Monthly Archives: November 2010

The Future of the Video Journalist

Video is now the primary link between all forms of journalism.  Though this may seem an obvious observation to some, few executives within major U.S. newspapers seem to be understanding this.

As legacy news media executives struggle to find sustainable business models for content online, perhaps they should be investing more in video to help attract eyeballs to their sites.  For instance, a non-newspaper reader may be drawn to a site like WashingtonPost.com if they were to spot a ‘mini-documentary’ accompanying an article or series.

On a recent video shoot at The Washington Post, we interviewed the former managing editor of the paper – Len Downie.  “This is no longer just a newspaper.  We are transforming into a multimedia organization”, stated Downie.  But what exactly does this mean?  How do newspapers distinguish themselves from television or radio news outlets if they each seem to be headed down the same path in the online environment?

This isn’t to say that they aren’t producing video content.  However, what kind of videos do they tend to be?  A brief 1-2 minute clip here and there detailing David Carr’s trip to the Bahamas or “The Basics of the Perfect Pie Crust” on nytimes.com?

Major newspapers can reinvent themselves quickly if they begin to produce extended documentaries for their websites.

But this takes a new form of journalism.  One which merges the focus of television and movie content with that of print/online media.  Newspapers are not the only media companies shifting focus right now. The next generation of television will be primarily web-based. CBS for instance, struck a deal with Google to promote and air portions of shows on YouTube where it is sponsored by local advertisers.

The overhead costs of producing quality documentaries have reduced over the past several years.  So why aren’t more newspapers looking to extend video content beyond the likes of a 1-10 minute snippet?  The nature of being in the news industry forces reporters and ‘multimedia’ staffers to post stories as soon as they break.  “We’ve created a vicious 24 hour micro-scoop culture”, states Tim Arango – media reporter for The New York Times – during one of our interviews.

Imagine the possibilities if major U.S. newspapers extended into documentary production.  Imagine watching a PBS-style documentary on nytimes.com. Perhaps more film and video teams could be assembled to work alongside investigative reporters like David Barstow on a year-long assignment. These teams could launch 60-90 minute films to accompany longer stories appearing online.

News media has yet to establish a theoretical paradigm that fully articulates the digital video platform to its full extent.
Video content has been seen on a handful of newspaper websites for nearly seven years now.  However, with newspaper companies struggling financially, there is little room to expand into video production.  Imagine if Len Downie’s comment about moving from a newspaper company to a “multi-media organization” were to come true faster than we imagine?  What if a sustainable business model for news existed first and foremost with video rather than print or web publishing?  Could the solutions of many of today’s business models for newspapers be found with charging more for video content?
Perhaps video could help save the publishing industry, if we were only to pause for a moment and analyze the impact video can have on all forms of media.  But this doesn’t seem to be happening.  Instead,  there is an over-emphasis on how publishing needs to save itself.   How to transform a newspaper into a ‘digital newspaper’.  This is perfectly fine, but in doing so the entire news ecosystem is altered dramatically. A digital newspaper is no longer a newspaper.  Nor should it be. A website allows news organizations a tremendous amount of freedom to innovate in approaching, collecting and dissimentaing news and information. But to transform into a “multi-media” organization takes the foresite in understanding how media such as video can be expanded.  Knowing this, why aren’t news organizations investing more in video production?

Recently, we interviewed Barbara Salisbury, a former staff photographer/videographer from The Washington Times. Barbara was laid-off in a massive company downsizing this past year.  “It was so hard for any of us at the paper to get the training we needed in video production.  Yet they still wanted us to shoot video out in the field”, stated Salisbury.

Video can help save print and web-publishing if we understand how. This isn’t to say that the written word should take a backseat to video.  But perhaps a more thought-out, well-rounded analysis needs to take place when examining the role of video content on newspaper websites.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

202 Miles: New York to Baltimore

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

202 miles.  That’s the approximate distance between New York City and Baltimore.

The separation between the two cities may be a short bus ride away, but the cultural and economic differences between either would have you thinking that you just hopped a flight from New York to Calcutta. In Baltimore the unemployment rate hovers around 8%, according to the U.S. bureau of Labor Statistics (though anyone living in the city might challenge that percentage as being higher).  The murder rate in Baltimore is 5.48 times the national average according to Baltimore CityRating.com.  According to The Baltimore Sun, there were 238 homicides in the city for 2009.  In New York City there were 283 homicides for 2009 according to The New York Times.  However, if you take into account that there were an estimated 8.4 million living in New York City during that year, compared to Baltimore’s 637,418, you can quickly see that the problems facing Baltimore are much different from that of New York’s.

But what is it about the city of Baltimore that fascinates so many New Yorkers (and for that matter, the nation as a whole)?   At a recent Gelf Journalism event in the upscale neighborhood of Dumbo in Brooklyn, I sat in the back of a crowded room listening to attendees chatter over how Baltimore was so different than New York from a “journalistic perspective.”

Was it the hit HBO television show The Wire which has drawn so much attention to the city of Baltimore as of recent?  Perhaps.  After all, the DVD box set of The Wire has sold more than any other HBO television series, according to The Guardian.  In the United Kingdom, the series premiered nearly seven years after its U.S. debut, and attracted “600,000 viewers on its first British terrestrial airing on BBC2 “, according to Guardian reporter Jason Deans.

The show was created by former Baltimore Sun crime reporter David Simon, who filled an unusual role by embedding himself with the Baltimore Police Department.  Simon’s front row seat into how the city operates, and essentially weakens itself through systemic corruption, has propelled him into a type of television hall of fame.  Previous to The Wire, he wrote for the show Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets and later for the HBO mini-series The Corner.

The Wire was also a platform for some of the best crime writers in the U.S. today, including author and screenwriter Richard Price (Clockers), and Rafael Alvarez (Life; The Black Donnellys) .   Through these amazing writers, The Wire produced some of the most compelling characters television has seen over the past 50 years. Figures like the shotgun-clad, Robin Hood of the hood – Omar.  The Adam Smith reading drug kingpin Stringer Bell.  Or, the lovable heroin addict-turned-informant Bubbles.  Most strikingly were the links between current Lt. Governor Martin O’Malley and his television replica Tommy Carcetti.

Baltimore is a city that has essentially been dying for the past twenty years due to the rapid decline of the shipping industry, amongst others.  David Simon has been out of journalism since the mid-90’s.  The series The Wire is no longer running.

So what does Baltimore have left?  Who are the ones reporting on the day-to-day realities of the city?

The Wire only scratches the surface on what investigative reporter Stephen Janis lives and deals with every single day.  Janis, a former Baltimore Examiner reporter, is currently the senior reporter and content director of the Baltimore-based news website Investigative Voice.  The news outlet was started in 2009 after Janis watched as his former newspaper shut down.  He was awarded a Maryland-Delaware-DC Press Association award in 2008 for his reporting on the unsolved murders plaguing Baltimore that year.  In 2009, he won the MDDC Press Association award for a series of articles he produced on homicides within a Baltimore prostitution ring.  Aside from his reporting, he is also an instructor of journalism at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Communication in Washington, D.C., and at Towson University.

“There’s no easy way to do this job”, stated Janis during one of our in-the-field filming sessions.  “The hours you spend contacting people and developing sources is where all the good stories come from.  I’ve developed sources over years, of meeting with them, and meeting people at night and different places.  There’s no way to get good stories without putting in a lot of work.  I can say unequivocally, it won’t work.”

Investigative Voice is also home to long time reporters Alan Forman, who was previously with The Baltimore Sun, and Regina Holmes who previously worked as an assistant city editor at Newsday’s New York City edition and later with The Miami Herald.  “It’s terrible to see what has, and is, happening to the newspaper industry”, stated Holmes.  “The Wire created an image of Baltimore, much of it very true, but also something which we have to face every single day.  We can’t just turn off our TVs [like fans of the show] when we have so much work to do right here in the city.”

The Wire will remain one of the greatest series ever to air on American television, but what is even more compelling are the realities taking place within ‘Charm City’ on an everyday basis.

…This documentary team will be there to capture it…

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Knocking on Google’s Door

 

This past week we were fortunate enough to speak with a representative of Google News.  Chris Gaither is senior manager in the corporate communications department of that company.  In his current position, Gaither is responsible for helping to innovate Google News and book search.

Previously to joining Google, Gaither was a reporter for The Los Angeles Times where he covered the technology industry. In an interesting 2009 article for that paper titled, “The Business and Culture of Our Digital Lives”, Gaither commented:

News organizations have accused Google, in lawsuits and in public statements, of making money off their hard work. That view largely overlooks the fact that newspapers receive torrents of Web traffic from people who find their work through Google — but publishers haven’t figured out a way to make those visitors as lucrative as print subscribers. Still, at least Google seemed to be trying to help the newspapers industry find a way out of its increasingly desperate financial state.

But in this economic environment, goodwill isn’t enough reason for Google to keep a program going. Even the world’s most successful Internet company has vowed to be more fiscally responsible, and it has started shutting down services that aren’t successful. Looks like newspapers are on their own again.

Now it seems, Google is picking up where it left off in an effort to help struggling newspapers.

I wanted to get in touch with him in order to secure interviews with members of Google News.  The effort was an attempt to better understand the relationship between Google and various newspaper companies.  After a few e-mail exchanges, Gaither and I set up a phone conference.  In preparation for it, he forwarded an article from The Atlantic Monthly.  The piece was by a reporter named James Fallows titled, “How to Save the News”.  Gaither wrote in parenthesis next to the e-mail link, “(with the caveat that we’re not actually trying to save the news, because we don’t think it needs saving)”.

…Interesting…

The way our conversation played out was also interesting.  I was hoping to hear a bit more about the impressive work being done by the Google News team.  Namely, Krishna Bharat, who founded Google News in 2002, a platform which indexes over 25,000 online news sites and provides a summary for each of them. Bharat created Google News following the September 11th attacks.  It was an effort to keep readers, across the world, informed with the latest headlines from their local outlets, but also with news agencies worldwide with a type of blanket coverage.

As any writer, director or designer does, I pitched him on the project.  I informed him what it was about, how we were approaching things and where we look to showcase it.  According to Gaither, Google doesn’t normally “roll out the red carpet” for projects such as ours.  At that moment I wanted to interrupt and remind him, ‘bums like us don’t ever wanna a red carpet’. But I didn’t.  Instead he continued by asking who else we had interviewed thus far.  I told him about our interviews with Robert Kaiser of The Washington Post, Tim Arango of The New York Times, and a few others.  “Who is talking about Google?”, he asked.  I didn’t really know how to respond.  Though I knew what he was asking, I really didn’t want to start a ‘he said, she said’ rant about what people thought about Google.  Ironically, here I am blogging in a ‘he said, she said’ vein.  The difference being, the “Fit to Print” blog serves not so much as a news site, but a filmmaker’s diary.  An open platform to write about the successes, frustrations and failures which every filmmaker faces while in the middle of a project.

I provided Gaither with a few names of people who had talked about Google in our interviews (and there have been many).  A few of our contacts on Google thus far have been John Battelle, co-founder of Wired Magazine, and Ken Auletta of The New Yorker.  Both Battelle and Auletta have written amazing books on Google’s impact on the news industry in the past two years. Batelle’s “The Search” and Auletta’s “Googled: The End of the World As We Know It”, are strong reminders of why Google and Google News need to be examined with greater depth and clarity by those who put their trust in it.   Google, as the company recently announced, is no longer just a search engine.  Google is now a media company. They have transformed into what Auletta has called, “Googzilla”. Because of this, there needs to exist an even stronger transparency between Google and the public.  As well as room for independent writers, journalists, and filmmakers who can approach them to ask: “do you still think of the company as not being evil?”

Will the contacts I gave Gaither be sufficient enough for Google’s PR team to allow us to ask some simple questions about their news division?  In my personal opinion, Google is treated unfairly when it comes to most discussions on the death of the newspaper.  People often forget that greed was what ultimately killed the newspaper industry, not technology.

Nevertheless, I came away from our phone chat with the sense that Google executives aren’t big movie buffs.  “We try to move beyond the belief in the traditional model for all media, films and documentaries like yours”, mentioned Gaither.

What’s wrong with the model for films? Are 1-2 minute YouTube clips good enough for these guys and gals?   Maybe.  After all, they do own the video site, which, for all of it’s charm, rarely provides feature-length video content (save for movies uploaded against the wishes of Hollywood executives). Is the world ready for shorter films as the norm?  Can cinephiles really be satisfied with films being shortened at the rate news articles are being clipped these days? I wouldn’t put it past Google, or guys like Gaither in imagining so.

Gaither ended the conversation by saying that he would have to talk to some people and get back with me.

…Okay…we look forward to it!

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Dear Arianna Huffington …

Whether or not Arianna Huffington ends up doing an interview for “Fit to Print” is still up in the air.  The “Fit to Print” team has forwarded her various requests for interviews and does hope she will eventually respond to one of them.

Why would it be great to sit down with her for an interview?  It may seem obvious, but her co-founded news aggregation site, The Huffington Post, still seems to be the talk of the town. It’s the most visited news blog on the internet.  Some of the debate circling The Huffington Post is good, some of it bad, but the bulk of that chatter is coming from legacy media executives and traditional news organizations.  After all, The Huffington Post has boasted over 40 million unique visitors to it’s site according to a recent Business Insider report. Much of it’s content is linked back to sites such as nytimes.com and others.  Legacy news organizations continue to feel pressure from The Huffington Post because of what many view as theft of their original content.  Her take on these and other issues, outside the comfort zone of an appearance on The Charlie Rose Show or another traditional media circuit might prove worthwhile for her.  If nothing else, it would prove to her audience that she can take one-on-one questions from a pro like Keith Olberman from MSNBC, while also taking the time to talk to nobodies such as the “Fit to Print” team (though my “Fit to Print” teams knows I personally don’t find them to be nobodies).

But it doesn’t seem that she is open to such requests…

Sure, if you’re a freelance writer trying to make a name for yourself and you have a great story idea for her blog, she might drop you an e-mail.  But what about filmed interviews from independents like us, who work to unearth topics and questions not being asked by traditional media?

When I plugged in “Arianna Huffington inteview” into a YouTube search, it came up with various pages of her giving interviews to reporters from Bloomberg, Al Jazeera, MSNBC, and of course …The Charlie Rose Show.  The closest matches I found to any ‘independent’ circuit interviews came from The Henry Rollins Show on IFC, Harvard Center for Public Leadership, and a few questions she answered while walking past a female reporter at The Webby Awards.

A few of the things the “Fit to Print” team hopes to ask her (if she would agree to an interview), relate directly to the newspaper industry, but also to the type of content that is produced for the web overall.  For example, it would be interesting to get her take on the future of long-form investigative journalism (especially since she has set-up an investigative fund through her blog), how reading habits are different online compared to print, the dangers bloggers and independent journalists face with libel lawsuits, how search engine optimization is playing a major role in the news industry, and several other vital topics of conversation.

Traditional media has caved when it comes to grilling game-changing entrepreneurs like Arianna Huffington.  There is a fine line when it comes to approaching people with the mindset of “I’m out to ‘get’ them” and those who approach people with the intention of having a well-rounded and open discussion.   After all, wasn’t that Huffington’s intention when she helped to create The Huffington Post — an open platform for ordinary citizens outside of the mainstream media to have their voices heard?

In 2009 alone, The Huffington Post‘s traffic spiked by more than 150% from the previous year from 3.8 to 9.8 million, according to MediaBistro.

Yes, many critics look down on The Huffington Post because of it’s occasional gossip story, such as the Tiger Woods scandal (which happened to spike the site’s traffic exponentially).  However, the site does an amazing job at allowing non-traditional journalists the opportunity to build a reputation and perhaps even a career by providing them with a jumping-off platform where their stories can reach a wider audience.

But how does Arianna feel about the future of the newspaper industry?  How does she respond to critics who have once written for the site?
Huffington has been accused in the past of plagiarism. For instance, she settled out of court in 1981 for accusations of plagiarizing content for her book Maria Callas.  Later in 1988, Huffington was again was accused by Lydia Gasman, an art history professor from the University of Virginia, for plagiarizing material for her biography of Pablo Picasso titled, Picasso: Creator and Destroyer. “What she did was steal twenty years of my work”, stated Gasman.
One can argue whether or not these, and other allegations are relevant to the work being done at The Huffington Post.  Perhaps The Huffington Post is a perfect new model for journalism.
Our concern:  How can you know unless you ask tough questions about the past in order to predict what the person might offer for the future?
We have extended you invitations for an interview via  e-mail, sent you a message on Facebook and have called your offices to connect with you, Arianna.
The ball is in your court if you care to chat with us ….

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized