A Stroll Down the Midway at the Carnival of Journalism

It was my pleasure to host this month’s Carnival of Journalism (and was almost as rewarding as that year I judged an apple pie contest).

Just as appetizing was this month’s Carnival of Journalism question:  What is the role of online video in the newsroom of the future?

More than twenty posts were filed by deadline, and the more I read, the more I was convinced: There is no single, clear-cut answer on the future of video.  But there are some compelling ideas.

I’ve grouped the responding blog posts into a number of categories for easy reading.  After touching on the economics of digital video, we’ll explore the medium and content, look at views from some skeptics and the more bullish, and wrap-up with some “big think” pieces.

THE BUSINESS SIDE

So we’ll begin with the strikingly titled post The Future of News Video Looks Like CrapAbraham Hyatt, managing editor of ReadWriteWeb, thinks the future looks like it was shot on camera phones:

… [T]he drift towards low-quality video is an inarguable and inescapable trend, one that stems from the basic principle of supply and demand.

He also takes a look at advertorials as a possible, if not depressing, solution for some sites until the real money flows in.

Enough with the 30-second pre-roll ads, writes Kathy Gill in her 5 Tips:

Insist that the commercials you run be developed specifically for online video. This means that they need to be short! A 30-second commercial is a lifetime online. Moreover, if I want to rewind – watch the clip again – don’t make me sit through the commercial a second time.

Joe Gullo, a broadcast journalism student at SUNY Plattsburgh, views subscriptions as a possible revenue source:

Access to video content on news sites will also change. Consumers will either be charged per video news story or pay a flat fee.

THE MEDIUM

Dave Cohn (he of @digidave fame, not to mention Spot.us, U.C. Berkeley and some #JCarn thing) focused on the medium, as opposed to the content:

Hangouts/Skype and group video will mean the death of the talk show. When the Internet and television collide, which will inevitably happen, the talking head show as we know it will be displaced. A site like BloggingHeads.tv will be viewed as way ahead of its time.

Franzi Bährle is a working videojournalist in Germany and believes in the craft:

Not only because of cutting costs but also because of their flexibility and a motto, which is often linked to videojournalism: “Go out and find a story.”

Video as verification is the message behind this post from Jonathan Groves, assistant professor at Drury University in Springfield, Mo.:

It’s complementary content that provides another layer of verifiable evidence for users. It builds trust and credibility. And it includes users in the journalistic process.

Hans Meyer over at Ohio University is on the same page.  He’s conducting an experiment on the credibility an on-camera reporter brings to a news story.  Many sites abandon that TV model in favor of letting subjects tell their own tale.

My first question was if this is a product of the medium. Is connecting the audience to the video’s source more important on the Internet than in other media?

Looking forward to his results and, as he notes, what connection it may have to the YouTube-ing of our culture.

CONTENT

There is a disappointing lack of innovation in newsrooms, reports Sue Robinson, an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  She offered a hearty post that includes her suggestions:

I’d like to see more video used to corroborate stories, showing snippets of telling pieces of the interview, for example. I’d like to see more reader-produced video commentary attached to stories as part of the forums and comments or somehow integrated more significantly.

Her list goes on (“obnoxious” as she calls it; “forward-looking” as I call it) to include user experience changes that shouldn’t be too far off.  She also brought up again the New York Times tooth-brushing companion news delivery system.

Dani Fankhauser, of FLUD, calls out your humble moderator right away and astutely reframes the issue:

First, I’m rather offended that the title of this carnival limits to online video because I think mobile news video is a much bigger trend. I’m going to refer to both, and call it digital video here.

(For the record, I totally agree.)  She goes on to tackle what a new model might look like with “journalist as producer.

SHOOTING AND STORYTELLING

The great @Fuzheado, Andrew Lih, answers the original question with a question:

Why is learning (and teaching) video so hard for journalists?

The USC Annenberg professor is developing a step-by-step tutorial using an iPad to both teach and shoot:

In this way, the camera is no longer just a capture device, but an instructional device, providing direction and feedback to the operator to learn visual literacy by “doing.”

Meanwhile, Alfred Hermida weighs in from the University of British Columbia to remind journalists that decisions should be made on what is the best way to tell a story:

Best practices of online video are evolving. It is not just about giving all your reporters a Flip cam and asking them to shot some video.

His post, chock full of examples, also outlines five different types of online news video.

Videojournalist Lam Thuy Vo built upon the idea of news video categorization and offers a system based on deadlines, because:

It’s difficult to determine which kind of video to do when. Ideally, we’d all be spending weeks with a character at a time to produce a nice 15-minute first-person narrative, but that’s not always possible. And not every editor wants to pay for that.

SKEPTICISM

There are some who expressed their concerns about video.  Tiffany Johnson used the comfort of our Google group to make a confession: She’s got a short attention span, so online video just doesn’t do it for her:

I think predictions that video will soon infiltrate every aspect of our lives Farenheit 451-style are unlikely. Video has a time and place on a news website, but the medium is still hamstrung by the fact that videos are impractical.

Benet Wilson, of Aviation Week, writes on the NABJdigital Blog that she was drowning in Betamax tapes in the 80’s when she decided to paddle toward print journalism.  She has since embraced much of the digital journalism world, but it still comes down to two questions for her:

[O]ne, is there enough demand — by viewers and sponsors/advertisers — to justify the expense of creating and posting videos; and two, is there enough time in the day for our editors to learn how to shoot video and use Final Cut Pro to produce packages that are good enough to go up on the web?

BULLISH

Others remain optimistic.  Jack Lail of the Knoxville News Sentinel pulls together studies on the habits of the next generation media consumers:

These media savvy youth also want more than video. They want to the multiplatform experience newspapers have been developing skills and expertise around. Newspaper sites have lots of words, lots of great photography and a growing amount of video. These seem to be critical advantages in attracting this young audience of news consumers.

And to accomplish that, video has to be in a newsroom’s DNA, he says.  (Bonus points for being the only person to include part of his response IN THE FORM OF A VIDEO!)

Donica Mensing, of the University of Nevada Reno, agrees with others that moving images are overtaking the printed word, and thus:

…[W]e are in the throes of a much larger shift in communication than newsrooms can contain or manage. The transition is happening. Newsrooms will adapt or they will shrink, morph or disappear.

Video, she points out, “is inherently more social than printed words.”

Michael Rosenblum was the only person who did what I feared: He assumed that my posing this discussion question was a cry for professional help.  (I assure you it’s not, but thank you.) He also discussed his vision of “screenworld” and:

The very fact that we continue to differentiate between text and video in a newsroom makes me think that newspapers are even more dead than I thought they were.   We are living in a digital world.

BIG PICTURE

Finally, some offer “big think” pieces.  Michael Morisy introduces us to the idea of the Subservient Congress and lessons we could have learned from Burger King a decade ago:

The future of online news video is a more integrated, playful medium that stops thinking in terms of play, pause and pageviews and instead engages in ways that are more educational, more engaging and more immersive than today’s simple Flip Cam renditions.

He pivots on this theme:

But among the rank and file, true transformation hasn’t occurred: What would simply be impossible or, better yet, incomprehensible to online news videos’ ancestors?

You’ll have to read the post to get his answer.

Bryan Murley, associate professor for new and emerging media at Eastern Illinois University, included this line in his post:

I am not a video triumphalist. But I am a video realist.

His perspective is based on the fact that video is inherently linear, and therefore, not easily scannable.  It’s a great point about how video differs so greatly from print.  He adds:

[W]hen I stumble upon a video on the web, the first thing I will usually check is the description, the title of the video. This is text. I will use that text to determine whether I want to spend precious time viewing the video in question. Occasionally, I’ll click “Play” and let the video roll for a few seconds. All of this is a means for me to judge the value of the video content vis a vis my time.

I notice similar information consumption habits among students. They will spend loads of time scanning their Facebook “News Feed” to gather information. They are scanning text. Only when they find something recommended by a friend will they click onto a video and watch. If they like it, they will continue watching. If they don’t, they’ll click onto something else.

Read the whole thing to see how he notes that video will, of course, still be important.

And in Seattle, Lauren Rabaino (she of 10,000 Words and Seattle Times fame) puts video into the larger context of journalism innovation over the past decade or so, before diving into this nugget:

Often times, newspapers fall into the middle ground [between cat videos and well-produced content]. They’re not usually shooting the real-life raw footage of natural disasters, but they’re not producing amazing, high-quality works of art. They’re that middle noise; the five-minute mediocre footage. And often times, they precede their mediocre video with a 30-second ad. This isn’t where I see the future.

She proceeds by laying out how she does see the future, and again, you should just read the post.

Heck, you should read all the posts.  I must say, they’re all top-notch.  And they all still convince me that we’re not entirely sure what the future looks like – which is thrilling! – and that we think video exists in a large way, which I find reassuring.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, Carnival-goers, I’ve got to get back to this 1992 video about how “social networks” might be a thing in the future.  I think they’re on to something…

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