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What does it mean to do video?

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Tuesday, February 04, 2014


Video is the bellwether of interactive media. In the shortish history of the web, video content has closely tracked the attitudes toward and (mis)conceptions about what these new users will want, and although we’ve come a long way in refining our understanding of what makes useful and profitable web video, we are, as Buzzfeed’s Ze Frank puts it, “still babies” at it.

Frank should know: He’s a pioneer of off-the-wall web video content that all started with a video birthday card he sent in 2001 that went viral before viral was really a thing. Frank is still experimenting, and some of his work still has a performance-art feel, but he’s also turned his eye toward video content that is supported by an up-and-coming outlet like Buzzfeed. His point about us still figuring out video was directed specifically at what he’s experimenting with on social media, but it applies to web content in general and a mindset that’s still stuck on what used to work on the front page or on the six o’clock news.

It should be no surprise that even after years of video experimentation on the web, we still struggle with what it should be, how it should be done, how much we should spend on it and how much readers/users/viewers really want it.

Capital New York posted a story last week about the New York Times’ recent struggle with video: The Times’ painfully had to leave hundreds of thousands of advertising dollars on the table when they couldn’t produce enough quality video to fulfill the contracts with two big advertisers. Demand had outpaced supply.

In the halls of the University of Oregon journalism school, or at least in the hall outside my office, this was cause for some twisted rejoicing. We’ve spent a lot of energy in recent years wondering where the jobs had gone and if they were coming back, and to have the New York Times in a place in one corner of its business where it can’t meet demand is cause for hope for our young journalists and media producers.

It’s also a time when we’re moving beyond doing video – as in, we put it on video and posted it to the web but are confused as to why no one is watching. Instead, our young producers are pursuing stories that are less dictated by the front page and the six o’clock news and more by what will be shared – as they’re producing their thinking about how the content will be used.

As Frank puts it in the Nieman Journalism Lab article noted above, it’s “repurposing of media not for consumption but for communication.” Users of video content like Buzzfeed’s and others are passing along content as part of a conversation. That’s a big step.

For smaller media outlets wrestling with web video, it would be wise to take on a similar attitude and understand the values and value associated with video – and the costs associated with producing it at a level that will fits with the standards of quality of the publication. Producing video without a clear plan for where it will go or how users will see – and use – it is a recipe for wasted time and money and misplace frustration with a medium with great, but often misunderstood, potential.

Mark Blaine blogs on the media biz for Oregon Business.



0 #1 The Chaos of CreativityGuest 2014-02-11 23:47:43
Mark, timely article. Video is going through amazing transitions right now. Portland is a hub of video creativity -- I hope you'll write more on this topic.
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