Newspaper video on the front line

I’ve just got back from a fascinating evening down the pub catching up with an old friend of mine, who now happens to be working for a local newspaper and it wasn’t long before we got onto the topic of online video – something which forms part of his everyday job.

[Enters broken record mode] 

What was really fascinating was to hear how his views matched mine and, at times, was even more vehemently critical of the efforts of some local newspapers when it comes to online video [1].

Chief amongst his criticisms were:

1. The idea that throwing video online for the sake of throwing video online is a good way to win readers.

2. Journalists aren’t trained properly and are given sub-standard equipment, so produce sub-standard videos.

3. Sub-standard videos damage the brand.

4. Local journalists simply don’t have the time to produce consistent good quality web content.

This isn’t to say he was negative, and could point to some examples of papers within his group producing well-produced web content, be it video, podcasts, or blogging. But the frustration was there – it wasn’t that he didn’t want to do online content, its just the resources and time available were nowhere near enough.

What was somewhat more terrifying was the attitude of senior management to online content. There was no consistent approach to RSS feeds and he’d taken to putting the videos on YouTube himself because it hadn’t occurred to anybody else in the office to do so. Tellingly, the YouTube videos appeared to be getting more hits.

Then there was the inflexible CMS, not to mention the fact that nobody was even mentioning blogging. He’d considered trying to start a newspaper blog but didn’t have time, although he did occasionally expand some of his print articles. The management attitude to online media players such as Bebo, Google, and Myspace was nonexistent. While it’s not surprising to hear these criticisms coming from somebody who works within the industry (and is by no means representative. A more casual acquaintance is much more upbeat about their paper), it’s worrying. Even more worrying is hearing that those who have some nous about harnessing online potential are just giving up and moving elsewhere.

Tonight was definitely food for thought. There were a lot of positive ideas bandied around, as you’d expect over a few pints, but also a lot of frustration. It’s a shame for his paper that he’s moving elsewhere – he’s not just a very good journalist, but also one who’s willing to embrace the web and can see where the problems lie with local papers’ attempts to move into the digital age. 

[1] I’ll freely admit I’m writing from the point of somebody who has done a bit of this and a bit of that, which includes print and broadcasting, but am not currently working on the front line, as it were, of newspaper’s online efforts. 

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