What standards should newspaper video have?

March 9, 2007 · Posted in Uncategorized 

The judges’ decision to withhold awards from some web video categories in the NPPA Best of TV Photojournalism contest has caused a lot of discussion about what we’re doing in the industry and what standards we should have.

Looking beyond the abrasive tone (TV photog/blogger ‘Lenslinger’ and new media guru Howard Owens are having a Jerry Springer moment over on Howard’s blog ) the point that Stewart Lenslinger Pittman is making is not that TV and still SHOOTERS are different, but rather that video and still SHOOTING is different.

The actual points that Lenslinger brings up are valid: He says that the contest judges’ decision to withhold awards in some online categories “seeks to establish a standard of visual storytelling that transcends outlet, medium or format…. (consumers) don’t want to struggle to understand anything – not in a 500 channel, infinite website world.” And he says “With fewer time restrictions and a ubiquitous delivery method, the newspaper industry can indeed rewrite the book on video news. No one’s demanding your fare be as slick (and vapid) as what we churn out on the evening news, but it must be clear, clean and easy to follow.” Howard Owens generally argues that video can be used as a facet of a story — and it doesn’t have be THE story. Once you edit out the vitriol, both sides are perfectly reasonable positions.

Contests always represent lofty ideals. The contest winners, still or video, are what we should aspire to. Reality is always different. No one can produce contest-winning work on every assignment if they’re doing it daily.

Very few people at newspapers have a grasp of how vastly different narrative video is from what they’re used to doing. Good video storytelling is emotional and temporal. Newspaper editors try to avoid emotion and seek to capture information at a particular point in time. Newspapers’ stock-in-trade is providing facts and figures — something video is ill-suited to provide.

The web is a great publishing platform because story telling can take almost any form. Words, graphics, tables and charts, videos, stills, and who knows what else. But most newspapers have not yet learned how to choose which format to use with which stories. Video is new and novel for newspapers. But stock market tables, after-the-fact police blotter items, and check-passing banquets shouldn’t be covered in video. We shouldn’t be focusing on doing the video equivalents of 1/2-column mugshots.

There is plenty of room on our websites for both narrative storytelling video and for ten-second clips that show what something looks like. The problem comes when we turn what should have been a ten-second clip into a two-minute story. We need to develop an institutional knowledge of what stories make good video. Contests can point us toward that goal.


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