Online Video: An Essential Tool for Journalists

by Dan Blank on January 3, 2008

Video Journalism: Friend of Foe?Shel Israel explains why online video can be so much more compelling than the printed word. He tells a story of when he was a reporter in the 60’s, and TV news began to be real competition for him:

“While the best I could do was tell you what it was like to have been there, the TV guy could actually show you. ”

Andy Dickinson predicts that newspaper video will die, if not properly leveraged.

“The winners will be the ones who make it work because they have a strategy that fits their organisation and more importantly, their audience. The increase in organisations who do it badly will result in the print industry continuing to cast video as the problem – a flash, unnecessary diversion from proper journalism – rather than admitting they just can’t do it.”

But many newspapers, large and small, are taking online video seriously. Vivian Schiller, the General Manager of NYTimes.com explains why reporters are embracing video:

“Video is a way to get at angles of the story that you can’t possibly get to in print.”

The Times is not just training their current staff of journalists or hiring new ones, they are partnering with others to create video content. They recently added videos to their site that were produced by an outside company, Beet.tv, and that are “reported by non-professional citizen journalists.”

Media outlets and journalists are still experimenting with how to best produce and leverage online video. Here are a few newspaper profiles to give you a taste:

  • Gatehouse Media’s Messenger-Post
    “The Messenger-Post took an entirely different tack. They give their print reporters cheap cameras and had them add video to their stories. The M-P treats video as a complement to the print story. One good example is yesterday’s coverage of an accident at a local ice warehouse. Here’s a better one: a feature on a local sword swallower. You don’t have to watch the video to understand the story, but if you’re interested in the story, watching the video adds more detail. It’s not always done perfectly, but the sword swallower piece is as near a perfect fusion as I’ve seen.”

  • The Columbus Dispatch
    “There is no formal training in-house for the staff. Reporters who are interested see [the web producer] and… go over the basics. They shoot a piece, [we producer edits] it and then… go over what they need to do better next time.”

  • York News-Times
    “This year alone, we (3 staff) have produced over 450 videos which have received over 120,000 views. Most of the videos are, as you stated, 2-3 minutes long. The numbers differ though when you look at how long it takes us to make the videos. We usually spend 10-15 minutes shooting the video and I usually spend 15-30 minutes editing the video. In breaking news situations, like car accidents, we are generally shooting photos as well. We probably average getting a 2-3 minute report and 100 photos onto our site in less than an hour.”

  • Miami Herald
    “We’ve been running classes in-house for both photogs and reporters, taught by the four videographers. Interestingly, the photographers are universally better story tellers.”

Mindy McAdams shares tips on what works and what doesn’t work in online video. Two recent posts from her:

In 2007, online video really hit the mainstream, and many have dreams of creating a viral video that will become an overnight sensation on the web. One online marketer, Dan Greenberg, explains how these viral hits are not always what they seem – sometimes they are just clever marketing campaigns from an agency. Here is an outline of strategies he shares:

  • Not all viral videos are what they seem
  • Content is NOT King
  • Core Strategy: Getting onto the “Most Viewed” page
  • Title Optimization
  • Thumbnail Optimization
  • Commenting: Having a conversation with yourself
  • Releasing all videos simultaneously
  • Strategic Tagging: Leading viewers down the rabbit hole
  • Metrics/Tracking: How we measure effectiveness

While journalists should not necessarily follow these tactics, it does illustrate that online success is not just about creating a good story and hoping people find it. Understanding tagging, distribution, titling, and how web services work are essential to finding massive audiences on the web.

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