Video Now: Newspapers
Narrator: It’s not news that the past several years have been rough on newspapers. But 2013 was a year of mild optimism. According to the Pew Research Center, 450 of the nation’s 1400 papers adopted some sort of digital paywall. Share prices went up, and many newsrooms began to experiment with new forms of revenue.
Video also became a big deal for newspapers. Most publications have been producing at least some video for years, but advertising demand surpassed supply in 2013. In response, newsrooms began to build video teams and infrastructure, a happy reversal to years of layoffs.
We visited four newspapers for this report: the Chicago Sun-Times, The Seattle Times, The Detroit Free Press, and The Washington Post. We wanted a sampling of papers: different sizes, different resources, different goals.
The Sun-Times, which famously laid-off its entire photo staff last year, was an obvious choice. Seattle, with only two full-time video editors, is producing a lot with very little. The Free Press has been making Emmy-award winning work since 2006, and the Post, with its deep pockets and position in DC, has built a large video team with dozens of producers.
Andy Pergam: When I first came here to The Post, about two an a half years ago, video was going strong. We've been doing video here for more than 15 years, very strong in this sort of documentary style storytelling. This past year, during all of 2013, we expanded even more significantly to create Post TV. So we brought everything under this home of Post TV and built out a studio, hired a larger team and started to produce a lot more original journalism.
Craig Newman: We believe that there is obviously a huge marketplace for video. A hugely undefined marketplace, I would say, when it comes to news. And that we have a mission here to cover a major metro area, but we don't have corresponding multimedia coverage for that. There’s a lot of opportunity for us to have alternative storytelling.
Narrator: For newspapers, alternative storytelling doesn’t just mean repurposing print. Video varies in length, production value, style and approach from story to story.
Kathy Kieliszewski: We do the clip. We do what I describe as the uber-clip, which is a little more fully formed package, but that doesn’t take a lot of time. Then we do kind of the mid-size, the three to five minute and then the massive long form stuff.
Eric Ulken: Then there’s the video that is, I would call, kind of quick-hit, reporter-driven video that, you know, we have a reporter who happened to be in the right place at the right time with their iPhone and caught some video of something interesting happening, whether it was a press conference or a man on the street, what have you.
Jon Forsythe: We have a great facility here with the studio, we've got a newsroom live shot that we have reporters help with explainers. We've got a graphics team that has really raised the level of our production in a big way. That's helped us produce videos that wouldn't have been videos before, without an artistic element and graphics to add.
Narrator: While online newspaper video takes many shapes, most producers avoid making their videos look like TV.
Danny Gawlowski: In the early days of our video department, I think we chased a lot of press conferences. We were chasing news and we were chasing news and chasing news and then we were editing things that were, in reality, kind of close to what our broadcast partner was already producing. And so, does that really benefit our audience? Or should we just embed what they use? They get traffic out of it, and we can spend that day editing a different story.
Andy Pergam: The shows that we launched with in July or August of last year, changed really significantly by September/ October of that year. And so at the beginning, we were starting out each show saying, "Hi everybody, welcome to the show" and realized wait a second, we don’t do that on the web. And it wasn’t working, it didn't resonate with audiences, were not going to do that anymore. It’s just going to be -you're going to dive right into it. At the end we were saying, well, "That’s the show for today" and people weren’t watching the show all the way through, so we learned, wait we don't need to do that, we should instead think about coming at it a different way.
Kathy Kieliszewski: We always said we wanted to kind of be NPR with pictures. We wanted to be able to tell those really deep and meaningful narratives but then put all of our great visuals, cause there's a really strong legacy of great photojournalism at this paper, translate that to video. We wanted to look at our shooting style, to be very cinematic. You could always pull a frame grab because it was a beautiful image, from it. And that was kind of where we started. And we extrapolated that into video.
Dustin Park: You're not tied to you know, a half hour or an hour kind of models that are built into broadcast TV. You can produce a five-minute, rich piece that’s not going to take months and months to do but you can put a lot into that and make it look good and do great storytelling and that would be perfectly fine to live on a news site, a newspaper site, whatever.
Jon Forsythe: People come to the web for stuff that has a little bit of an edge. Stuff that has a little bit of a . . . They want accuracy obviously, they want good, strong, solid foundation of reporting, but they also want a little bit of personality. But it's dangerous because if you cross that line, if you go too far, if you try to be too cute with something, then you run the risk of sort of losing credibility.
Narrator: How video gets made varies from paper to paper. In Seattle, photojournalists shoot high-quality video, with Danny Gawlowski and another producer editing the footage.
Kathy Kieliszewski manages a team of 13 shooters. Most are photographers who have learned video over the past few years.
Dustin Park has a team of four, including an intern. Soon he’ll double that, hiring back four of the photographers the Sun-Times laid off.
The Post, the largest of these papers, seems to be investing the most:
Jon Forsythe: So we have a production team who takes care of curation and video placement and aggregating content from our partners- AP, Reuters. We have a segment team that does a lot of in-house production, working a lot with graphics. They work a lot with reporters, doing a Skype interview from a breaking news situation overseas or something like that, and they’re producing segments. And then we have a video journalism team that’s going out a doing original reporting. They’re mostly the folks that basically are taking a camera outside the building and working on those original stories.
Narrator: Even with dozens of producers at the Post, these teams are tiny compared to broadcast operations. There aren’t enough video producers at newspapers to handle the daily news cycle.
Peter Holderness: Some weeks we realize that it’s not sustainable, sometimes it is. It’s a great job, it’s fantastic to get to have this kind of mix, to be able to be careful about lighting and composition in some and then just run and gun in other places and jump on stories that are interesting and hit breaking news, go for features. The downside is that the work is such that maybe if you were planning to spend four hours on a Tuesday editing the video that you shot Tuesday morning, but something else pops up Tuesday afternoon, the video still has to be done, so we'll complete the work day at the office, and then go home and edit for four hours at night.
Eric Seals: I would say it takes for every minute of video that I do, it probably takes. . . If I want to do it right, it probably takes nine to ten hours of production.
Peter Holderness: There are weeks where it feels like we're kind of all pulling double shifts to keep up with what's happening in the city.
Narrator: Video has been available online for nearly two decades, but most video in the early days was repurposed TV news.
Today, newspapers are experimenting with video forms and styles specific to the Web.
Andy Pergam: I think it’s really important to news and to newsrooms to figure it out so that we're toward the forefront of crafting what the space looks like. And it's important to us at The Post to innovate, to launch a Google TV app when a lot of people aren’t on Google TV. It's important to us to get into that space where video is going to be, years from now, because it’s a wide-open field. As opposed to before, when networks controlled everything or TV stations controlled everything or newspapers controlled everything. The Internet has created this fantastic sort of Wild West space for us and so we can carve out our own thing. It’s important to us and other news organizations to carve out: "This is what we're about, this is who we are."
Narrator: So what’s working?
Papers seem to be taking a divide and conquer approach. Reporters shoot raw video on their iPhones and post instantly to the Web. These are short, unedited, fast and cheap to make.
Danny Gawlowski: For news situations, if it's something that important today, we try to use mobile as much as we can, and shoot it on mobile, upload it directly from your mobile device, publish it immediately. It gives us the advantage of speed. We put the ability to publish breaking news right at the reporter level, right at the photographer level, and so that we can concentrate our editing resources on longer-term, more thoughtful packages.
Narrator: For long-form or high-end video projects like features and documentaries, a dedicated team of trained shooters and editors is used.
Eric Seals: The great thing about working here at the Free Press is that they understand to do video storytelling the right way, it takes time. Kathy K and our other picture editors are really good at giving us the time to do it and they'll clear the schedule to let us do that because they get it. And I think that’s backed by those of us that shoot here, that shoot video, by a lot of the awards we've won. National Emmys, a lot of regional or local Michigan Emmys and things like that. Not that that validates everything, but I think, when you go out and you tell good stories and you get a lot of clicks, a lot of watches but also it wins awards, it lets the publisher, the editors and everyone know that, "Hey, you know what? This is something valuable to us an industry.” But it’s also valuable to our viewers to know that we're producing award-winning content.
Narrator: Newspapers are producing more video than ever before, but they still rely heavily on external video feeds.
Kathy Kieliszewski: We get Reuters video, USA Today, so we get a ton of video. And it’s everything from celebrity news- Lindsay Lohan crashing her car- to serious news like what happened in Syria today.
Jon Forsythe: We're aggregating from everywhere.The White House. We're aggregating from the National Zoo, when they have a new panda video. It sorts of runs the gamut and we're just looking for more and sort of more partnerships out there to sort of build out our video content in a big way.
Narrator: But does simply producing a lot of videos attract a bigger audience? An important question, since ad revenue is still dependent on page views.
For the newspapers we visited, videos reached 500 to 1,000 plays on average. There was the occasional viral hit or successful documentary, but in most cases, videos didn’t get more than a few thousand views.
Which leads us to the big question: Have newsrooms been able to make money from all this investment in video?
Well, if you do the math, pre-roll simply can’t support video. Even with CPMs between 15 and 20 dollars, a video that gets watched 1000 times will only make 20 bucks, tops.
Eric Ulken: We haven't figure out the business model, so it’s sort of a chicken or egg problem. On the one hand, advertising will tell us, “Well we need more volume in order to make this an effective advertising product." And on the news gathering side, it’s "Well, if you could show us that this is actually producing some revenue, we would assign it some more manpower to it."
Kathy Kieliszewski: I'll believe it when I see it, that the revenue will come. People, you know: "If you build it, they will come." Well we've built it for eight years and I'm still kind of waiting.
Narrator: Since newspaper videos aren’t making money yet, how do they measure success?
Andy Pergam: It's important to us that we're looking at metrics in a lot of different ways. That we're looking at it from how individual videos did, but also how our engagement is looking, how people are coming to our site, finding what they want and then watching another video, then watching another video. It's really important to us that what we're doing work in a lot of different places and work over time.
Kathy Kieliszewski: I know that a click can be anything from somebody sitting on that page for a long time ingesting the content and seeing my ad, versus somebody who just went "click", oh, and they're gone and they saw nothing. And so when we see a video that people have gone 50% or more and watched it, regardless of the length, that to me is success.
Andy Pergam: There is no one solution. There is not one particular thing that is working really well and that everybody is doing. And that’s what’s really different from where video was before. TV was always this one thing- this is how it works, this is the ratings game, this is how you do it, you know. It was a little more cookie cutter. This is not. This is really different and that’s what attracted me to it, is we can actually figure out what this space looks like, together. And we're doing that and we can do it real time now. We know what people are watching at this very minute, and so we can adjust what we do in ways that are smart.