Seeing is believing: Newspapers turn to video for readers, revenue

By Blaine Grisak
Online Reporter Project

HARRISBURG — The digital age is ushering a new era in journalism: the visual age.

News organizations that once traded primarily in text and photographs are now turning to video to tell stories and capture readers — and followers.

Newspaper newsrooms are looking more and more like television studios and reporters in the field are whipping out smartphones to shoot snippets of video.

But the transition hasn’t been easy, said media consultant Drew Berry.

“Most people don’t like change,” Berry told the PNA Foundation Video Workshop.

The digital age is changing the entire industry. Reporters aren’t just reporters. Now they must be able to shoot and edit video, in addition to writing and hitting deadline.

However, as retired Calkins Media executive editor Pat Walker, said, “Journalists are very good at figuring out something.”

Walker told the workshop about reporters that she has worked with whose video stories could compete with some of the area’s best.

Some of her reporters have created shows that are similar to Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives” and ESPN’s “College GameDay.” The food show highlights local restaurants. The sports show focuses on local high school sports.

The videos get about 2,000 views each.

The newspaper industry’s decline and the rise of digital over the last decade has forced editors and publishers into sink-or-swim territory. It’s forcing them to accept change and go digital.

“That’s where the audience is,” Berry said. “If newspapers want to continue to serve their audiences, they have to meet the audience where they’re going. If they don’t go there, there are going to be some more serious problems.”

Video is trending up.

Research shows most people would rather watch short videos online rather than read through a 3,000-word story in the newspaper. That appetite is inspiring the industry to produce quality videos that tells a story readers can watch rather than read.

Newsroom culture is changing to conform with the digital world and newspapers are apprehensive about that change.

A commitment from leadership and investment in the necessary tools are vital to making it succeed, Berry said. Walker, who’s been in the business for 40 years, said: “The change isn’t easy, but it’s doable.”

Change is never easy, but it’s necessary.

Ask Charles Darwin, who said: “It is not the strongest of species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.”

Once the exclusive source of news in most communities, newspapers are confronting greater competition from numerous sources of different media.

Companies and writers should embrace the change, Berry said.

“Try it. Don’t be afraid to take chances,” he said. “Embrace it, it’s coming. Understand that there will be bumps in the road. Understand that people will make mistakes. That’s OK, that’s how you learn. Try it, have the commitment, lobby for the tools, and offer encouragement.”

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Video, by the numbers

$10,000: Approximate amount Calkins Media spent to equip 125 reporters at Bucks County Courier Times, The Intelligencer in Doylestown and the Burlington County Times in Willingboro, N.J., with iPhones, other technology to shoot their own videos.

$100: Amount paid to freelancer for weekly one-minute video cooking segment.

2,000: Number of views per week for “Eat This!” restaurant videosby Chuck Thomas of Calkins Media.

12: Number of staff members devoted to video at Calkins Media’s three suburban Philadelphia newspapers.

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