How quickly can newspaper video grow up?

We’re babes in the digital woods.

It’s our freshman year at film school, the first day of junior high TV Studio class, and our first hour off the plane in a country whose language we’ve only spoken in a classroom.

We’re making newspaper video.

Are we doing it right?

Would we be able to tell if we were?

Does it matter?

I finally read the New York Magazine newspaper-video piece that everyone’s been passing around this week. Kurt Anderson writes:

“The medium is too new and unsettled to have anything like a best-practices rule book. Everyone is making it up as they go along. And a few of the on-the-fly inventions are awesome.”

Damn right we’re making it up as we go along.

I outlined a practical four-step process of newspaper video adoption a while back, and I’ll stand by it now, despite the common criticism that trying to emulate local broadcast news is a step in the wrong direction.

Different news organizations with different sets of resources are going to implement video in different ways.

A paper with a sizable crop of photographers hell-bent on innovation is going to be more likely to take a creative documentary approach.

Dai Sugano’s recent video pieces for the Mercury News run that angle. This one about Chinese New Year is a video illustration, the moving equivalent of a photo of children setting off firecrackers that might accompany a print story on the holiday.

A national paper with a considerable pool of resources can afford to send a one-man-band video journalist to Chad, or send a columnist paired with a shooter to Darfur, but for a small local paper, what’s our equivalent of sending a video camera to Africa?

That’s a question we’re all going to have to answer for our own communities in the coming months: Where are the video documentary subjects in our town, and how can we best organize our resources to point a camera in their direction?

A lot of questions here.

Handing point & shoots to reporters is one answer, just to start gathering video and planting it in your stories.

I know that’s a good way to illustrate a story and to grab hard news, it’s a good way for smaller papers to break into video and I’m eager to do more of it, but we have to do more.

Richard Hernandez’s plea for multimedia innovation hit an exposed nerve with me, but again, every organization’s set of shooters, staffers and resources is different, and as newspapers, we’re all still playing catch-up with the Web.

So how can we get ahead?

Let’s start by treating our online readers like smart people, especially the ones who bother to click on videos and multimedia presentations.

This is where the “we’re not broadcast news” angle comes into play. The readers/viewers/users clicking on our stories are actively trying to experience the media we’re offering them, not passive receivers waiting for the sports highlights and weather report while they eat TV dinners.

So let’s start treating them like they’re watching our video and multimedia stories for a reason: They want to know more.

7 Replies to “How quickly can newspaper video grow up?”

  1. I see lots of different kinds of newspaper video possibilities. There’s short, quick-hit news video. There are regularly programmed video podcasts. And there is longer-form, exploratory web video.

    The first one is easy, and papers are doing it. The second one is easy, and more papers should be doing it. The third one is harder, but plays to our traditional journalistic story-telling strengths.

    Unfortunately, I don’t think there is much of a web audience right now for longer-form storytelling video. But there will be a tipping point when we are regularly watching web video on our TVs (or whatever that media center device is called). And that will open up all sorts of interesting possibilities for papers, as well as all the independent content-makers out there.

  2. In the paper, there are some print stories that will be briefs. Others will be 40-inch monsters, and they deserve it.

    There are some photos that will be only one or two columns big. There are other stories that call for multiple photos, some half the size of the page.

    Why should web video storytelling be different? Different stories call for a different ways of telling. I think there’s room for them to all exist together … the Internet is a big place.

  3. I have watched full length documentaries on the Internet and was glues to the screen. I have also watched minute long video pieces and wanted to close the window halfway through.

    I think it always depends on the quality of the work as well as making it clear to the reader as to the type of presentation they are about to watch. If I am on YouTube, I expect something short and sweet. If I am looking up a documentary on Google Video, I know that I am in it for the long haul.

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