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.

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