Good/Fast video doesn’t just happen

As a photographer turned videographer, I have read with interest about the rise and decline of video in the newsroom … and it has been no secret that Gannett (the company that I work for) is once again making a push for more video content. In general, the reaction seems to be one of been there, done that. Former Gannett employee turned instructor Wasim Ahmad called that first push misguided and wrote:

“The reason it didn’t succeed was not for poor training. The training was very good. I wouldn’t be a multimedia journalism professor today without that first workshop from Lane and Harvey. They did a fine job, and taught us all of the best practices for video journalism.

But after Lane and Harvey packed up and left my newspaper, the message got muddled. It wasn’t a conscious muddling; more of a gradual decline. One photographer let go here, a writer there. Soon, all we had time for was run-and-gun junk.?”

Ahmad also wrote that only 5 to 10 Gannett papers stuck with video, and I happen to be working for one of those. Why does video work here when it has proven unsuccessful elsewhere. For starters, it doesn’t hurt that there is no Delaware-based television station. Aside from that though (because I run into news crews from Philly and Maryland all of the time), I think we do a good job of recognizing what videos play well and focusing on those. Sports, crime and weather … Those have always been the bread and butter of our video offerings and they continue to be what we push. That’s not to say that we don’t give 100% to in-depth reporting that we assume won’t get the type of traffic that it deserves. My own sleep-deprived face following two three-day investigative series (along with Hurricane Irene coverage) serves as proof that we focus on what we should be covering as well.

The mistake that photographers make most often when shooting video is that they try to be filmmakers. I hate to break it to you, but 99.99% of the time, you are a news videographer. Ahmad writes that “even the best editors spend about one hour on a polished minute of video.” Other photographers complain of spending hours to days editing and exporting a video piece. We can turn a crime video around in fifteen minutes, twenty if it needs a voiceover. During our hurricane coverage, I turned out ten videos in three days while editing on a laptop and sending through a cell phone.

We aren’t doing any Vincent Laforet stuff here, we are recording a scene and getting interviews, then turning around and laying that interview down and putting the b-roll over it. Working on a project for three days should serve as a sign that you need practice, not that the task itself is impossible. This seems to be most frustrating to photographers because the amount of post-production with their photographs is usually nowhere near the amount of work needed to edit a video (as opposed to writers, who perhaps are more used to sitting down after the fact and spending time crafting a piece).

Of course, video will always be better if shot and produced by someone whose sole job was to focus on that. When I shoot both stills and video (which has become more and more frequent) one or the other suffers … but the more you do both, the easier it is to recognize which moments are best suited for which medium. In the end, it is about meeting readers’ needs and expectations. As Miami Herald Managing Editor Rick Hirsch said in this Poynter article on video traffic, “This isn’t rocket science, but do video on the things that people come to your site for,” he said by phone. “You may think, ‘This would be a really great thing to do video on,’ but if it’s not on a topic or area where people are already consuming content, then it’s going to be hard to draw an audience.”

For what it’s worth, our highest video last year had just under 14,000 plays. This year, we have nine videos with play totals higher than that, with the most viewed having just under 100,000 plays in Brightcove. If you take into account Youtube plays, our most viewed video of this year has just over 500,000 views.

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