Last year I wrote two columns about videos on newspaper Web sites . Following a discussion with one of my academic colleagues, Dr. Bruce Konkle, I decided to drift around cyberspace and see what corporate Web sites have to offer in terms of video.
The motivation for this nonscientific sampling? We who teach visual communications may soon find ourselves at a crossroads. Do we continue to devote time, energy, and resources to teaching still photography? Or do we take the plunge and transition to video and multimedia? A lot depends on the students we serve.
Clearly, aspiring photojournalists need training in video and multimedia. But what about students majoring in advertising and public relations? When they enter the work-a-day world, what will be the dominant form of visual communication—still photographs or moving images?
My first stop is at the Apple Computer Web site . On the day I visit, May 2, 2009, a large photograph of a hand holding a tiny iPod dominates the upper two-thirds of the opening page, with the words “Small talk.”
A small window invites me to watch a guided tour, which features a video of an Apple store employee describing the features of “the first music player that talks to you.” The video is available in small, medium, and large size; you can download it to your iPod or your computer and also send it to a friend.
On the bottom third of the page are links to other pages featuring information about three more Apple products—iPhone OS 3.0 software, the new 24-inch iMac, and the new Mac mini. There is also a link that lets you watch Mac ads dating back to 2006.
On the product pages are—you guessed it—more videos, but also a smattering of superb still images crafted to show off Apple products in their best light. Clearly, the creator of the Macintosh computer, the iPod, and the iPhone is not going to be caught napping when it comes to still photographs, video or multimedia.
I don’t know why, but I thought if any corporation would be stuck in the past, it would be General Motors , manufacturer of the Hummer and Cadillac and target of filmmaker Roger Moore’s 1989 documentary “Roger & Me.”
The opening page on GM’s corporate Web site features a still photograph—automotive in nature—that changes each time you access the site. Across the middle of the photograph are three buttons, “Corporate Information,” “GM Vehicles,” and “Experience GM.”
Clicking on a button discloses a menu with links to other pages on the site. For example, you can “Browse by Brand”—Hummer, Pontiac, SAAB, and Saturn are still listed, but look for the list to shrink in the next couple of months. If you click on a brand, you get a rotating display of car photographs that you can twirl with a click of your mouse.
The “Corporate Information” page is just what it says—a collection of press releases with links if you want to “Read More.” For jazzy video and multimedia, you need to visit the “Experience GM” page, where you can learn about fuel economy and alternative fuels, safety, technology and innovation, hybrid vehicles, and other brand-related efforts.
The company’s Web site seems torn between the past and the future—perhaps just like the company itself?
You don’t get to be number one on the Fortune 500 list by ignoring the fundamentals of business, but how does Wal-Mart  fare on the Web?
A typical e-commerce site, walmart.com has a lot going on. “Get Set for Summer Fun—and Save.” “Create the Perfect Patio for Less.” “Great Savings for the Great Outdoors.”
Product photographs dominate the upper part of the opening page. Near the bottom of the page is a “Connect & Share” feature, with topics such as “How to train your dog to fetch the newspaper,” “Money-Saving Tips,” “Mother’s Day Stories,” and even a “Baby Buzz Blog.”
But if there is video or multimedia somewhere on the e-commerce site, I sure can’t find it. So I saunter over to the Wal-Mart corporate site . This is where you can learn about all aspects of the mega-merchandiser, including its relationship with the community and initiatives to support renewable energy and employee health-and-wellness programs.
Here, at last, are some videos—including ads, press conferences, informational pieces, and even B-roll footage for news crews needing generic cutaways to flesh out their stories. So, in addition to employing more than one million workers worldwide, Wal-Mart evidently has some jobs available for videographers.
Created in the 1990s through mergers with other top advertising agencies including Chiat\Day, TBWA\Worldwide  is part of Omnicom Group , an Orwellian-sounding “strategic holding company” that has interests in “advertising, marketing services, specialty communications, interactive/digital media and media buying services.”
Along with TBWA\Worldwide, Omnicom Group also owns BBDO Worldwide and DDB Worldwide, giving it control of three of the world’s top 10 advertising agencies. TBWA\Worldwide specializes in “disruptive” advertising for clients such as Apple, Energizer Battery, Gatorade, Jameson Irish Whiskey, Nissan, Pepsi, and VISA. The agency defines “disruption” as “creating something dynamic to replace something that has become static.”
The TBWA\Worldwide Web site features a changing still photograph from one of the agency’s ads, plus a mysterious floating link that discloses the site’s menu when you click on it. Choose “Disruptive Ideas” and you can see ads the agency created for some its clients, in both print and video versions.
Not only is the Web site classy, but the videos (I know, they’re ads) are top-notch—especially if you don’t mind seeing Bob Dylan shilling for Pepsi.
The Digital Frontier
So what did this excursion toward the digital frontier reveal? Still photographs are still important components of even the most cutting edge Web sites. But designing for the Web means you can easily incorporate video and multimedia, which are off limits to print designers. So video and multimedia are only going to become more important as time goes by.
Which brings me back to the original question that started my journey—should we who teach visual communications continue to teach still photography?
I certainly don’t pretend to have the definitive answer from such a cursory glance. But I will say this: having just finished teaching our first-ever video course at the University of South Carolina’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication, it is a lot easier to teach video to students who have a solid foundation in still photography—lighting, composition, storytelling through the use of multiple images, etc. And those students now have expanded toolkits to use when they start their careers.
The day may come when—for whatever reasons—we will need to choose between teaching still photography and teaching video, but right now they are two trains running on parallel tracks.