Reassessing newspaper video
What’s up with newspaper video today? On the news that The New York Times is preparing a big new video thrust, it’s got to be worth some thought.
Peter Ralph recently wrote 7 tips to encourage those of you in regional newsrooms across the U.S. who haven’t given up on video, and Rob Curley wrote Newspaper-produced video: quality vs. quantity? in response to a really nice post by Colin Mulvany, written just before his newsroom’s ranks were decimated.
Peter was on a rant about video awards, to the tune of “things that win awards are not necessarily things people want to watch,” which is similar to what we hear about all kinds of journalism awards. He also called for some proper measurements or stats reporting vis-à-vis video — let’s hear some real numbers, after so many newsrooms have invested so much time and so much money in churning out so many hours of online video. Come on, guys, pony up. What are your numbers?
He also called out the “time spent” hand. You say you have umpty-zillion hits on your videos, but how many of those viewers stayed in for the entire length of the video? How many clicked out before the stupid pre-roll finished? How many bailed halfway through because they were bored to death?
The final three of Peter’s tips are probably the strongest :
- Fail fast: Are you STILL waiting for the number of videos watched to increase at your site? How much longer are you going to wait?
- Habits: WHICH videos are people watching, and are they coming back for more of the same?
- Telling truth to power: Peter is wary of subjects who agree to collaborate with the videographer. Have you put your journalistic integrity at risk when you have allowed this? Are you, in fact, doing p.r. in your video work?
Rob is an executive at the company that owns the Las Vegas Sun, which has a unique video strategy. In his post, he wrote:
We’ve hired skilled video shooters and editors with professional backgrounds. Our videos look great — as good, if not better than a lot of local television stations around the country, and probably better than almost any other newspaper out there … with the exception of The Washington Post and NY Times, who have basically gone with a pretty-dang polished documentary look.
One likely big difference between shooters at The Post and The Times is that all of our videographers here at Greenspun Interactive are basically expected to produce a piece a day. Everyday.
But — in my mind and priorities — more importantly than either quality or quantity in video production is this question: Are we producing videos that people actually want to watch?
That’s the “save my newspaper, please” question, isn’t it? The point IS the numbers (just like Peter said): If there ain’t nobody watching, then WHY are you shooting all this video?
One reason is to build expertise. In a priceless Curleyism, Rob wrote:
… we really don’t have a need for video of the latest car accident on Interstate 215 unless it involves six semi-trucks, one of which was carrying fuel and another was carrying live pigs. I do want video of that accident when it happens. And damn quickly.
Yeah, me too! Moreover, I want it on my iPhone, in high-def.
Rob touches on this too, and I think this is a very important piece of our future. When the stars of the AT&T 3G network are aligned just right, and my iPhone battery isn’t dead, and I have 10 minutes to kill (say, waiting in a doctor’s office), I looove watching high-def YouTube videos on that pretty glass screen. Love it, I tell you!
Now, what if I could trust your Web site to dish me up at least one interesting, high-def video on demand, whenever I catch that sweet spare 10 minutes? Or maybe not your site, but instead a smart aggregator like Multimedia Muse? (You get the click anyway.) If I developed high enough trust in your ability to amuse, surprise, or enlighten me, I’d be your True Fan.
That would be another good reason for you to be shooting all this video — if you could make me loyal to you (well, me and some big number of other iPhone users), it would be well worth it.
How many people do you honestly think go to YouTube and search for news documentaries? Let me answer that one for you: Not enough to pay anyone’s salary.
Rob has a very good point there, but I think we need to be realistic about the many and various social aspects of YouTube as well as the appeal of really silly, stupid videos. I wrote a post about this earlier this month — the point being that community, sharing, communication, identity, and self-expression are all PART OF the ginormous success of YouTube, and all of those are — admit it, please — things that news Web sites sorely lack.
In other words, there’s more to video than video.
Rob refers to sports highlights, celebrity interviews, and other stuff that might be seen as tasty, fattening, sugar-laden desserts placed next to the vitamin-rich broccoli of true journalism. “Give them what they want and what they need,” Rob wrote. I agree wholeheartedly — that’s what good newspapers used to try to do (and some still do).
What is still frigging hard about all this — a news Web site today is not the buffet table that a printed newspaper used to be. I am not browsing around randomly on your Web site, happening upon your loveliest desserts or videos as I peruse the latest miserable financial news. I am, instead, perusing news feeds and blog feeds in an RSS reader and on iGoogle, clicking URLs in Twitter, scanning the “popular” list at YouTube.
And (bottom line) your videos are not showing up there.
Update (1:21 p.m.): I urge you to read this painfully honest post about video from Stephanie Romanski, Web editor for the Grand Island (Neb.) Independent.
Update 2 (Oct. 30): The New York Times “Bits” blog just posted Online Video — and Our Attention Span — Get Longer.