How Not To Do Newspaper Video
May 2008

The Digital Journalist was probably the first publication to start talking about how newspapers would need to migrate their brand to the Web, and the key element was going to be with video.

That was at least five years ago, and since then newspapers have grasped that idea. Today, there are countless workshops and seminars around the country every year, teaching newspaper photographers how to produce video. This year, the NPPA TV News Workshop actually had more still photographers from newspapers enrolled than people from TV stations.

But we hear countless calls for help from these newspaper photographers who have made the jump, as their employers – who although they have heeded the call to move to video, don't understand what it takes to do this skill – are beating them down.

So here are the rules. Please pass these on to your editors and publishers:


TV news has been around for a long time. Most of your audience can't remember a time when it wasn't. They are all TV critics. They have been watching professional TV news all their lives. They know what is good and what is bad. Unfortunately, most newspaper publishers and editors don't have a clue. TV is a business that involves a lot of people. There are reporters, editors, producers, and camerapeople. They all are focused on "hitting" the schedule with their stories at 6 p.m. every day. These stories on the average run 45 seconds. A TV cameraperson can "turn" three or four stories a day, because he or she hands off the raw tape to a producer who takes it to an editor to complete.

Newspaper photographers on the average have a much less strenuous schedule. On the average, they will do one or two stories a day.

Now, they are being asked to do multitasking, shooting both stills and video. The good news is they can. But it is going to take much more time.


To do even a one-minute video for the Web takes a lot of time. Once it is shot, the same person has to start to edit it. The editing programs are complicated and time-consuming. Nobody learns how to be an instant "pro" even after graduating from a Platypus Workshop. It is more like learning to fly a plane. It takes countless hours in the cockpit before you are qualified to actually fly the plane. Still photography is a linear business, based on a lifetime of making crucial choices in time and visual space. Video is far more complicated, because you are winding down a path of sequences that at some point have to marry up to tell a story. Most successful video storytellers will spend weeks working on a piece.


A common reaction from newspapers that own TV stations is to think they can simply repurpose video from the 6 O'Clock News. Well you can; CBS is now doing it all the time. But guess what? That is not your newspaper Web site that is getting the hits. It is your competition, the TV station.

TV stories are very short; the average is 45 seconds. They go by in a flash, just before the commercial. They then disappear into the cosmos. Newspaper video, on the other hand, can take as long as it needs to tell a story. An average newspaper video lasts three minutes, but it can go 10 minutes or become a series. As long as it is compelling. Also, the newspaper video is going to live in cyberspace forever.

Newspaper video should carry the imprint of the parent. It should represent the editorial image of the newspaper. Remember, any piece of shoddy, amateurish video on your site is how the audience will think of the paper. Would you have photographers with no experience replace your staff? Would you have high school students writing your editorials? Video should carry the same weight of competence and professionalism as anything else in the paper.

Unlike the TV station, you do not have a schedule to "hit." Don't worry about doing a video every day. Instead, focus on videos that will make a difference: good storytelling, excellent production values. If you are running a piece on the Web site that is not worthy of submitting to regional and national competitions, it probably should not be there. Remember, we are still early in this evolution. The top newspaper Web video sites are just beginning to emerge. So there is time to establish your brand as a leader. For an example of a newspaper that is doing it right, go to the Detroit Free Press site. (http://freep.com)


The fact is very few newspapers understand how the Web works. We hear from newspaper video people every day that they are being driven by either the online editors or the advertising people to "get the hits up!" The fact is that the average newspaper photo gallery will receive 15,000 page views a day. The average Web video will get 1,500. Why? Well, because the photo gallery has 10 pictures, and there is only one Web video. The bean counters want to see Return On Investment (ROI).

Well, ask the same bean counters, what was the ROI on the front-page stories in the newspaper? What was the ROI on the photographs that won the NPPA competition? The answer is, nobody knows. The only things that can actually be measured are the comics, the syndicated columns, and the sports columns. Other than that, nobody knows. Newspapers' biggest asset is GOODWILL. What the newspaper means to its readers and advertisers. Video is now a new part of the goodwill equation.

As Kenny Rogers sang: "You never count your money when you're sittin' at the table. There'll be time enough for countin' when the dealin's done."

So we ask our new newspaper photojournalists/video producers to be patient – do good storytelling and edit well. We ask the editors to understand what is involved, which is nothing less than the salvation of the newspaper, and support their VJs, and we ask the bean counters to butt out.

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