As Newspapers Transition to Video, Will Quality Still Count?


[This is Part 2 of Blake's report; read Part 1 here.]

As photojournalists move to dovetail their traditional skill set with video applications, will quality suffer? This is the fundamental question tugging at photojournalists in newsrooms across the country.

Telling a story is the central thread that links photography and video, but the nuance required to successfully capture the story varies between each medium. And photographers who are wary of change are concerned that traditional standards of quality will be lost in the shuffle.

Deja Vu All Over Again

In the 24-hour news environment we live in today, time to create a quality product in an emerging medium is in short supply. For many, advancement is directly tied to producing video at the same volume that they capture stills; quality is something they’ll just have to master along the way.

It’s a bit like deja vu. Questions of quality are nothing new. When the industry was transitioning from film to digital years ago, many believed that quality would be undermined.

Michael Ainsworth, a videographer at DallasNews.com, remembers when the main concern with the transition from film to digital was that the quality of the images would decline. “And now, nobody would go back to shooting film,” he says.

A Short-Term Issue

For those eager to embrace video, quality is a short-term issue because the rate of technological advancement quickens each year.

Angela Grant, a multimedia producer for the San Antonio Express-News, believes if a photojournalist is able to shoot both video and stills, it allows him or her to choose the best medium for the story, which ultimately serves the viewer. “I’m happy that people want video,” Grant says. “It’s a powerful, emotional medium that can tell amazing, memorable and effective stories.”

Progress always wins. Issues of quality will self-correct, she says.

That isn’t to say, however, that it won’t take time to master new skills. More time is required to produce quality video. And dealing with audio and editing makes the process lengthier.

Quality Video Takes Longer

A still photographer can handle multiple assignments each day. But in many cases, videographers can only do one project a day unless the topics are related, thus making editing and telling a multi-layered story easier to tell. Ainsworth says there is no way that a video photographer can go to three different assignments and get three different videos (or stills) and still produce a quality product.

“After all,” he says, “that is what we are in the business to produce.”

Grant, who founded newsvideographer.com, agrees that a videographer must spend nearly a full day on one story. She says that for the reader/viewer, the end result is great; it’s more information or focus on an important story. Given enough time, quality becomes less elusive.

But Grant concedes, “I’ve conversed with multiple photographers who say that they wish their bosses would give more time to produce videos.”

Two for One: Pulling Stills from Video

And what of shrinking budgets, which are as omnipresent as ever? If videos take longer than photos to produce, newspapers are ultimately hoping to save time and money by sendng just one staffer to a shoot — armed only with a video camera.

Richard Pruitt, who recently began shooting video for DallasNews.com, says management at his paper would like to see the quality of producing stills from video improve so they won’t have to send two photographers on one assignment. For the time being, though, this is a fantasy. Equipment will need major changes before you see professional photographers sell their still cameras and shoot only video, unless they want video as the final product.

Why?

A minority of photographers believe that you can get great stills from video. Pruitt thinks this will take time because quality is inevitably lost when pulling stills from video. It isn’t a one-to-one relationship, especially when lighting conditions have a lot to do with the quality of stills pulled from video

Right now, it is hard to argue that a quality image can be pulled from a video sequence that would be equal to that of a photograph taken with a still camera.

Certainly, over time, the images pulled from a video sequence will improve — but how long will it take? After all, still slideshows with sound run just as well as a video segment, even though video is the hook that keeps many people coming back to news Web sites.

Two Kinds of Visual Storytelling

Another issue surrounding quality is that it is hard to think both as a videographer and as a still photographer at the same time — the two require different ways of shooting. Plus, videographers do not shoot vertical images, even though that is what more newspapers are requiring.

The transition to video is here to stay, but quality is a real issue in the meantime. Over time, with better training and experience, the new workflow and technology will become familiar.

Grant thinks that photojournalists are in a unique position because they’re already trained in the art of visual storytelling, which means they hold an important place in the new online world. She is hoping it also means that photo departments will be treated less as service departments and gain more respect in the newsroom.

Quality, she believes, won’t be an issue in the long run.

[tags]photojournalism, videography, newspapers[/tags]


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