Newspaper produced video is at a crossroads. As U.S. publications turn inward to focus on their traditional print products, many online producers are wondering if they should continue to invest the extra time it takes to shoot and edit video. It’s such a crazy time to be a visual journalist. Newspaper photo staffs are being slashed and devalued, as publishers try to protect what’s left of their bottom lines.
Video was hot a year ago, but now, as newspapers gut their newsrooms, the resources devoted to video storytelling are being scaled back. Many wonder if video storytelling has a future at newspapers.
I believe it does. In the next several years, newspapers will have to address their viability for survival. Some won’t make it. The one’s that have a life will need to make massive structural changes in order to continue to publish. Online needs to be addressed right now. Denying that online is the future is wasting everybody’s time. The excuse of, “We can’t make enough money online,” needs to be banished from the lexicon of publishers. Figure it out for Christ’s sake.
Marc Andreesen, co-founder of Netscape Communications, made a great point during this conversation with PBS’s Charlie Rose. He said, “If 90% of a publisher’s revenue comes from the newspaper, then 90% of their time is being devoted to the print product.” If online is the future then this focus will need to gradually reverse. Andreesen advocates that newspapers need to kill their print products right now. I’m not quite there. Yet. But I do think a shifting of resources needs to be infused into newspaper online sites.
Right now, most newspapers still use their online publications as shovelware sites. They are still mostly text based. Sure, they have some photo slideshows, but the pictures are usually too small to have much impact. Video and audio slideshows are usually lost in of sea of links on the home page. The quality of video storytelling is uneven.
If the shift of resources into online happens, then proper use of video will need to be addressed. In an earlier post called “Video quality vs. quantity rages on”, I asked ten questions to ask yourself if video is right for your publication. These types of conversations need to take place now. The big problem with the growth and deployment of video on newspaper websites is that there is a huge void of people in charge that truly understand web video. It’s new. It’s complicated to learn. Many producers I’ve talked to who invested the time to master video production, now say they just beat their heads against the wall in frustration. Newsroom structures still favor the old ways of doing things. Editors who don’t understand video tend to devalue it.
I still cling to these realities:
- Anyone younger than 30 will probably never subscribe to newspapers.
- The subscribers we do have are dying off everyday.
- The consumption of web video is growing. Dramatically. If your website does not have a steady stream of quality local video, then consumers will go someplace else to find it.
- You can monetize video– if you try.
- As TV news stations get more web-savvy, newspapers need to compete by offering breaking news video. If not, you just gave up a whole market segment to somebody else.
- Mobile is a disruptive tsunami that is about to hit. These second generation web-connected devices will revolutionize how we consume information. No longer will we be tied to laptops or desktop computers, now the world will be in your pocket. Video, I believe, will drive the adoption of these mobile devices.
- The coming high-speed 4G cell phone networks will accelerate the demand for video.
- Finally, where visual journalists are now being slashed and burned from newsrooms, I think the survivors will have a bright future in the online world. The web is becoming more visual. There will be a demand for quality visual producers.
My plan? Hold out as long as I can. I know this downturn will end. The transformation of newspapers is accelerating. Will publishers make the right choices in regards to video? Let’s hope so.