Newspaper video: Please not NewsTube

Howard Owens posts a couple of interesting comments about the relative quality of newspaper video vs. TV. The general gist seems to be that the rough edges are what make’s it work.

He assumes that the comments will poke the fire of the newspaper video debate

I’ve said it before, and even though every time I say it, it draws criticism, I will keep banging out the same note: newspaper video cannot and should not be TV.

I don’t see why the statement should be so shocking. It’s clear, for all kinds of reasons that Newspapers can’t, and shouldn’t, do TV. An article in the Washington Post about the break-up of the relationships between newspaper and TV companies would seem to support this.

There were great aspirations, but it was never followed through. It was a mismatch: The [Belo] bureau served 17 television markets, and the newspaper people only worked for the Dallas Morning News. It was not really seen as an asset [for newspaper journalists] to be put on the air anywhere but Dallas.”

The article puts an interesting perspective on the predictable rush of Newspaper execs to chase the advertising. At one point they saw the future with TV, now they see it with the web.

In 2000, Times Co. Chairman Arthur Sulzberger Jr. said: “From a business perspective, we will not achieve the financial success that can be ours without entering the world of television.”But last year, when the Times exited its partnership with Discovery — Times reporters narrated cable TV documentaries on topics such as al-Qaeda — Sulzberger said the company saw the future of video in short form and on the Web, as opposed to long form and on television.

But when I look at this story in the context of the quotes Howard picks out, something doesn’t sit right here for me.

The execs have persuaded themselves that the audience for web video is in the quirky, quick and dirty, YouTube style of video. It doesn’t hurt that this is also cheaper than running a TV station, but don’t get me wrong, I’m not attacking the execs for going where they think the money is, that’s what they pay themselves to do. The sad thing is they are making a direct connection between the popularity of YouTube style sites with what the audience want – not the same thing.
What worries me is that this reinforces and is reinforced by the idea put forward in the quotes from Howard’s post, that the rough, amateurish video is somehow an audience winner, somehow better. Perhaps the way we should be doing things.

The issue, for me, is this. Whilst we find our feet with online video, it is going to be rough round the edges but it is going to get better. That doesn’t mean its going to be like TV, it just means we are going to get quicker and more professional about doing it. What it actually looks like is another matter.

If we start making it a defining feature of our online video that it is as ropey and amateurish as the majority of YouTube content, we are on to a loser. It assumes the audience is the same and expects the same from all its sources.

If they want YouTube, I’m sorry to say, they will go to YouTube. We need to give them something else.

14 Replies to “Newspaper video: Please not NewsTube”

  1. There’s a difference between not being like TV and being amateurish. While I’ve defended the idea that newspaper video at this stage might be subquality, that quality at this stage is not as important as just getting started, just doing something with whatever equipment you can lay your hands on, that doesn’t mean it should always be that way. But what it should always be is authentic — not like TV, not slick, not packaged, not a sense that you’re looking at people you can’t touch and talk with. It needs to be real and immediate and less than perfect (by TV standards), but nothing in that description even hints at or implies amateurish. There is nothing amateurish about Rocketboom, for example, but two or three years ago, no TV station in the world would have touched it, and probably not even now, yet it was hugely popular. There is nothing amateurish about OK Go’s video, but they certainly ain’t slick with high production values, shot as they were with equipment any well heeled consumer can buy.

    As for not going where the audience is going, via YouTube, etc. — I can’t fathom that argument. It’s almost as if Clayton Christensen never wrote his books … I just don’t get arguing in favor of building more Cadillacs all the while you can see Toyota’s disruption coming … so many people in the newspaper industry want to be Detroit in the 1970s. Can’t we learn from those mistakes?

  2. I’m not sure about the subtlety between the definition of ‘real’ – as appose to the people you can’t touch – and amateur when it comes to working journalists fronting stuff. I would like to bet that a ‘real person’ wouldn’t get that close to Clint Eastwood on the red carpet. So I accept that amateur may be the wrong word here but I’m equally uncomfortable with authentic.

    I get that TV has had the familiarity and personality ‘scrubbed’ from a lot of it and online puts some of that personality back but is that really authentic when it comes from a MSM publication?

    Don’t get me wrong here, I’m not doubting the sincerity of it, but someone like the little’old Washington Post sticking it ‘to the man’ in TV! It just doesn’t have an authentic ring to me.

    The people making video content in newspapers are not garage hobbyists or a band doing something arty with new technology. They are doing it on cheap equipment, not as a statement or principle, but because they have to. I’m sure they would all like better stuff to do more interesting things.

    Innovation does come out of adversity but I would hate to think that we gave the execs the opportunity not to stump up the cash to allow development to happen just because we wanted to ‘keep it real’. They just see cheap not authentic.

    I’m certainly not in favour of standing still a la Detroit but the audience is a more diffuse and dynamic thing online. In the case of video, to borrow your analogy, the newspaper industry is making cars. YouTube and their ilk are making skateboards and roller-skates. They both have wheels but that’s where the similarity ends. Different markets and different audiences.

    Do we want newspaper video to be the roller-skate division of Cadillac or the Cadillac of Roller-skates?

  3. If you don’t start with roller skates, and everybody wants roller skates, you’ll eventually be out of business. … just to use your analogy.

    But really, if you delete the drek (which people like to dredge up as a silver platter red herring when talking YouTube), the video that tends to be hits are Toyota Corollas, not roller skates. LonelyGirl15 is a perfect example — made by a couple of pro wannabes with inexpensive equipment and imperfect production techniques, and a huge hit. It started out essentially as armature video and nothing like television.

    Again, Rocketboom = Toyota Corolla.

    David Pogue, David Carr, come across as much more real and interesting than any network TV newsperson you care to name. Sure, they’re big media, but they’ve recognized they’re not TV stars and use the web as an accessible medium. They get it.

    The further afield we get, as Carr notes, from video as it is currently WIDELY popular on the web, the more we risk not engaging an audience.

    This isn’t about being cheap. It’s about being wise. It’s about learning the lessons of Clayton Christensen. I’m one of those newspaper executives you’re bad mouthing — I’m advocating low cost not because it’s cheap, but because it’s smart. I could budget more money if I wanted, but why waste money?

    You say they’re not foregoing better equipment because they can’t get it, not that they don’t want it. I’m guessing you didn’t pay close attention to the David Carr interview. He addresses that very point: He doesn’t want more and better equipment. He doesn’t want to muck up a good thing. In Bakersfield, they have $4,000 cameras they can use, but they more often choose the $400 cameras — why? because it better suits the purpose.

    This isn’t about seeing who can die with the most toys. It’s about making smart business decisions.

    BTW: What does “authentic” have to do with “sticking it to the man.” I fail to see the connection.

  4. The issue of TV Vs. the web way of doing things is a moot point. I think I said that it is obvious that the web won’t be TV. By extension of that I accept that we shouldn’t go down the same route as TV and polish it up. I get that we need to be like something else.

    My point was that I worry that we are getting stuck in a limiting definition of what that something else is and as soon as that becomes a policy or strategy – with or without money attached. It can slow our development in an environment that moves too fast.

    I’m not saying that I think we shouldn’t start with roller-skates or Toyotas or whatever we decide is what the audience ‘want’. I am saying that we should be careful that we don’t stunt our capacity for growth and development on the basis of JUST serving the immediate interest and demand of the audience and the whim of the executives.

    This has to go somewhere because we aren’t pro-wannabes. We aren’t the producers of lonely girl. By saying that I’m not knocking them or saying we are pro’s at video – which you automatically equate with TV – in our industry. I’m just saying we don’t function in the same environment as they do. That environment will grow and develop, I think in a different way to ours just because we have different demands on our industry.

    Lets take another industry example of this. Look at Blair witch. Great film made in a great way. Opened up the door for new technology and new ways of doing things. But where was last year’s Blair Witch? The people influenced by Blair Witch have moved on they all shoot HD, or digital film now making different types of film.

    The successful people recognise that legacy of the Blair Witch wasn’t the film as much as it was the way it changed what we do. The smart execs where the ones investing in the people who got Blair witch and encouraging that attitude; the stupid ones where the ones who went around commissioning more Blair witches.

    You always struck me as the former. You know that this leads somewhere else – you are aren’t you? My concern was addressed at the latter.

    So this isn’t me saying we should all have expensive toys. I think I have said before I think it’s training that makes the difference not kit. I’m not saying that all youtube style of video is crap. I’m saying that nailing our colours to any of this right now is a pretty dumb idea.

    This isn’t about seeing who can die with the most toys. It’s about making smart business decisions..

    You are so right. I always thought the smartest business people made decisions based on what was coming not what was happening right now.

    Oh, on the authentic note. You equated the style of approach made by some on the web as authentic compared to the over polished less accessible artifice of TV. I can, and I think did, agree with that.

    My point there was that you aren’t comparing like for like. You can’t divorce Carr from the large media organisation behind him. Having a policy of taking the polish off is just as much an artifice as putting it on. Making out that the way Carr was doing it was more authentic, more real than TV, is like putting peoples first name on the front cover of Time and telling them it was made just for them.

    In the past, you have advocated a principle of disruption for digital content with respect to TV (if you had some research and turned that in to a model I would sign up for it btw. Owens Disruption model nor Christensens). If I’m right in assuming that you think the, user generated style and authenticity of web will be death/disruption of MSM TV then I would argue that Carr doesn’t represent isnt the best represetation of that. If I was wrong, I stand corrected.

  5. We’re probably not that far apart, because I think I’ve been advocating all along that you learn this system now, make it your own, and then move on. In other places, I’ve said, get started, learn, and get better. We can’t stand still, but we need to start some place, and it doesn’t make sense to me to try starting at the top.

    When I talk about disruption, I mean this – come in at the low end, figure out what job people are trying to get done, be good enough at that job, and start growing an audience. This is a fairly proven strategy. It is disruptive to television because the vast majority of TV news stations are still stuck shoveling segments of their news broadcast onto the web. Rather than trying to figure out how to make video more suitable to the web, they think the same crap they put on TV is going to work on the web. I’m not seeing that model get any real traction. So while TV is stuck in a sustaining strategy, newspapers have an opportunity to use video in a fresh way, a low cost way that gives them a great deal of flexibility to learn and grow and adapt to the audience.

    The model of disruption is well established. That doesn’t mean in this case, or any case, it’s going to work. Innovations fail all the time, even when following the established path. There’s no magic formula.

    My position has been for some time, if we (newspapers) are being disrupted by blogs, crraigslist, et. al, we need to do more than just be defensive (and we should also take defensive measures), we need to figure out who we can disrupt and how — two clear areas are video and yellow pages. These are growth opportunities.

    Just to underline: never have I said be stagnate. I’ve said, don’t waste time, don’t waste effort, don’t waste money, and don’t wait for the stars and moon to align behind some boss buying all the perfect equipment. Take whatever you have available and do something with it. Don’t be afraid to experiment, don’t be afraid of failure, don’t be afraid of being less than perfect, don’t be afraid of getting it wrong — if your department has only X-amount of money to spend, spend it on equipment that is going to allow you to start getting video online now and often, whatever that equipment may be, and it’s better to get cameras in the hands of more people, then just one camera in the hand of one person, if that’s your choice. Figure out how to take available resources and do video now, faster and more often. It’s not so much quantity vs. quality, as it is quantity does two things for you: It helps educate your audience to “you’re a multimedia site, not just a text in pixels site,” and it allows you to make more mistakes faster and therefore learn faster (if you’re doing it right). Shooting just one video a week (which is what you’ll get if you take all your money and invest in nothing but the best equipment) isn’t going to help your organization learn to the extent it needs to learn (though it might be great for one invidividual), and one video a week, no matter how stunningly good it is, isn’t going to grow your audience. To use video to grow audience, you must have multiple videos per day.

  6. I agree. We are closer in view than my comments would suggest 🙂

    I think the disruption model is a bit like a weapon – a great persuader when used in the right hands. Unfortunately many are waving the weapon around and firing it at anyone. Maybe I’ve seen too many star treks to know what a clueless idiot waving around a loaded disruptor can do.

    I think the thing I recognise is that many, if not most, on the inside of the industry at an enabling level don’t have an understanding of the next step. I think most will recognise the impact of disruption but they only take their response so far – hence the stagnation comment.

    It generally frustrating when you know that many organisations seem to have got the hang of the ‘threat motivation’ part of disruption but lost the develop part. There is a lack of investment – money, kit, training, everything – because they don’t embrace the development just the input. The old reactive rather than responsive thing.

    It’s sad when many set-ups have to run, almost as independent ‘skunk-works’ in their own newsrooms, not because they want to be lean and responsive but because the make-do-and-mend mentality of old newspaper world still hasn’t shifted.

    Like you, I think the quantity over, and I use this word advisedly, quality question is an easy one right now, quantity – Try it out, make it happen.

    My hope is that those really getting to grips with it keep their eyes forward and manage to dodge the blasts.

  7. I think skunk works can be wonderful things. Ten years ago, many news sites existed only because they were skunk work operations. The people who started those skunk works are now some of the top executives in the business and have transformed our industry. Almost every digital newspaper executive I know started with an off-the-budget, let’s just try it out web site for his or her newspaper.

  8. I agree. Skunk-works are perhaps the best way to go in this climate.

    The internal ones tend to die without managment support though. More importantly managment understanding enough to give them a free reign.

    Maybe thats why they call them skunkworks – they leave a stink in an organisation worse than skunks when they die.

    Listen to me, Im very pessimistic this week. More skunkworks.

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