Thoughts on Newspaper Videos

It seems that one of the people at the forefront of newspaper video, Multimediashooter.com’s Richard Koci Hernandez, has had a crisis of faith regarding the traction videos have with viewers. I applaud him for his honesty. It’s a rough neighborhood to speak out in. Staffers who question video or multimedia are often labeled luddites and moved to the back of the bus.

His column triggered me to comment with some of the many thoughts I’ve had recently about this video push, which comes at a time when the people who run newspapers are only seeing the gloom and doom and are scrambling for any answer they can come up with. Some newspapers have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in video equipment only to produce videos that are small and badly compressed, and seen by only a few hundred viewers. Compare that to their 300,000+ print circulations and you see the problem.

Since it is a touchy subject let me just point out that until recently I was at the forefront of the Tribune’s multimedia efforts, planning our approach, ordering equipment, and training my colleagues. Whatever my current role, I’m all for great storytelling regardless of the medium and I remain committed to doing high quality work however I’m assigned: still, audio, or video.

Here’s the comment I left:

Is this a radioactive topic, or what? It seems like you can’t stand up and point out the obvious about video as it stands today (few viewers, no good monetization, and labor intensive) without a bunch of “forward-thinkers” shouting you down.

I’m not anti-video. Just open-minded.

Photojournalism is all about talent and storytelling. To attract an audience and a following your work needs to be something that “regular people” can’t do. That’s why still photos from a talented photographer are so powerful: Because there is no way the parents of the kid in the elementary school talent show could nail the award-winning photo a professional can. They don’t have the timing, skills, or experience, and that’s how our work becomes part of their lives, their scrapbooks, their histories. I don’t think those same skills are as apparent to the general public in video. They can spot a great photograph instantly, but video requires an investment of time that they’ve learned doesn’t always pay off.

There will always be something to be said about the power of high quality still photojournalism. It’s something we give the community that they can’t get anywhere else.

There are so many unknowns these days as the territory once owned by newspapers is invaded by the general public. But I’ll go down wondering if it was a good idea to abandon the power of the still image at a time when the public’s fascination with the still image was at an all-time high. Millions of digital still cameras being sold, billions of photos uploaded to sites like Flickr, etc. Couldn’t the best photographers in the world (us) be at the forefront of that movement, celebrating the power and joy of photography, rather than posting 320 pixel videos?

Answer me two years from now, from wherever you are. Maybe I’ll be shooting video, or maybe the fickle powers-that-be in newspapers will have realized that there are things newspapers have always done very well, and that those things (great reporting, powerful photography) can continue to bring them a profitable audience. We’ll see.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. I have thought these things over and over, and feel the panicked scramble myself. Where will the money come from when print leaves? Will it leave?, will the internet be able to replace it fiscally?, and on and on. As I have started to gingerly step into video I realize that it is such a different format. It cannot be compared to still photography. It is so different, the approach and especially the post production. Creativity seems to open up even wider after the video is shot. Cropping, dodging, burning, and a few other minor things are about all that will happen to a photograph. It is so different but so very new. It is a very uber optimistic view, but I feel that if the creators (newspaper pj’s who are crossing over) create a style and a format of video that adheres to the same principles of ethical storytelling we will see video as another tool and less as a replacement. I was talking with Dai Saguno from the San Jose Mercury News about this and he refused to make or think of any sort of protocols when it came to “New Media”. He called it a new baby and then referred to how long photojournalism has been around. It will take time until newspaper video is standardized to mean something specific. I am so new at this but hope to be among those who start off this medium on the right track. I see it as a horrible tug of war between people dedicated to ethics and quality and others who are so panicked at the future they are only concerned at what will make money. YouTube and other web statistics scare and inspire them into adopting one way of video storytelling or gathering as the format that should be used by everyone. I wasn’t around when color came along, I was only shooting skateboarders, concerts, brides or my girlfriends when everything turned to digital. I see this as another evolution, just so much deeper and possibly dangerous. I think it will work out well, at least I hope so.

  2. Lately, I’ve become quite the Po-Jo. I’ve found capturing moments and capturing sequences are two very different things. Also, while with stills, it is so key to be “the fly on the wall” so to speak. With video I’ve found myself becoming a part of the story with my own voice and personality on tape. Having to become involved has had me questioning my approach due to the fact 99% of the time I’m pulling double duty with stills and video. Also, I’ve found it increasing difficult to shoot an event doing both and coming up with excellent work on both fronts, it feels like one or the other often suffers.

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