Newspaper sites around the country are producing video on par with that of TV stations, often with the help of former TV multimedia journalists and photographers. In fact, some of the newspapers’ video content is so good that it has beaten material produced by TV news departments when it’s gone head-to-head in awards competitions.
Not to rouse the green-eyed monster or anything, but, as far as videographer jobs go, Anne Herbst has a pretty sweet one.
With “probably over 100 different awards” — including a national Murrow — under her belt, the Denver-based journalist calls most of her own shots these days.
No longer at the mercy of an assignment desk, Herbst finds, shoots, writes and produces nearly 95% of her own stories.
What’s the catch?
There really isn’t one, unless you think working for a newspaper website is a problem.
After six years at Gannett’s KUSA Denver, one year ago Herbst jumped to DenverPost.com, one of a number of newspaper sites around the country that are now producing video on par with that of TV stations, often with the help of former TV multimedia journalists and photographers.
The Boston Globe’s Boston.com, the Twin Cities’ StarTribune.com, SeattleTimes.com and Louisville’s Courier-Journal.com are among others going heavy with video.
“I don’t think television stations have a corner on the market on talented video storytellers,” says RTDNA Chairman Kevin Benz. “There are very talented people out there who are interested in working in very innovative shops.”
Whether broadcasters or newspapers run those shops is secondary, he says. “The good news from my perspective is that content is king, not the medium any longer.”
In fact, some of the newspapers’ video content is so good that it has beaten material produced by TV news departments when it’s gone head-to-head in awards competitions.
You don’t have to look further than StarTribune.com for proof of that.
Over the last few years, StarTribune.com video stories on topics from Liberians in Minnesota to the collapse of a Minneapolis bridge in 2007 have won regional Emmys — the same ones TV stations vie for.
Boston.com’s seven-part video series on the late U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy was in the running for a national Emmy award.
RTDNA also has recognized the video content’s elevated stature. The organization has expanded its prestigious Murrow Awards to include categories for online video news content not affiliated with TV or radio stations.
With nine wins, Boston.com won more regional Murrows in 2012 than any other media outlet, broadcasters included.
And people are watching.
DenverPost.com’s video traffic was up “well over 100%” last year, says Tim Rassmussen, the newspaper’s assistant managing editor for multimedia. The site’s video and photography content accounts for 30% of the site’s overall traffic, he says.
StarTribune.com experienced a 297% increase in videos played from April 2011 to April 2012, according to Jenni Pinkley, the site’s senior multimedia producer. Videos had 938,000 viewers in April 2012, versus 236,000 the year before.
And that content is becoming increasingly diverse. The newspaper sites are running such a range of video content — from breaking news and entertainment and technology shows to multi-part documentaries — that they operate much like mini-TV stations.
StarTribune.com users, for example, can catch the site-exclusive Access Vikings twice a week during football season and, for a look at what’s going on in state politics, Capitol Hot Dish on Fridays.
DenverPost.com also airs a regular political roundtable. Boston.com users can watch the Globe tech reporter test new gadgets on Tech Lab.
The Web shows are generally short. As Pinkley says: “Five minutes is long to me.” Just last week, however, Boston.com launched its newest show, Boston Sports Live, which will run 15 to 20 minutes.
Aired live three days a week from The Globe’s in-house studio, the show is hosted by Globe sports columnist Christopher Gasper and includes real-time interaction with viewers.
Al Tompkins, the Poynter Institute’s senior faculty for broadcasting and online, says newspapers’ ability to tap existing resources and talent, like Gasper, is one of the factors that gives them a leg up online.
“They have the repository of a newsroom that can be twice as big as a TV station’s,” Tompkins says. Newspaper sites also benefit from resources like graphics departments that many broadcasters have eliminated in recent years.
The people who work at these operations say the luxury of time is another major contributor to the quality — and success — of their videos.
Even the most active sites air just three or four stories a day. Journalists who work for them have the time to spend on long-form, documentary style stories that most TV reporters don’t.
“We can do higher quality material because we’re not rushing to throw something on at 5 and then have another show at 6 and 11,” says Alan Miller, a former executive sports producer at CBS O&O WBZ Boston who now oversees Boston.com’s video news.
“Some pieces take five, six, seven weeks to shoot,” he says. “When you can do that, you can afford to do journalistically sound pieces.”
Never mind that Miller’s TV brethren give him a hard time when he shows up at Patriots games with his small and simple camera on a tripod and puts it next to their more sophisticated equipment.
The newspaper producers are enjoying the inroads they are making at the expense of their broadcasting counterparts.
“Newspaper executives in the ’60s were mourning how TV was going to kill them,” says Bennie DiNardo, deputy managing editor of multimedia at The Boston Globe. “It’s kind of funny to see how the shoe is on the other foot at bit.
“Here we are able to do things that TV stations have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on equipment to do,” he says. “We can’t do some things the way they do it. And we may not look as good. But we have the content.”
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