Yesterday we spent the day with one of our corporate clients. I don’t want to get into any names here, but suffice it to say they are a major publisher and you would recognize their magazine titles anywhere.
It’s no secret that print publications are moving to the web in vast numbers and record time. Just last week, Arthur Sulzberger, Jr., publisher of the mother-of-all print publications, The New York Times said he was not sure if there would even be a paper – a physical paper – in five years time.
They are moving to the web because it is a vastly easier, more efficient and far cheaper way of moving their information than printing on paper and physical distribution.
And as they move to the web, and as the web concurrently moves to video, these publications realize that they are going to have to produce a certain percentage of their material in video. (This, of course, is where we come in).
The irony, at least from my own perspective, is the comparison between news organizations that have traditionally worked in print and those that have traditionally worked in video – that is, local TV news stations. The magazines and newspapers have far less problem adapting to video; at least in the VJ model – that is where the reporter carries their own small camera and laptop, and produces their own stories. The magazines and newspapers ‘get it’ right away because this is they way they have always worked. Newspaper journalists have never worked with a crew. They have never had to wait in a reporting situation for ‘the pencil to arrive’.
In most local newsrooms in this country, we field an average of 8 camera crews in any given day. That means 8 cameras to cover a city like Tampa or Houston or Nashville. Can you imagine what would happen if a newspaper were suddenly reduced to covering Tampa with 8 pencils?
A reporter might arrive on a location to do an interview. The subject would sit there, waiting anxiously. “Can we start?” the subject says.
“Not yet” says the reporter. There is a pause. “I have to wait for the pencil to arrive”.
Finally, after a seemingly interminable wait, a blue van pulls up. The name of the newspaper is emblazoned on the exterior of the van, and from inside emerge two men carrying a large metal case. Inside the case, is the pencil.
They come into the office and very professionally start to set up their gear. Tom has been a pencilman for the past 20 years. He’s very good at what he does. Joe is the paperman. He feeds Tom sheets of paper. Its a tough job, (and dangerous. Papercuts can kill if you don’t know what you are doing). There used to be a third person on the crew – the eraserlady, but a round of cutbacks have now only served to dimish the quality.
As soon as Tom and Joe get set up, they indicate to the reporter they are ready.
“We have lead” they say, and the reporting can begin.
The advantage of working with a crew is so that the journalist can concentrate on the story and not have to worry about all those technical things like spelling, or punctuation, or broken pencil points. Tom and Joe take care of all that stuff. And, as the journalist does not have to balance the pad in his lap… and take notes – he can keep good eye contact with the subject and not be distracted from his work.
There are some, (so I am told), newspapers and magazines that are asking (forcing!) their print reporters to carry their own pad and pencil and take their own notes and even write their own stories! By themselves! The trend is called PJ, or Printjournalism. But we all know this is just a way to save money and cut staffing. We also know that the quality of the reporting really suffers when just one print reporter has to go out and cover a story on their own (not to mention the safety issue… or who will gurantee the integrity of the reporting without a crew present)?
No, we better stick to what we know. How else can we deliver quality?
Well, there is a reason that print publications, as they adapt to video (and they are moving fast), are going to bury their former television competitors. They understand the model of how to do good journalism already. It is far easier for them to replace their pencils and laptops with cameras and laptops. The process of reporting goes on pretty much as before.
For conventional TV news, the shift is far more traumatic. They have to adapt to a whole new model of journalism; one that newspapers and magazines have been using for years.