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.

And:

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.

 

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  1. Hi Barbara
    I thought you and your students would find this interesting: Cisco predicts within the next three years video will constitute 90% of the traffic on the Internet. I think Kate Walters is not so wrong.

    http://socialtimes.com/cisco-predicts-that-90-of-all-internet-traffic-will-b
    e-video-in-the-next-three-years_b82819#.TrgcZXBRDMk.facebook

  2. Point of information on the Cisco story: By “90 percent of traffic,” does Cisco’s David Hsieh mean 90 percent of total Internet bandwidth, or 90 percent by some other measure? Because – correct me if I’m wrong, please – video takes up an exponentially greater amount of bandwidth than audio, text or photo files, right? So in terms of the number of files, the discrepancy probably isn’t 90:10. Video may become dominant, but the suggestion of scale may be distorted by that 90 percent figure.

    Just asking.

  3. By 90%I am sure they mean by volume, and it is true that video takes up a good deal more bandwidth than text, but still and all, you cannot possibly argue that this transition is not happening. This is getting to be a bit like denial of global warming. I understand that the culture migrating to video en-masse is an ‘inconvenient truth’, but alas, it seems to be the truth never the less. You might also find this of interest: Gannett announced today that they are gettin $40-$50 CPMs on their online video, which is a pretty staggering number.

  4. I’m not making the argument that you and Fadely seem determined to infer from my remarks. You’re setting up a straw man with the global-warming argument, Michael. I am not arguing, and never have argued, that “this transition is not happening.”

    I do not deny the power or the growth or the upcoming dominance of video.

    My initial argument was simply that newspapers that lack the resources to equip and train visual journalists properly need to be more selective about what they demand from their staffs and what they put on their sites. That’s what I said here: https://jrnteaching.wordpress.com/2011/09/23/newspapers-should-jettison-most-of-their-web-video-efforts/

    Why is this so hard for you to understand: that one can be critical of misplaced resources that produce shoddy, little-seen video without denying the video boom?

    • Theresa Poulson
    • November 8th, 2011

    Hi, Barbara! Thanks for bringing attention to Ahmad’s — and your — perspective on this. As a video editor I definitely see the value of choosing the right moment, and treatment, for video. However, I closely monitor our analytics and have found that our visitors eat up our “raw video” content. The key 20 seconds from a stump speech or 30 seconds of color while Bachmann tours a meat-packing plant can bring something to a story that text alone can’t provide. (How DID he sound saying those words? How convincing did she appear while glad-handing?) These clips (maybe the video equivalent of a short spot-news brief?), offer a way for newsrooms with limited resources to provide texture and increase engagement without breaking the bank or investing hours on a slickly produced piece.

  5. I think newspapers have the resources to equip and train their video reporters. I think that they often do this very badly, however. They equip them, most times, with far too much gear for what they need to do. Their training, in my own experience, is equally terrible. Either they bring in some ex-network person (or local news) who infects them with an archaic way of working that is both cumbersome and time-consuming, or they do it in-house, generally with equally bad results. I have seen several ‘professional’ video training courses and they are, for the most part, worse than doing nothing. Working with digital video for newspapers requires an entirely different approach. When we train people to work in this way, the very first thing we tell them is ‘you need to forget everything you know or you think you know’, and then we start from scratch.

  6. One thing I’ve learned from this discussion is the value of breaking-news video. In comments here and elsewhere, and in conversations I’ve had offline, that value comes through loud and clear. Theresa, you said it beautifully:
    “The key 20 seconds from a stump speech or 30 seconds of color while Bachmann tours a meat-packing plant can bring something to a story that text alone can’t provide. (How DID he sound saying those words? How convincing did she appear while glad-handing?) These clips (maybe the video equivalent of a short spot-news brief?), offer a way for newsrooms with limited resources to provide texture and increase engagement without breaking the bank or investing hours on a slickly produced piece.”

  7. However, I hope it will compel you to think about the myriad of ways that online video can be beneficial to your company.

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