Video stories put newspapers on a whole new page

Critical Eye

September 24, 2006|By Nick Madigan | Nick Madigan,[sun reporter]

Some wag once described newspaper reporters as "ink-stained wretches," furtive characters whose working tools consisted solely of pens, notebooks and chutzpah.

Nowadays, though, they're just as likely to be carrying digital video cameras.

Many newspapers are requiring their reporters not only to feed news to their papers' Web sites, but to create video stories to feed the Internet's seemingly insatiable demand for moving images.

In an illustration of how well some newspapers have made that transition, five of the seven nominees in a new Emmy Awards category -- emerging media -- were for video stories by print reporters on the Web sites of old-media stalwarts The New York Times and The Washington Post. The awards will be presented in New York tomorrow night.

By creating the new category, the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences sought to recognize news and documentary programs produced specifically for Web sites, iPods and mobile phones.

The Times' Web site, NYTimes.com, picked up three nominations: one for a seven-part video series by Kurt Eichenwald about a 19-year-old who ran a child porn site before agreeing to help authorities go after his customers; another for a video diary by Nicholas Kristof, who documented atrocities in Sudan's Darfur region; and one for a two-part series by Juan Forero about Evo Morales, Bolivia's president, and his effort to legalize coca, the prime ingredient in cocaine.

The Post's site, WashingtonPost.com, got two: for Travis Fox's coverage of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and a series on Azerbaijan by Fox and Philip Kennicott. (Of the final two nominations in the category, one went to MTV News, for a video diary by Gideon Yago about the massive earthquake in October 2005 that left 87,000 people dead in Pakistan and India; and the other to NationalGeographic.com and National Geographic on msn.com for a series of four Webcasts about Hurricane Katrina.)

Television news Web sites were shut out of the nominations.

"I don't think it's an anomaly that so many print journalists have risen to the top in the first year of this award," says Peter Price, president and CEO of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. "What print is really good at is digging deeper and telling the story in greater depth, which simply isn't possible in TV unless you're lucky enough to be on 60 Minutes and have six producers working with you."

On the Internet, Price says, "You have an extra opportunity for print reporters with that skill set to do what he's been trained to do, but adding video to illustrate the story."

Price, who began his career as an intern at The Wall Street Journal and later was publisher of The New York Post, says the development of video stories on newspapers' Web sites means "a whole new channel of distribution, which will provide a new economic model for newspapers."

Under that scenario, he says, advertisers will be sponsoring online video stories in the same manner that they sponsor TV programs.

"This is the dawn of the video Internet," Price says. "The market and the audience are together forging some sort of future."

At The Washington Post, digital video cameras have become a regular tool for reporters not only in and around the Washington area, but also for those working from far-flung outposts in Iraq, Africa and elsewhere.

Staff reporters at The Sun regularly appear in video interviews on the paper's Web site, but none so far have made a practice of shooting video of stories they are working on for the paper's print edition. However, a staff photographer, Karl Merton Ferron, using a digital camera that captures both stills and moving images, often shoots video when out on assignment for the paper.

"We're taking advantage of any video we can get our hands on, to get people used to looking at videos, so when they come to the site they know there'll be video of some sort there," says Sun multimedia editor Steve Sullivan.

'Mojos' are working

At The News-Press in Fort Myers, Fla., reporters known as "mojos" -- for mobile journalists -- carry digital cameras, wireless laptops and MP3 recorders, their work destined not for the newspaper's print edition but for eight community Web sites run by the paper. The so-called "micro-sites" are linked to the paper's main Web site, and each corresponds to a neighborhood or district in the area. Each micro-site, essentially a blog with pictures, news and tips, is managed by a reporter -- a "mojo"-- trained to use a camera and outfitted with enough equipment to post online from the road. These reporters rarely venture into the newsroom any more, the paper's executive editor said, instead staying within their assigned territories and focusing on revealing the area's intricacies online.

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