Video does not equal new media

I’m not sure where this idea started, but when a lot of newspaper journalists talk about new media, they focus on video.

Last time I checked there is local news, network news, cable news and the long shadows of legends like Cronkite and Murrow. Reporting the news with video isn’t exactly new. So, why would throwing some random video on your Web site all the sudden make you new media?

It wouldn’t.

Video and written stories are certainly part of new media. New media will find new ways to disseminate this traditional content and unique ways to package it. But neither one will ever be the backbone of what new media is.

New media is currently focused around the Web, which means any new media endeavor needs a killer Web site. A Web site that looks good, is easy to navigate, has a powerful search engine, has a clean design and is filled with lots of unique content. The kind of Web site most newspapers don’t have.

The backbone of new media journalism is deep database content, two-way communication (talk back features, blogs, chats, etc), a continuous news cycle, hyper searchable content, database journalism, Flash story telling and infographics, unique packages with audio, video and other journalism and of course finally utilizing photos properly (tag them and make your whole database of photos searchable).

New media journalism companies understand one fundamental truth: you cover a story in the format that best fits the story. It might be a combination of written text, a talk back feature/blog, a photo essay and video. It always varies from story to story, based on the needs of the story.

Sometimes it might just be written text (in fact a lot of times it will be, but it often shouldn’t be in the traditional journalism narrative form). It also might just by a little text with a database allowing people to see how many crimes happened in their city the past year, where they happened, who committed them and what kinds of crime they were. Maybe it’s a Flash infographic explaining how a bridge collapsed in a major U.S. city.

Maybe it is a documentary-style video feature on the lives of post Katrina citizens that gets combined with a blog allowing citizens to sound off. But new media isn’t and never will be just shoveling old media content onto a Web site. This means video too. You can’t just take a traditional written piece and add a little bit of video and expect it to be new media.

First, most newspapers do video very poorly. They operate under the modus operandi of “good enough.” Every journalism outlet has a threshold of good enough. It varies widely based on the company.

The problem is that a newspaper will have a much higher standard for written articles and photos than they will for audio or video content. Because they’re “just print journalists” trying to do new media. Can they really be expected to make compelling video content?

Yes, and they will be by consumers. They expect synergy between different story telling methods on your Web site.

Doing video for new media, means taking the same standards you had for print and applying it to video. The video should look good, be edited well and be compelling. It should do something that a print story couldn’t.

That’s the problem. Most newspapers video does something a written piece could do, and often their writers can do a better job. Which exactly why video does not equal new media for most newspapers.

Keep in mind that consumers aren’t clamoring for video either. In my survey I conducted in 2006,  less than half of my respondent were looking for newspapers to add it to their Web sites.

Which means you have to add content that appeals to all those other people (the only way to succeed in new media is with a breadth of content). The No. 1 place people read newspapers online is at work, and work is not the best place to be watching videos.

But the real question is, where did this focus come from?

I’m not sure, but every time I mention new media, old-school journalists start going off about video and how they aren’t trained or about how they think the quality of journalism at their company will suffer. Let’s get this out of everyone’s heads once and for all: video does not equal new media.

It is one component of it, but that’s all it is. That’s all it ever will be. If you really want to do new media, first get a good Web site and then realize that new media journalism is far beyond video.

It’s all those things I mentioned above. And when you do video (because it does have a place in new media), do it well. Make it real journalism and make it compelling.

  • Marc Matteo

    Oh thank you!

    I’ve been saying this for sometime… to an empty room. I think a big part of the problem is that many (most?) newspapers are only now trying to get into this “new” medium in earnest after almost a decade of pushing it off on 20-somethings in the marketing department (“it’s just a fad”).

    Now they’re making the same mistakes that we did in 1997 and none the wiser. The problem is, now it matters, back then it didn’t.

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  • jimmy

    Hey Pat – put up or shut up. You keep mentioning all these “surveys” you’ve conducted. You should step up and let us know a little about your survey methodology so we can know just how big a grain of salt we need to take with your coils of journalistic “insight.”

    For starters, how about your target population and sample frame? Response rate? Confidence intervals? What steps did you take to account for response bias? How did you handle recruiting? Multiple contacts over multiple modes? Snowballing? Convenience? What incentives were used? And how about your analytics? Did you just tally up numbers and intuit your findings? Or did you manage to bring to bear any actual statistical analysis? How about showing us your instruments?

    Yeah, I thought so.

  • pat

    Jimmy, it’s a singular survey from my journalism honors thesis, and it was one prong of several I used for it. The survey was for Lehigh University students (all were allowed to take it within a 24-hour period). It’s not a survey that is representative of the U.S. population, but the reason I like it is that it shows how young, educated people view journalism.

    I plan on making either my whole thesis or parts of it available on this blog or my personal site. I think it would be a good read for many people, but I should caution that some of my research dates back to 2005, and that’s a lifetime ago on the Web.

  • bored_at_work

    not sure why jimmy’s quite so upset…it’d be hard for any intelligent journalist who isn’t in denial about the state of the profession to deny any of what is said in this post…

    and, if he was wondering about the research/poll methods, there’s certainly a right and wrong way to inquire.

  • I’ve heard more than one online journalist, editor and/or producer say that it seems as if about a year ago, maybe 18 months ago, all the newspaper execs must have gone to the same conference where someone told them they all ‘had to” do online video. And like robots, they accepted that command and ran home and made everyone start doing video, willy-nilly. I am not saying this literally happened, but to many working in online journalism, it SEEMS like this is what happened. Because it was sudden and in many ways unexpected.

    I think they (the execs) just saw viewer numbers for YouTube. Compared with their own dwindling numbers, this seemed a harbinger of … something. And as usual in the newspaper business, they didn’t research or plan or strategize. They just made new rules.

    I agree completely that online video is hardly the sum total of online journalism or “new media” (a phrase that sounds dumber and dumber as the years pass). However, it’s not all bad, either. There’s some wonderful work being done by these new videographers.

    Like you, I wish some of the time and money going into online video would go into database projects and explanatory and/or interactive graphics. Online journalism would be better as a result.

  • poor_journalist

    Lighten up, Frances — there’s nothing more annoying than a “tough guy” posting online.

    And as has been pointed out several times already, he’s right. Newspapers are obsessed with adding video to their sites it seems at the expense of anything else — i.e. a hyper local journalism database. The quality is often poor, and you’ll find newspaper using valuable real estate on their Web site’s “front page” to promote it.

    I think the NYTimes has the right idea with it — video almost never leads their site, but it’s a nice little section “below the fold” on the site. It’s a supplement, not the main course.

  • I wrote in the Press Gazette on this subject last November – the blog version is at http://ojournalism.blogspot.com/2006/10/analysis-video-journalism-is-easy.html – and podcasted on it at http://onlinejournalismblog.wordpress.com/2007/06/13/the-lofi-podcast-should-newspapers-bother-with-video-journalism/. To their credit, I think newspapers are starting to get the video thing, and you can’t argue with 43% of users accessing video. But I still can’t stand not being able to click through in the same way you can with hypertext…

  • Video

    Agreed…but shooting, cediting, writing as one man band in HD with a documentary feel is rather new. Let alone doing so from the field, which the times does. We’d be happy to see a stronger nod to the video done at the New York Times…in the context of your discussion on quality.

  • Julie B.

    One of my major problems with online video reporting is, as you said, that I want to watch at work. And it’s a pain to get out my headphones so I don’t disturb anybody. I think that using captioning or subtitles on videos is a great way to get around that, and I wish more newspapers would start using it. Not captioning goes back to that “good enough” mentality – but it’s an accessibility issue, too. :-/

  • Thank you getting this out there. Just my two cents, There are two mass media. One is TV/radio. The other is Print. Everything else are niche media. What makes it so confusing is that the niche is all filled with journalists and media types.