Michael Rosenblum is a former New York Times executive whose consultancy practice now provides training in video journalism all over the world for clients including the BBC. “Newspapers are very well placed to take advantage of web video – far more than local TV seems to be,” he says. “Because web 1.0 was text-oriented, it impacted far earlier on newspapers than it did on TV. TV seemed to feel that it was immune and so to a large extent was able to ignore the web. In TV news, they still believe that the ‘show’ leads the website, and that the web is for ‘leftover video’.”
Which is why newspaper groups are investing heavily in video elements to their online operations. Both the Times and the Telegraph have “TV” sections on their websites, while the Sun and the Mirror sites are awash with video content – although much of it is aggregated from elsewhere. At the Guardian, Alan Rusbridger said earlier this month that £1m in investment would be earmarked for developing video projects.
Tony Watson is the editor-in-chief of the Press Association, which provides “white label” video content to various newspaper clients as well as training in video journalism for print reporters. “When it comes to video, newspapers have moved in 18 months from a position of “we don’t really get it” to “we can’t get enough of it” he says. “It’s a massively exciting time. Everybody’s recognising where the growth statistics are.” And at a conference last week held by the Association of Online Publishers, it became clear that advertisers are getting every bit as excited. Yahoo’s video manager Matt West noted that the money is likely to flow in the direction of publishers who are providing sophisticated content catering for a focused, targeted audience – rather than to the less controlled end of the market typified by sites such as YouTube.
What is more, Rosenblum reckons that newspaper reporting staff are traditionally used to working faster on their feet and operating alone – which gives them a further advantage over TV reporters, who have been brought up to rely on camera crews and sound engineers.
In that, he echoes Andersen’s belief that whereas the YouTube paradigm is amateurs having fun with cameras, the newspapers’ web videos are professional journalists operating like amateurs in the best old-fashioned sense.
What will emerge from this, says Rosenblum, is “a storytelling grammar that has never been employed before, because the technology for it never existed before”.
Watson agrees and believes that the regional press is particularly well placed to make innovative inroads. Big groups including Johnston Press, Newsquest and Northcliffe have been getting busy with training and investment in equipment.
“What’s important is not to go aping what news broadcasters do in their programming,” Watson says. “The real multimedia dream is to integrate all of those content assets in a meaningful way.”
Marc Webber, the Sun’s deputy online editor, also sees the “televisionisation” of the web as a trap to avoid. “I get approached by a lot of TV production companies wanting to develop formats for the Sun online. But I don’t believe that format works on web video in the same way.”
If this multimedia dream is to be realised, it means building far more complex on-screen players and designing more interactive Flash elements into web pages. “As far as newspapers are concerned it’s a brand new technology, and everyone is getting more and more sophisticated at it almost by the day,” Watson says.
A look at some of the video content that is being produced by US newspapers – which tend to be more advanced in the new storytelling techniques than their UK counterparts – gives an indication of the developments to come. The Washington Post’s Travis Fox is widely acknowledged to be the biggest star – having won countless awards (including an Emmy, which had a web video category for the first time this year) for his rich video-based reports from conflict zones including Darfur and Iraq. Another new web celebrity is veteran print man David Carr of the New York Times – also known as The Carpetbagger – whose quirky video reports have gained him a loyal following.
So who might be the new newspaper web stars here? A few early contenders are already emerging. Sun journalist Lup Fan Yao did his own bushtucker trial on camera for the site, from which emerged a series called Challenge Lup, in which he has attempted various other gruesome tasks suggested by readers. (He’s now billed as the Sun’s CeWEBrity – geddit?) Over at the Telegraph, fashion editor Hilary Alexander is so excited by the new toy that she has been known to open her reports “Welcome to Hilary TV”.
And the Sun’s Webber has encouraging news for inky-fingered hacks who may fear the brave new world is beyond them. Veteran snapper Arthur Edwards has been one of the most enthusiastic proponents of moving pictures, he says, producing great video packages of the royals on tour in addition to stills for the paper.
Edwards and his fellow “videographers” may not have to wait all that long before they only need one device. Some US newspapers, including the Detroit Free Press and Dallas Morning News, have already begun shooting solely on high definition video from which they can grab still images good enough to use in print.
“For print reporters, get aggressive. Learn the technology. Become literate in video,” says Rosenblum. “This is not about becoming filmmakers. This is not about becoming TV reporters. This is about blending video into your reporting. With our own clients we have found that it works best when we equip print journalists with video cameras and have them use those cameras as a kind of digital notebook, so that they can record interviews and impressions in video. Those impressions and interviews can then be woven into a text, audio and graphical presentation online. It’s a very rich new world.”
· Ian Reeves is a former editor of Press Gazette. His videoblog is at www.ianreevesmedia.co.uk