A couple of weeks ago as I was visiting several of the news-industry websites that I wanted to catch up on, I saw that Mindy McAdams had posted an entry about Colin Mulvany’s great post on “quality versus quantity” in newspaper video.
Mulvaney’s blog on this subject is ass-kicking good. I also thought some of the responses to it were excellent (while others were delusional), and I especially liked his list of 10 questions he feels should be asked in regard to all of this.
I liked the post so much that I wrote a note to our staff at the Las Vegas Sun/Greenspun Interactive to encourage them to read it, and I answered each of Colin’s 10 questions for our staff so they would know the direction I thought we were heading at the Sun in regard to video.
Here are some edited excerpts of that e-mail sent to our staff here in Vegas:
The link above is to a really interesting post about video on newspaper sites. It’s from a person whose background is mostly as a print/still photographer, but now works in new-media at The Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Washington.
In regard to the “quality versus quantity” video debate (which is the whole point of his post), I think we’ve thrown our support clearly in the “quality” category … but probably in a different way than the writer of the blog above probably means — but I’m totally making assumptions there.
We’ve hired skilled video shooters and editors with professional backgrounds. Our videos look great — as good, if not better than a lot of local television stations around the country, and probably better than almost any other newspaper out there … with the exception of The Washington Post and NY Times, who have basically gone with a pretty-dang polished documentary look.
One likely big difference between shooters at The Post and The Times is that all of our videographers here at Greenspun Interactive are basically expected to produce a piece a day. Everyday.
But — in my mind and priorities — more importantly than either quality or quantity in video production is this question: Are we producing videos that people actually want to watch?
I’ve seen some amazing pieces of video journalism (both here in Las Vegas and definitely at The Washington Post) where journalism think-tanks and professors around the country went absolutely nuts about how much they loved it. And then I see the traffic to those videos and I realize only the journalism think-tanks and professors, and probably the videographer’s parents/family, watched it.
Of course, I’m exaggerating to make a point … but I’m not exaggerating by much.
That’s the bigger problem we’re trying to address here in Las Vegas, coupled with “how do we inform people who don’t want to be informed” — which is Brian Greenspun’s question/task for our team.
And then there’s actual breaking-news video, which we haven’t done much of because we really don’t have a need for video of the latest car accident on Interstate 215 unless it involves six semi-trucks, one of which was carrying fuel and another was carrying live pigs. I do want video of that accident when it happens. And damn quickly.
I saw first-hand how quickly we got the video of the Monte Carlo fire on the site. That’s how I want us to react to extraordinary circumstances like that. Quickly.
In the blog post I sent you above, the writer asks 10 questions. Here are my initial gut answers to those questions:
*** What is the overall vision for video in your newsroom?
One of our main goals is to build great expertise — both technically and editorially — for when HD over IP, VOD, Apple TV, etcâ€¦, finally begin to catch on. When they do, we wonâ€™t just be ready, weâ€™ll be ready and able to kick a little ass. Another is to make sure we have great skill at using our content in multiple platforms — web, TV, mobile, etcâ€¦
When I look at things like Amazon’s Kindle, and all of the crazy sh*t that Apple is doing, it’s not a stretch to think that sometime in the very near future there are going to be easy-to-use/affordable mobile viewing devices with built-in high-speed connections. And video will be there.
The Internet is a weird beast. I use it primarily for text (on my browser, via e-mail, on my phone, etc.), but it’s also an incredibly visual place. There’s a reason why YouTube is so huge. There’s a reason why photos are one of the most-visited parts of Facebook.
As my friend and Sun colleague Joe Brown reminds me, the importance of great visual storytelling and the immediacy of this kind of storytelling can’t be underestimated. Stylishly presented content — for information or amusement — that our audience wants and needs will always pack a powerful punch.
Now merge those editorial instincts with technical prowess.
I have no doubt that our team’s ability and fluency in video will be critical to not only our company’s survival, but its ability to thrive.
*** Why are you doing video in the first place?
Read my answer above, underline it and bold it, and then add this to it:
Marketing, marketing, marketing for our website and newspaper. But mostly for our website and other new-media products aimed at the audience weâ€™re going after.
I also know from real-life experience that the two biggest names at The Washington Post are no longer Woodward and Bernstein. The biggest names — both around the nation and in the DC area — are now Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon, despite what J-Schools teach.
Why do you think that is?
*** Is quality video valuable to your viewers?
Yep. But I don’t think our viewers are looking for boring videos, either. In fact, I know they’re not looking for boring. So if by quality, you actually mean boring (aimed at impressing your peers or a former J-School professor), then I have issues with that.
How many people do you honestly think go to YouTube and search for news documentaries? Let me answer that one for you: Not enough to pay anyone’s salary.
At a $10 CPM (which is a fairly standard rate — and maybe even a little high, to be honest — for IAB ads on most newspaper sites), that means someone who makes $40,000 would need to generate 4 million pageviews. Now, our pages on lasvegassun.com are going to have at least three ads on them, I think, so you can make that 1.3 million pageviews.
But that’s not completely true, either, because not all of the ads on our pages are going to get $10 CPMs. Some of those spots might actually get something closer to a $2 CPM if it’s remnant space. Maybe even less than that.
Pre-roll on videos (which I know everyone hates) can sometimes get the premium rate of about a $50 CPM. That means — based on the premium rate — that a newspaper videographer making $40,000 would need his/her videos to generate about 800,000 views. At the premium rate.
(Don’t stress out — we have other revenue streams set up; but my point is we’ve got to have an audience for these things, and boring videos aren’t going to get a big audience.)
Now that I’ve set that table, do you know how many people viewed our video on the dance championships at Planet Hollywood? I’ll answer that one for you: more than 1 million folks have watched Scott Den Herder’s video from the dance competition.
One more very important note: Please remember I’m a journalist, and most journalists aren’t especially known for their great math skills, so if the above numbers are wrong, you’ve been warned that I suck at this — which is why Chris Jennewein has been brought in to run the business side of our operation. Chris doesn’t suck at math. Or at monetizing great journalism.
Let’s add one more twist to this “quality” discussion.
Do we want sports highlights, and cool celeb interviews and great local video? Yes.
Do we want to continue to do the more documentary-like videos that Zach Wise was so frickin’ amazing at? Absolutely.
If our readers are coming for steak and potatoes, we need to make sure they also get their broccoli. We want to give them what they want and what they need.
Our goal is to serve the masses; not just the elite. We can’t serve broccoli for every meal or the masses are going to quit coming to our little info buffet.
*** Has video gained traction on your website over time? If not, why?
In Lawrence, our video numbers were surprisingly strong. In fact, one year on LJWorld.com, our most-viewed story of the year was a video-only package about banning dirty-dancing at Lawrence high schools. And don’t even get me started on the traffic to Jayhawk videos on KUsports.com.
We’re seeing the beginnings of that with our UNLV vids here at the Sun.
But — for the most part — the traffic to our videos on lasvegassun.com and lasvegasweekly.com is fairly humble.
That’s why we need to manage everyone in our organizationâ€™s expectations about what our traffic to online video is. It ainâ€™t huge. At least not right now. Thatâ€™s part of the reason why I feel like our clips being on local television is mandatory. The biggest local audience for our videos — at least right now — probably isnâ€™t going to be online, unless we have something hit virally.
Like Scott’s video did.
But we need to do more for our video, and we will. That’s where our team’s CMO, Paul LaRocca, fits in. We need to market the crap out of not only the video on our sites, but things like “All In” and especially the upcoming “702.tv” show.
And we will.
*** Has your paper invested in training that empowers your video producers to be able to tell and edit a story effectively?
Every single person in the Las Vegas Sun’s video department would almost certainly be the trainers at 99.7 percent of the newspapers in the United States.
*** Do you have (need) a web-savvy management structure in place to filter out bad video ideas and is an advocate for video-based storytelling?
The people producing our videos would likely be the gatekeepers at any other local newspaper.
And we have Josh Williams.
*** If you are producing lots of video, do you have a website that showcases this valued web-only content?
Not as much as we should. But we’re going to do better at it — especially on lasvegasweekly.com.
Check out the integration of video in our new (and still very much under development) UNLV Rebels site. Now, that’s showcasing video.
We’re only going to get better at it.
*** Can viewers find your videos quickly if they land on a story page and not of the home page?
*** Can lower levels of video quality be acceptable if they meet a high news value bar?
Though we don’t have many clips in my opinion (if any) on our site that would qualify as lower-quality, I do agree that it’s completely fine for sh*tty video to be on our site if it’s got great news value.
People’s cell-phone videos after/during the Virginia Tech shootings were super powerful.
Heck, one of the most-watched videos on lasvegasun.com is totally crappy in quality.
And I loved having that video on our site. Loved it.
*** Should small papers with dwindling resources really be adding poorly produced video to their already bleak shovelware websites?
I don’t really have an opinion on this either way.
If your newspaper website sucks, it seems like video should be pretty low on your priority list. But my guess is that if a newspaper’s website sucks, I’d be willing to bet that its print edition sucks, as well. I’ve kind of come to realize that’s how quality seems to roll in the newspaper biz.
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Well, that’s basically the note I sent our staff regarding Colin Mulvany’s very good blog post. (Actually, the note I sent was a little longer and went into some specific strategies that we’re not ready to talk about yet. But that’s for another day.)
It was never meant to be posted as a blog, but a couple of folks on our staff said I should post it as a blog.
So I did. I hope it kind of explains what we’re thinking here at the Las Vegas Sun in regards to the “quality vs. quantity” video debate.