Thursday, October 30, 2008

Who are we trying to reach by video: journalism, the audience or ourselves

As journalists, we sometimes let a good story get in the way of the news.  That tendency has plagued us, as we’ve moved to multimedia platforms.
Fortunately, the people we are trying to serve with information have a way of keeping us grounded.  Remember a few years ago, when everybody was preaching narrative writing?  The inverted pyramid was declared dead, a relic of the past. 
Then something interesting happened.  People stopped subscribing to our newspapers.  They went online.  They wanted their news and information quick and reliable.  Google became our new circulation department, and we needed those bots to find our stories. The lives of our newsrooms depended on bringing people to our stories, generating clicks. The inverted pyramid made a roaring recovery as the rule for web news writing.
With the ability for more journalists to relay information via video, another set of rules began to emerge.  Problem is, people didn’t flock to the video as rapidly as they did to the rally of the inverted pyramid.
Peter Ralph, in his blog Video 2 Zero, said maybe that’s because we are making the wrong rules. He inspires us to reconsider what we’re asking of ourselves with Seven strategies for video success.
Mindy McAdams followed with an excellent analysis of the state of web news video.
The key to all this is remaining true to our core mission of journalism – delivering news and information to people in a way they can easily use to make sense of the world around them.  Simple. But through our own vanity, we sometimes make it difficult.
That’s why I especially I liked Ralph’s discussion of his seven myths that may be getting in our way of doing good video journalism:
    1. Shorter is better
      Sometimes, you need context and depth.
    2. Content is king
      It’s not the content of the video that generates the return, it’s the ability to integrate the video into a larger information loop where value feeds back to the producers.
    3. Connect emotionally
      Is our vanity getting in the way of providing information?
    4. Avoid talking heads
      Ralph: “
      Associated with avoid talking heads is the notion that videographers should avoid information-intensive presentations. Information is more efficiently conveyed in text and pictures - it doesn’t need video.
      ”But many thousands of viewers would rather watch David Pogue than crack a manual….
      ”As the information density goes up, and the age of the target audience goes down - the preference for video over text increases exponentially. Absorbing even mildly technical detail from a book is a chore. That same information repackaged as visual media is digested effortlessly.”
    5. and
    6. The tripod rules
      I understand the point about getting the shot.  But I’m not confident enough to give up the sticks.
    7. Lots of closeups
      Back off, man.

    When I first read those last two, I could feel my friend Angela Grant cringe.  I was right, she did. But she also concluded, as I did, that we need to continually questions the rules we make for ourselves in order to grow.
    “I’ve come to realize that the rules I’ve followed and preached are not working to attract the audience that online video must have to survive,” Angela said.
    If the point is to report the information, then there’s a variety of ways we can do this, especially through video.
    This video breaks a lot of these rules.  It’s a talking head.  It’s long, at 20 minutes.  But it takes a complex subject – human production and consumption – and explains it so anyone can understand it.  I find it compelling.
    Because it’s about the information.
    But it’s not the kind of video you’ll find on most newspaper web sites.  And maybe it should be.

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