Posted on September 15, 2008
Why the Las Vegas Sun is so great (Part 2)
At many news sites, the video player is about 400 pixels wide. That’s not as bad as the “postage stamp” video we used to get, before broadband, but it still ain’t big.
The video player at the Las Vegas Sun site is 988 pixels wide. That’s wall-to-wall on a lot of people’s computer screens.
“We’re geeks, so we like things to be big,” said Josh Williams, new media projects editor — with a big grin.
It’s not only size that sets Las Vegas Sun video apart; it’s the options. Download a version for your iPod. Or download the HDTV/720p version and watch it really big in your living room. (We saw their video on a giant LCD TV at ONA. Fabulous.) Subscribe to videos (or photos) via RSS (lots of options there). And yeah, they’re in iTunes. And on YouTube.
They shoot on Panasonic HVX-200 cameras (P2). They edit in Final Cut Pro.
Producers upload video seamlessly through the CMS. (Imagine.)
“We’re investing very heavily in video that can be distributed. Have you seen the Ethernet jack in the back of your HD TV? That’s not there by accident,” Williams said. “We know that’s the future of distributed video.”
They noted that “Vegas is not a very educated town,” and people there watch a lot of TV. So the Las Vegas Sun is on Channel 25 (KTUD-TV). They’re also on 702.tv — another video product platform. And they’re on YouTube — because they recognize that more of the audience goes there than comes to the Sun Web site to watch video. Put your videos on YouTube, and more people can find them.
“We shoot a lot of video, but it gets used in a lot of places,” Williams said.
This is probably the most ambitious and interesting video strategy at any newspaper anywhere in North America. Correct me if I’m wrong.
So what else do they do? Well, they have the typical geek-boy fascination with panoramas. I don’t think I have ever met a gadget freak who doesn’t love panos. (I usually say “So what?” to panos, but that’s just me … and maybe the general audience too.)
“What we like about panos — you can’t do them in print; you can’t do them on TV,” Williams said. I can’t argue with that.
The team built their own players for video, slideshows, and panos. They also built tools integrated into their CMS to allow journalists to upload the assets and associated captions, blurbs, and thumbnail images easily and seamlessly. Web producers are freed from no-brainer chores (uploading) and can spend more time doing work that others lack the know-how to do. This is a good management strategy: Optimize the skill sets of your staff, especially if your staff is small.
The team is also producing some cool interactive graphics; I’ll discuss those tomorrow.
The Las Vegas Sun takes an atypical approach to user-generated content. Instead of setting up an online ghetto and populating it with weak blogs and photos from the community, Sun editors take advantage of photos and videos people have already uploaded to sites such as YouTube and Flickr. For the annual Burning Man event in the desert in 2007 (before the relaunch), they invited people to tag photos on Flickr so the Sun could embed them automatically.
The team built a tool so that an editor “can go in and say these are the tags I want to look at, and this is the site where I want to look, and it pulls in the appropriately licensed content, say, from Flickr,” Williams said.
As I heard this, I was thinking: This is what you can get when you hire people who really understand the Web — and give them the freedom to use what they know.
Not long after the site launched, the Monte Carlo hotel caught fire and put the Sun’s new design and CMS to the test.
“We reached out through Flickr and other channels to ask people to send photos,” said Tyson Evans, new media design editor. They were also able to use their archives effectively to write a history of fires in Las Vegas and post it online that night.
Very recently, the Sun launched a new high school sports section, with an individual page for each local football player. This is not a new idea; Rob Curley (who joined the Sun’s parent company in May) did it in Topeka, Kansas, in 2001. The wake-up call from the Sun emanates from how fast the team was able to put a new data-driven section together.
“This wasn’t even on the drawing board a month ago,” Evans said. “We’re becoming a really agile shop.”
Part 1: A Look Inside the Las Vegas Sun
Part 3: How They Do It