The Digital Journalist

Newspaper Web Video:
Get Ready to Lead or Get Out of the Way
August 2007

In last month's editorial we pointed to the harsh realities that are facing newspapers and magazines in print. To recap, many newspapers watching their reader base die, and their advertising shrivel up, have come to the sad conclusion that their present business model will soon no longer be sustainable. For them, the future of the brand will be their Web sites.

Two years ago, the publisher of The New York Times, Arthur Sulzberger, told the Online News Association conference that it was critical that within five years, would have to pay the salaries of the 1,600 staffers in the Times newsroom.

The chances of that happening in that time span are zero to none. Yes, the Web site can become a huge moneymaker for the Times, but not anywhere near the amount of money they have become used to bringing in from the print publication. What that means is something has to give, and it is most likely going to be the daily print edition. Once the Times has been relieved of paying for tons of newsprint it consumes, but also the trucks, presses, and a huge amount of real-estate costs, it will be like a drowning person being freed from a lead weight (never mind how the weight got there in the first place.)

Unfortunately, this will lead to deep cuts in the newsroom.

The good news is that photographers are no longer on the top of the "redundant" list. At dinner after one of our Platypus Short Courses for the Bee Newspapers in California a few months ago, a Fresno Bee photographer said, "I feel like I am in the Cat-Bird seat."

Without getting too cocky, he has good reason to say that. The number one skill that will be required to make newspaper Web sites a success is the eye of the photojournalist. Newspaper publishers and editors are now COUNTING ON THEM to make the transition to video. Everybody else in the newsroom is secondary. But those Web videos are crucial.

That is why our Platypus Workshops are now full to overflowing with newspaper photographers. The publishers are paying to send them there.

Of course, these photographers have a responsibility to learn the new skills as their part of the deal to stay employed. But there is something even more important that photographers must get used to. They have to shed their second-class image of themselves. Instead, they must be prepared to take on the mantle of leadership in their newsrooms. The fact is no one is more vital to the survival of the newspaper than these new visual journalists. They are not entering a field such as television news with an established hierarchy that has been there for years.

They are suddenly experts in a new field. They know more about it than anyone else at the newspaper. Editors will need to depend on their new skills.

This is a heavy charge to take on, after years of being consigned to some hole in the back of the newsroom. But photographers must take this opportunity seriously. They need to understand they are novices at video, and must take every opportunity to learn.

The Platypus Workshops are a good start, geared specifically to transition still photojournalists to video journalism. Our faculty are all professional photojournalists who have been teaching video for nearly 10 years.

Follow up by going to the NPPA Video Workshop, which has recently been retooled by Sharon Freed to accommodate newspaper video journalists. The NPPA workshop has always been primarily a story-telling workshop, and assumes that attendees are already professional TV shooters. Also, the NPPA will continue to offer immersion workshops. Subscribe to publications like DVPRO magazine; join, and

At the first Platypus Workshop in March of 1999 (which was actually held at the NPPA TV News Workshop,) we said that the broadcast industry was not yet ready for the Platypus. But we also said that within a few years the World Wide Web would need their talents. That prophecy has come true. The time is here. So get out and start to lead.