Minneapolis Paper’s Video Push: Innovation or Desperation?

The Minneapolis Star Tribune, a fine newspaper with a rich history, is getting gussied up for the era of video. Editor Nancy Barnes describes the transformation — complete with hair and makeup tips for the paper’s ink-stained wretches — in Sunday’s edition.

Ready for Their Close-Up?

Upon reading the piece, two very different analogies sprang to mind. The first: the ugly duckling (you know, the one that becomes a swan). The second: poor, delusional Gloria Swanson descending the spiral staircase in Sunset Boulevard, announcing she’s “ready for my close-up.”

Which will it be for the Star Tribune — and for newspapers generally?

Here are a couple of excerpts from Barnes’ piece:

In the last year, we have trained nearly half of our photographers to shoot documentary or breaking-news video. Once you could get this only on TV. Now we’re determined to provide it to you on our website. We’re also training reporters to bring along a very basic video camera on breaking-news assignments. They’ll be asked to shoot video as well as collect information. Later this summer, we’re bringing in experts to coach us in editing video and producing programming…

Rick Sennott started as a photographer when newspapers were mostly black and white and the Web didn’t exist. He was among the first to get trained in videography — and is now leading the way for our staff on breaking-news videography. His goal as a photojournalist is to “produce images that act as a channel for true understanding and give a clear voice to the people being photographed. … Today, they literally talk, cry or sing in the video we are producing on a daily basis.”

Happy Faces All Around

The article goes on to quote other staffers talking about how excited they are about adding video to their repertoires.

What do you expect them to say? They’re being interviewed by the boss!

I’m glad that Barnes is telling her audiences about her newspaper’s plans. But the reality is, these changes are going to bring more work — and more pain — for many people. And this is happening at a time when staffers are seeing their colleagues laid off all around them. So it’s probably best to drop the happy faces and be real.

Barnes writes:

Hundreds of thousands of our customers still want a print newspaper; we expect that to be the core of our business for many years to come.

Define “many years.” Five? Ten? Maybe 20, at the outside?

Here’s the reality: ultimately, there’s not going to be an ugly duckling story for newspapers — at least not in the sense of introverted print journalists suddenly transforming themselves into look-at-me TV personalities.

What’s going to happen is that, as print outlets become true multimedia outlets, they’re going to hire a mix of on-air talent and behind-the-scenes talent, like they have at most TV stations, where ink-stained producers do the work and teeth-whitened reporters get the glory.

The ultimate impact, for most print outlets, is that the news product will suffer, because more staffers will be focused on how they look, rather than what’s going on in the world — and there will be fewer staffers overall.

Too harsh? Can you tell I used to be a newspaper reporter?

What do you think?

[tags]photojournalism, video[/tags]

3 Responses to “Minneapolis Paper’s Video Push: Innovation or Desperation?”

  1. Largely agree. Problem is that most of the time we don't give readers the sort of information that they need -- we focus too much on what the advertising department says that the advertisers want, and so in a time of economic downturn we flog $2500 per person 3 day tours of the African savanna when most of our likely readers can't afford three cans of mixed veg. There's a lot more poor than there are rich, yet we angle the paper to the rich and then wonder why we're unable to sell to the poor.
    We're also growing more and more out of touch: one reporter said to me he'd quit if anyone called him at home, yet most of my best pieces came from a call after hours.
    In a lot of cases, lastly, we don't care. We don't care about the communities we are covering, we don't care about the impact of what we're putting in print,or how much damage it'll do if the he said-she said approach turns out to be someone scamming us up a storm. And we don't care if we get it wrong, a lot of the time: a duff headline seldom gets a correction block.
    So yes, the paper will suffer, and those who can't provide the core product -- local news for a local market -- will go under.
    Pity, because as a distribution system it's almost as good as the post office.

  2. I think papers are a thing of the past. With the internet generation coming in full swing the times when people want to pick up the sunday paper are dwindling. Hell even coupon cutters are getting their coupons online now. Say goodbye to a form of media that has meant so much to so many people.

  3. Working as a reporter and sometimes photographer at a small newspaper in Virginia we've recently been asked to increase the amount of video we put online. I personally don't like the idea of convergence, but have come to accept it. We have a small staff and it does make for a lot more work for everyone when there's video editing involved -- *cough* especially when corporate didn't buy any video editing software and expects the photo department to edit everything with windows moviemaker *cough*.
    I think the best possible scenario though is for newspapers to just provide the best content with the most details. Period. Whether that's in video online, photo and audio slideshows or just written word. You also can't just put it online, you have to tease to it... create packages of stories with photos for the paper with additional photos and video and other exclusive content online.

    But that's just my opinion.

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