The long tail is a newspaper video strategy

Because I just can’t stay away from this topic…

Last time we talked about this, I wrote a post shooting down anyone who says we shouldn’t shoot newspaper video unless it’s top-quality stuff we’d, more or less, centerpiece on A1.

The responses from my friends in the multimedia blogosphere who shoot stills and video for a living at mid-to-large circulation papers in major cities ranged from irrational cynicism to completely rational pleas for me to watch some high-quality documentary style video and thank expensive cameras and dedicated video shooters for their work.

And I thank them.

But do you really think a photog carrying an HD cam (even if it shoots print-quality stills) is a viable (or rational) use of resources for a small community newspaper?

Here’s the deal:

Your big documentary video shot with a $2,000 camera and embedded in a big Flash package about a big issue is wonderful big-J Journalism. And appropriate. But it’s not something a small paper should be spending its time on with any sort of regularity.

Because we have inexpensive ways to gather and distribute video in larger numbers to our readers and viewers and users in a fragmented audience, equipping a larger number of reporters with easy-to-learn, easy-to-edit point-and-shoot cameras is a logical choice that makes sense for our readers.

Frankly, the fact that this might make good business sense for our publishers doesn’t really come into play when I think about this. If more community members watch more video on our site because there is, well, more of it that has a chance of interesting them, and that happens to mean more advertising revenue for us — or our corporate parent — who am I to argue?

Looks like I buried the lede again. Blink and you missed it:

“If more community members watch more video on our site because there is, well, more of it that has a chance of interesting them … who am I to argue?”

In an unbundled media universe, which is what you’re getting into when you take your online newspaper any further than shovelware, a big video documentary is an A1 centerpiece. It’s there, and it’s gone, and you can bring people to it from the wider Web if you archive it intelligently, but for all your readers who don’t happen to be affected by the issue, or interested in their story, that was either the only or one of a very few video options on the menu that day.

If YouTube has taught us anything, it’s that video users could care less about what you’re ‘Featuring’ or pushing on your home page. Just get me to the page with 50 thumbnails and headlines on it, and I’ll browse around for quite awhile. Show me one big video and little else, and you’ve lost me.


That’s where the long tail comes in, if you didn’t see it in the background of everything I’ve said about this so far.

A refresher:

The Long Tail
No idea where this particular LT image originated, but thanks to the Guardian and Valleywag for republishing it in a useful way.

On the left, up high with the mass appeal, that’s your A1 story.

Way out there on the right, those are all the tiny little stories that newspaper editors traditionally assume no one cares much about. They end up on inside pages, relegated to the crime blotter and the community calendar, but if you add up the number of people who are interested in those little stories, they give your big blowout Flash package a run for its money.

This is why topical blogs succeed, why categories and tags are useful things, and really, this is how Web 2.0 works. Individuals find what they’re interested in, and if your A1 isn’t it, they’re turning to the section with their neighbors in it in a heartbeat.

They’re doing the same thing with your newspaper video.

If I weren’t already knee-deep in an increasingly outdated thesis (a nearly approved proposal and vapor-research only at this point, I’m afraid), I would choose newspaper video is the variable and go out to do case studies of notable papers who have adopted different video strategies and figure out why that had done what they did and what the benefits have been, so far.

So far.

Those are two key words here. So have at it. I’ve argued both sides of this by now, and I’m still not tired of it, frankly. It’s fun to try to figure out because it’s something new an old medium can do to try and get a little, uh, newness.

I’ve also argued that every news organization should do what it can with its resources. If you’re at a big major metro working for a company with a video strategy that says Go Big or Go Home, more power to ya. You do beautiful work. I hope millions of people watch that video. I hope you win awards. I hope you change the world.

The rest of us are just looking to inform our communities, one little clip at a time.

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