Ridiculous or Radical? Idea #1: Stop making video

A few weeks ago I promised that once my editor had cast his verdict on my list of radical or ridiculous (I still can’t decide which ones are which!) ideas, I’d post them here. So this is number one.

I know it’s heresy to say it. But are we wasting time concentrating on video journalism?

On average, in our newsroom, videos take at least six hours to make. They are watched by maybe 1 per cent of our online audience.* So why do we do it?

I’m not saying there’s no place for video in local newsapers, far from it. But say you’re reading a story about the latest in a spate of arson attacks. The story is online, with a video. You finish the story, then click play.

What you get is a reporter reading you the story you’ve just read, over some footage. Maybe a talking head, saying the words quoted in the story you just read. Is there any point in that?

Instead of making a TV version of a story you’ve already told, why not just post a 20 second clip of the fire, and spend an hour putting together an interactive map of the previous arson attacks, with links to pictures and previous stories?

Job done, five hours to spare.

We don’t have the equipment, experience, production skills or staff to be TV stations. So why do we try? We should stick to videos that add something extra – footage of things actually happening and save the big labour intensive jobs for the occasions where it can make a difference – an interview with a controversial figure, or quirkier, entertainment videos.

Instead of a photographer spending hours making a video at your local Race4Life, isn’t it a better use of resources for that photographer to take LOTS of pictures (you know, that thing we used to do because ‘faces sell papers’?) that you can publish on an online gallery and then sell?

The only problem with non-contexualised video is that it doesn’t really work off-site. So if your video for the fire, for example, is embeddable, it doesn’t work so well without the story. But we’re in an era of extreme cutbacks. Surely we should be asking what the best use of staff time is?

The bottom line is: most readers don’t watch them, even the good ones. So maybe we should think about why we make them. Is it for the audience? Or is it because it’s become the thing local newspapers do to show they’re multimedia?

If it’s the latter there are dozens of less complicated, more useful ways to add to our stories. We shouldn’t overlook them in favour of video without thinking very carefully about why.

* (From what I can tell we’re not unusual but I’d like to hear about it if we are – there’s always the possibility we’re just doing it wrong…)

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7 thoughts on “Ridiculous or Radical? Idea #1: Stop making video

  1. Paul says:

    The same discussion occurs regularly in our newsroom – and our proportion is 1%

    Stupidly, we look at newspaper news agenda and decide which story lends itself to video.

    Then we tell the story in pretty much the same way in two media – words and video.

    The solution is, as you say, to stop doing the packaged, local TV-style news items.

    Our most popular video ever was a panoramic view from the highest point in our circulation area.

    One of the most watched I’ve ever heard of was a video of a huge pack of starlings flying across the sky.

    If we were spending six hours on a video, however, I’d be concerned.

    Half that is about standard for us. You need to be more disciplined and not film 45 minutes of footage for a 90 second clip.

  2. Andy says:

    Making TV style packages for newspaper websites has a complicated pedigree. The attraction is the disruptive power of video but the sticking point is the perception of quality and professionalism. i.e. to do video properly you have to do it like the pro video people and in journalism terms that means TV news.

    The other motivation for packaging comes from the limitations of the delivery platforms. Most cms’lack the fine tuning to be able to embed video within an article page. The stuff gets put on to stand-alone video page. That re-enforces the TV idea as you essentially have a video “channel” on your site. Users have to tune out of the newspaper part and retune to the TV channel.

    Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater though. What you suggest (clip video rather than packaged)is, to me,exactly right. It’s more appropriate for the medium and the work flow in a newsroom. Use video when you can because, unlike TV, you can choose when you do. Definitely a case of “Stop making video – when you don’t have to.

    But as a skill I really think that it’s worth promoting in the newsroom. The benefits to the skillset and confidence of the individual journo in this current jobs climate is invaluable – happy journos = happy newsroom :)

  3. Dilyan says:

    What did your editor say about that one?

  4. […] Ridiculous or Radical? Idea #1: Stop making video – "I know it’s heresy to say it. But are we wasting time concentrating on video journalism?" I say no but agree that it has to have its place. […]

  5. […] me to this post about a “radical” idea from a new-to-me blog, Subbed Out. It asks whether newspapers should stop doing videos that simply repeat everything covered in their print sto…. I’m not saying there’s no place for video in local newsapers, far from it. But say you’re […]

  6. I’m with you on the clips idea. The root has got to be ‘what do we want to use video to show’ rather than ‘let’s use video because we can’. One of the most regular conversations I have with students I teach is to point out that people don’t want to see a video interview of a person saying what they’ve just read they’ve said in the accompanying copy. Another is to explain why a video on a website needs some accompanying copy!
    The step forward for journalists is to think how a story would work in a number of different platforms, and then select the most appropriate to present various angles and increase the chance of reader engagement.
    That’s also why I think we still need a degree of specialisation – those who find a good story may not always be able to make a good video package. That doesn’t make them outdated, it just means we should use the fact that people are good at what they do.

  7. […] online video? Posted by Renee Barnes under futurejournalism No Comments  I  love this post, from what appears to be an anonymous journalist, on making online news sites more relevant and to […]

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