There is a fascinating Q&A in the New York Times Insider this week. (I’d link to it, but it’s part of the premier edition and you have to pay to see it.) It’s a discussion with Bruce Headlam, who is the newspaper’s managing editor for video.
Headlam is candid about the challenges editors have faced trying to insert video into what has been heretofore a print culture, and he makes some very important points about the trouble with online video generally:
“We talk a lot about ‘the digital newsroom’ at The Times, but in truth, video is just about the most linear experience we offer,” he says. “Even in the print paper, I can scan an article, look at the headline, the photos, the graphics and even the byline to assess what I’ll get, and I can do all that in a couple of seconds. But video is much more of a crapshoot for viewers. They get only a headline and thumbnail before they commit themselves. There’s no unplanned encounter with a video as there is with print or online stories.”
That is an outstanding point. For video to work, viewers have to commit to it in a way that they don’t in print or text. Ad a 30-second preroll advertisement and you really have to want to see that three-minute news video. For that reason, I almost never watch a video of any kind on sites like espn.com. To counter that linear bias, Headlam says he’s careful to make headlines sing and the first few seconds of video “grab viewers by the lapels.”
OK. Stop for a minute. Wick newspapers don’t do video very well, at least not on a consistent basis. There are a few examples in our past of really well produced, labor-intensive edits that are beautiful but probably not worth the effort. And there are many more quickie, largely unedited jerky video stabs that appear to be taken with a cellphone by some sort of zoo animal. I am comfortable with that characterization because some of those videos are mine! These don’t take much effort, but usually they appear unprofessional and don’t get the kind of response we might hope to see. …
It’s exasperating, but perhaps we aren’t the problem. Maybe it’s the medium. Maybe it’s that linear thing that kills news video no matter how well we do it.
Headlam is clear that despite the fact that good video is expensive to produce and many journalists consider it kid’s stuff, video is a worthwhile endeavor. There is a lot of advertising looking for video platforms right now and the younger generation is consuming a lot of it on phones and tablets. Perhaps we will hit our stride with the medium. Keep trying and time will tell.