Thoughts on Newspaper Videos

It seems that one of the people at the forefront of newspaper video,’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.