The Washington Post has trained 185 of its staff in using video, writes journalism.co.uk. This is a good occasion as I’ll ever find to finally blog some notes I took when videojournalist Travis Fox of that newspaper visited a media conference in Bergen in May. The session with Fox was by far the most interesting I attended, and so much more rewarding than those boring debate panels (they are a waste of time, really). Fox, a few years ago more or less all alone doing video for the big paper’s website, shared experiences and tips. At least for a writing journalist, there was much to learn. Fox works a lot like a newspaper reporter, doing shooting and editing on his own (using a Sony HDV camera and editing on a Mac), not with a cameraman or crew. This gives him full control and allows him to produce “handwritten” stories such as this one from the Katrina disaster. A reason this story stands out is that it is shot from the victims’ point of view. Suddenly their decisions to stay at home sounds reasonable; a perspective you certainly did not get from TV stories shot from helicopters. Fox often works in team with a newspaper reporter, though; sometimes the reporter then does a more traditional stand-up as part of the story.
His productions are usually longer than a typical news piece on the traditional TV news. Do people watch videos that are more than two minutes, sometimes a lot longer? Yes, and if they don’t watch all of it at once, it’s not so bad, Fox explained – usually they will then just move to another part of the website, not disappear from the site altogether. Fox compared this to how people read newspapers – scanning, reading only some of the stories from beginning to end, only the first paragraphs of others, etc.
The stories function as evergreens on the website. Over time, they can attract a sizable number of users. The presentations on the web can have several parts: the video will often focus on characters to tell the story. Panorama photos will provide the visual overview. And they sometimes add blogs to “extend” stories by updating with new information about the characters and allow for interaction with users. Fox warned that starting seriously with video is a big step; post-production takes a lot of time and effort.
One of Fox’s most intriguing points: web video can function as a kind of hub for the media company’s content, and not just for the web:
- A text version for web and print can be produced with the video reporter’s raw material as source
- Still photos from the video can be used online and in print (one reason why HD is important)
- Sound can be used in audio versions for radio
- The web video can be sold/distributed as podcasts. More people watch the Washington Post videos via iTunes than on the website itself. In fact, Fox said, the internet is increasingly used as a distribution tool to move content _off_ the web!
There is also room for productions that are more like classical documentary, and here Fox showed excerpts from his story about a man who lost his son in the 9/11 Pentagon attack. Recommended.