Sunday, September 02, 2007

The quality debate

I just posted on the Yahoo newspaper video news group my contribution to what has been a fascinating thread in the continued debate over quality issues, what brings people to newspaper sites, how those sites often hide their video or put it in players that often don't work across platforms, etc.

I thought I'd share my post, for what it's worth:

I find myself torn on the quality debate. On one hand, I have sided strongly on my blog (and in conversations with some newspaper execs) with PF's column on the need to not nickel-and-dime things if you expect to maintain a decent workflow and not burn out your staff.

But I also don't disagree with Howard Owens on his strategy of getting as many point-and-shoot cameras out in the field with reporters as you can.

I think an excellent point was made in an earlier message -- if the industry tries to force it all into a cookie-cutter solution, it's going to muck it up as badly as it has other things.

There clearly is a place for the quick, take-us-to-the-scene, let-us-see-the-person video embedded to or linked to right alongside the story. And there is the place for the produced piece seen in a branded player, perhaps with preroll (that, by god, ought to work in every operating system). The challenge is how to integrate both needs. My fear is that, in the name of economy and efficiency, decisions don't recognize this reality.

Take a look at the video efforts of the paper in Cullman, Ala., for instance. (Also recently featured in E&P .) It's posting through Google Video. You can find everything imaginable that is technically wrong with these. And Cullman is not some isolated outpost where people can't see "quality" TV video.

Yet I will bet you that folks in Cullman aren't going around saying "gee, what problems that video had." They're watching the tanker wreck, the fires, the arrests, the teens at the Wal-Mart parking lot, etc.

The Shelby Star in North Carolina led the way in a lot of this (and see how its video is not hidden - it's right out there on the homepage). And, yes, I was highly critical of some of its early efforts, not so much the efforts but because it appeared that the paper just seemed to decide to throw Jell-O against the wall instead of equipping staff with a modicum of simple training that is easily obtainable (Mindy McAdams also commented based on my post). It seems that remains a problem in parts of the business based on the memo referenced in an earlier post here (on the newspaper video group site).

But Shelby, and Cullman, and Bowling Green -- and others -- are doing it, and learning, and improving, and for their markets, doing it probably much better than some major metro papers or chains.

The bottom line: We really don't know why people will watch a certain piece of video, any more than we really know why some people will skim a story or just scan the headline and others will dive in, even forging past the jump. We can identify factors under theories such as uses and gratifications, but no one really knows what the "trigger" is. If we try to force it all into one solution, we are ignoring the reality that readers/viewers come at us from many perspectives and that getting them to click, read or whatever requires almost as many solutions in this digital age.

A colleague recalled how he recently asked a class of journalism school students (mostly PR and ad majors, but not all) where they watched video. YouTube and similar sites were the answers, not CNN or Fox or newspaper.coms. Didn't it bother them that the quality was poor, etc.? Nope, not a one. They just found the stuff interesting, and that was the most important thing. And it was there when they wanted it and how
they wanted it.

And here's the sobering thing: Most of them classified it as journalism.

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At 9/2/07, 7:43 PM, Anonymous Howard Owens said...

Good round up post, Doug.

If you look at the most popular videos on YouTube and ask yourself: What does this teach me about the quality expectations of online video viewers? The only true answer is: Nothing. Quality is all over the board. It's clear that "it's interesting" is the most important answer.

And that's where most of our training efforts should go.


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