Why shoot newspaper video?

Have I been over this ground before? Not sure. I think I’ve thrown around some adoption steps for newspaper video, and I’ve spouted all the necessary YMMV caveats for news organizations of varying resources.

But here’s the deal:

Not so far in the future, you’ll be sitting in a conference room trying to show a group of reporters how to use a point-and-shoot camera to shoot simple video. With any luck, you’ll even be training them to edit the video themselves. Best of luck.

What happens next, is that being good reporters, they have questions that cut a little deeper than “What does this button do?”

And the question they will ask, if they have any curiosity left in them, is the following one:

Why?

Why are we shooting video?

The short answer:

Because we can.

No, Virginia, it doesn’t matter that video isn’t terribly interactive, and I realize that to those used to opining on the state of the international media, what a paper like Bakersfield Californian does with video must seem like country bumpkin stuff.

Frankly, I don’t think the people who say video is the wrong track work in newsrooms. I don’t think they understand what the average paper with the average corporate parent has at its disposal as far as video resources go. (Read as: funding, gear, training.)

Here’s a missive from the camp I’ll call BiggerBetter, from Patrick Thornton, in a post about how not only is video not “new media,” but how we shouldn’t even be bothering with it if we’re not going to treat it with as much care and reverence as we treat the print edition:

“Doing video for new media, means taking the same standards you had for print and applying it to video. The video should look good, be edited well and be compelling. It should do something that a print story couldn’t.”

So there’s them, the BiggerBetters, who — best case scenario — would have everyone shooting HD and printing frame grabs, making big dramatic video packages with slick graphic logos dancing across them. For a small number of papers, this is an award-winning strategy that works, at places like the Washington Post and New York Times with the money and staff and travel budget to make documentary films halfway across the world. And it’s great journalism.

And in the other corner — the one I believe makes sense for pretty much any paper with a circulation under 100,000 or so, to pick a rough number out of the air — we have the FasterMores.

The FasterMores get that the ship is sinking, which makes it all the more difficult to turn around. It’s hard enough to get people to agree on a plan to adopt a new technology to reach readers in good times, much less when the layoffs come.

The FasterMores understand disruptive technology, and know that to succeed in Internet time, a news organization simply has to move faster than a printing press.

That means short video stories, in volume, shot by existing staff who are already at the scene of local news events.  Sometimes they’re called “reporters.”

Howard Owens casually posted some notes on a disruptive newspaper video strategy.

If you read that and still don’t understand why low-end online video serves most newspapers best, just think of how YouTube has disrupted network television business models.  Is it by emulating well-lit police dramas with great actors and impressive camera work?  Or is it by offering a multitude of choices for a fragmented audience?

So yeah, I’m with the FasterMores on this one.

The answer to “Why shoot newspaper video?” is clearly “Because we can.”

I’ll elaborate on that in comments and future posts, I’m sure.

So, are you a BiggerBetter or a FasterMore?  Choose one – “It’s a false dichotomy” is not an acceptable answer, unless you really want to spend more time in meetings debating it.

23 Replies to “Why shoot newspaper video?”

  1. I would have to see FasterMore in action before I made a call on it. I just know that most newspapers don’t do either FasterMore or BiggerBetter. They do occasional junk.

    You don’t have to use great equipment to get good results. The biggest problem that most newspapers don’t understand is that journalists need to be trained to use video cameras properly. With good lighting, even low-end cameras can produce good video.

    My paper is going with the strategy of having a few higher-end cameras ($2,500ish), while being supported by a bunch of more middle of the road cameras ($800-$1000). More importantly, we’re going to have to train people properly and show them what is possible. It’s my strategy, and we’ll see if it works out.

    But for our biggest events of the year, I want quality video with good external mics. I want to be able to put together breathtaking packages. For the day-to-day stuff, we’ll use lower-end equipment that a myriad of reporters can work with.

    My main point of my piece, however, is that video isn’t new media. Flash, database journalism, two-way communication features, social networking and a myriad of other technologies are new media. You can’t just add video to your written product and call it new media.

    Many newspapers, however, mistakenly believe that video is the key to new media.

  2. Pat – I doubt you’re just quibbling about terminology, right?

    If I gather correctly, your take is that ‘New Media’ is a phrase publishers throw around, and they think video counts — they don’t get the whole ‘interactive’ part of it.

    If that’s accurate, then yeah, of course, most newspapers are far more interested in what I would blanket with the term ‘Multimedia’ — which can be good and/or fun and/or big-J Journalism — but which is not very interactive.

    I’ve always been pro-trinity: Multimedia, Interactivity, and Data.

    But the FasterMore tune I’m singing these days is this: Not every newspaper has the pieces to play all those games, and the time to get started has passed us by — way by.

    So, there’s no way I plan to wait around for a publisher — or a corporate parent — to decide on and fund $2,500 cameras and hire a dedicated video shooter.

    There’s just no need for that at most papers. Give me six point-and-shoots to hand to six hungry reporters and we can post at least six videos every single day.

    And that’s a start.

    If you really haven’t seen the FasterMore approach, you seriously need to take a look at the Bakersfield multimedia page, but I know they’re not the only ones.

    Suggestions, anyone?

  3. We’re definitely in the “fastermore” category, with the idea that eventually we may do more “biggerbetter” projects… We try to produce 7-10 videos per week, and our production cycles are getting shorter as more newsroom staffers buy in.

    http://www.qctimes.com/multimedia/?c=video

    Also, we use our videos to do both immediate news (dump fast, minimal editing) and produce features that are part of upcoming story packages. We’ll begin embedding videos in stories shortly.

    Video, audio, mapping and database searches all fall under the category of “because we can.” Find tools that work, streamline your workflows and get the tech part out of the way.

  4. @Tim – This is great stuff you’re doing: Simple, quick, easy to get done.

    One thing that will make free-standing videos on a page like this easier to stomach without the text story right there is more interviews.

    The mural restoration bit has one, and the Wii video is just awesome, but there’s a car wreck video here that’s missing 30 seconds of the battalion chief or highway patrol PIO explaining what they think happened.

    The trick is getting reporters to integrate shooting the video into their reporting process — it’s not some second task to be done; it’s part of how we do the job the first time around.

  5. Why do newspapers do video? Because video advertising pays more than banner ads. Be realistic here.

    Why should journalists do good video? Because it’s a great way to tell compelling stories that matter.

    Those are competing interests. We as journalists have an obligation to mankind and to ourselves to tell the stories that matter.

  6. Chuck, that will hopefully be true in the long term, but not now. Online, video doesn’t generate anywhere near the amount of impressions that articles do unless you have the massive scale of YouTube or some of the other national video sites. CPMs may be higher, but inventory is much lower.

    It’s certainly an advertising platform, but this is a future play and we need audience to get to the point where we can sell ad space. To get audience we need compelling content, and lots of it. Hence, fastermore.

    Journalists bring in audience with compelling content, audience brings in advertising dollars. Advertising dollars pay for journalists’ salaries. Doesn’t sound like a competing interest to me.

  7. Ryan, I just wish more publishers would consider what new media and interactivity is. I like video, but it’s not at the top of my list of new media.

    My question to you is this: Are those six pieces of journalism being filmed every day worth watching? I’ve seen a lot of newspaper video that wasn’t worth my time and diluted the brand identity. I can watch plenty of iffy video on YouTube.

    I don’t want video just for the sake of video. I want video journalism. You can accomplish this with point and shoots. It’s all about covering real stories. A lot of papers have taken the approach of filming anything and everything.

    I want journalism. But I wouldn’t work for a paper that wasn’t willing to spend some money or time on new media. I’m not sticking my name on a product that is lead by publishers and editors who refuse to get it.

    The thing is, it’s not size that matters. Small papers like Lawrence Journal World get it, while large papers like the Chicago Tribune don’t.

    I just don’t want to work with people who don’t get it. My main concern is creating journalism that matters to people in the forms they want to view them in. Many journalists don’t share that view. They just want to give people the content they want to produce in the format they like to produce it in.

    And remember, you got to spend money to make money. Lawrence Journal World created an awesome content management system to run their sites and now mega-papers like the Post are buying it.

    But all of this fancy new media journalism and video means nothing if your site is from the 90s.

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