make a few people very rich (and not just from the song sales).

So all of the effort on songs that never will become hits is still worthwhile. The ROI on one hit is so tremendous, that it makes the gamble worthwhile.

Your newspaper-produced web video has a very slender chance of becoming a hit (even less than a song in this analogy). And even if it does, it’s not going to lead to riches for you or your publisher. We haven’t built, at least so far, the economics around video to make that possible.

Storytelling video takes a lot of time and talent to produce.

“Show me something interesting” video — well, anybody can do that. All you need is a cheap camera and enough smarts to go, “wow, that could be really interesting on video.”

Think relevance, immediacy and fascinating.  Things like beginning, middle and end are not intrinsically interesting or valuable to a web audience.

Keep it short and sweet, and do it often enough, you might actually get people to start visiting your regularly for video.

And FWIW, before anybody starts in with the old red herring about promoting crappy video, don’t bother. If you think that’s what this strategy is about, you’re approaching this idea with more ego than business sense. I don’t buy into the false dichotomy.

Just show me something interesting with your video.

If you’re in the Rochester, NY area on Thursday, stop by the Hyatt to hear me and Chuck Fadely discuss video strategy. It might be entertaining.

Previously: Video can’t win on production quality alone