Web video is NOT dumping the notebook into a camera
The Southern Newspaper Publishers Association has a longish story in its latest bulletin about how the Shelby (N.C.) Star has reinvented itself under what is called the "Innovation Project."
Reporters now consistently work to find every opportunity to enhance a story with online content. Staff photographers and reporters carry video cameras on assignments. Editors encourage the community to submit comments, photographs and video. The newsroom has added an online editor, and web content increasing has fused with the print product. ...Bravo! Experiment. Exactly what needs to be done. Try things and see if they work.
The Star addressed the dilemma of time-starved but Internet-connected readers with its new paper. The new paper eliminates story jumps. The Star breaks stories into smaller, easier-to-read pieces. Instead of one 24-inch story, readers get three 8-inch stories. Also, The Star converts traditional “paragraph-form copy” into a “who, what, when, where” format.
“For many newspaper consumers, the paragraph is a dinosaur,” said Editor Skip Foster. “Why do we keep pretending most people have time to read 20-inch stories? We’re not just writers of paragraphs, we’re presenters of information, in whatever form is easiest for people to consume.”
The Star has devoted new resources to gathering local news in all its forms – pictures, videos, stories, lists – almost anything goes. Staff members gather the news for both the newspaper and the website.
“When we started posting information to shelbystar.com, customers came calling in numbers we never dreamed of,” said Lambert. “A surveillance film from an armed robbery in uptown Shelby generated 7,000 downloads within the first 36 hours. We see this response repeatedly. People are telling us that they want a combination of raw data and journalist-produced reports with more photos, audio and video clips.”
Now, let's note a few things that DON'T work:
-- If you are going to blog, as Foster does, and link to an "interactive feature" that you proudly boast about on April 11, try to remember that 16 days later it is not good to have the link come up as a 404 error. (Update: Foster sends the new link. Apparently conversion to a new Web site broke some old links. He's also updated his blog.)
-- Remember that video on the Web is not the same as the video equivalent of dumping your notbook into the camera. If you want to see an amazingly mind-numbing example of this, try this video called "Bomb Squad Pitches In" (.wmv) (which, after you watch it, will also show how lame that title is).
-- For another mind-numbing offering, try "Sheriff Candidates Press Conference" (note to paper - try an apostrophe after Candidates and learn to spell "Conferance" correctly on the intro slate to the video).
(Question: Why does a newspaper that is touting how it is breaking up its stories think that folks on the Web are going to sit and watch nine minutes of mind-numbing video?)
-- Try to keep the advertising videos out of the news front, like this one labeled "Your Taste of Home" that really is nothing more than a commercial for a newspaper-sponsored cooking show. (At least the two other links "Taste of Home Trade Show" and "Taste of Home Cooking School - Flourless Chocolate Cake" are honest about what you're getting before you click.)
Just as the newspaper industry is slowly -- only slowly -- learning that blogging isn't blogging just because you use blogging software, it has to learn that video isn't video (or useful) just because you give a reporter or photographer a camera and show him or her where the start button is.
So while the Star shows the best of things -- that it has, as the SNPA note says, "blown up its newsroom" -- it's also showing the typical worst of this industry, the idea that you can somehow just digitize the "print" mentality and it will all work.
(The Star is not alone. Recently I watched an AP video feed of more than four minutes, preceded by a 30-second commercial. No, no, no! At least that was a story that had some flow to it.)
If you want to see how video should be done on the Web, look at about anything by the Rocky Mountain News' Sonya Doctorian.
If you can't do it that way, then keep the pieces short -- think soundbites longer than TV but shorter than a minute so that each one tells an individual story or piece of it.