A Gannett strategy on newspaper video inflames the debate
A beet.tv interview with Gannett Digital executive Kate Walters, in which she announced a “significant investment in video” at the company’s 80-plus newspapers, has sparked a bonfire of scorn among photographers, videographers and Gannett employees, past and present.
Walters said the company will train and equip “all reporters” to add video to their stories, use third-party suppliers to provide video in places and on topics where staff are unavailable, and feature user-generated video prominently on all sites.
What really steamed many commenters was Walter’s wide-eyed promise of a “culture shift” for all reporters, getting them to think about stories visually as well as textually.
It was a been-there, done-that moment for my colleague Wasim Ahmad. As he wrote, “For anyone who was working in the chain from 2005-2007 (including me), this should all sound familiar.” During that period, Gannett trained key people, including Ahmad, in best practices for web video. These newly trained videojournalists were expected to proselytize at their home newspapers and get all reporters to put video on the web. After a spurt of activity, the effort dwindled, Ahmad said.
Video, he added, “is not the answer for everything. It is an answer to some things, just as words, photos and sound are answers to other things.”
What I really loved about Ahmad’s blog post was his call for Walters, whose title is senior director, video & photo products, to spend a week in a newsroom trying this herself. He and other critics of this plan have noted that she seems to have absolutely no journalism experience herself. She’s a business person. She doesn’t get it.
“I used to be Kate Walters – the newsroom’s video evangelist, though without her corporate lingo or paycheck,” Ahmad wrote me in an email, “but a few years’ perspective and a masters degree in this stuff makes me realize what a bad idea it was back then and what a bad idea it is now.
The scorn runs high on Gannett Blog, which has chronicled the layoffs and other developments squeezing the chain’s notoriously cheap newsrooms. Among my favorite comments:
Video editing is REALLY time-consuming. So either you tie up a bunch of people editing video, or you just run raw video that won’t be all that compelling.
Publishing raw video is like publishing the unedited contents of a reporter’s notebook from, say, a fatal car crash. Readers expect more from a newspaper.
Two last links:
If you missed David Carr’s Oct. 23 “Occupy newsrooms” column in The New York Times, a blast at Gannett and Tribune Co. for supersized executive bonuses at companies with dismal operating results, read it.
And check out this beet.tv video from the same conference at which Walters spoke. It features a discussion among real journalists at top news sites—CBSnews.com, nytimes.com and wsj.com—where video is getting a more thoughtful and effective treatment.