Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Making it Easier to Find Good Video Stories

What makes our job at KobreGuide both challenging and valuable is that great videojournalism is so difficult to find -- and as for the little that exists, nobody hides it better than the media companies that produce it.

Although the situation has improved somewhat over the past couple years, most newspaper websites still treat their own video stories as bastard stepchildren -- relegating them to a bottom-tier ghetto section of their own website. If a viewer is fortunate enough to stumble into the off-the-beaten-path video annex at all, it is then an uninviting and often outright impossible task to stick around and look at other videos. Navigation is a nightmare. And good luck trying to find whatever text story might be related to the subject matter.

It's baffling enough for most web denizens that there is no industry standard when it comes to shape, size, and design of video players and their controls -- encountering each one anew requires embarking on yet another learning curve. Even those who proactively search for video stories on specific topics are stymied by the failure of search engines to find them.

Now we're starting to see the rise of companies such as ReelSEO that specialize in search engine optimization for videos. They've amassed an online series of tips and tutorials from the past year that's worth a look.

That's certainly one step in the right direction -- positioning and annotating your videos (e.g. with strategic keywords) so that people can locate them. But there's so much more work to be done with arranging, grouping and presenting online video so that it lures viewers and enables and even encourages them to see more. We are constantly amazed that even the titles assigned to projects that represent weeks or even months of preparation are so bland and uninspired.

Most newspapers got into the video business grudgingly, vaguely aware that this is the direction they should go because nothing else was working monetarily, and with the dim hope that it would somehow pay for itself someday. When that half-hearted approach didn't strike gold, some reacted by pulling back -- returning their videographers to the ranks of still photography, and making their print reporters relinquish their new vidcams and laptop editing software (often to the reporters' collective relief).

But others reacted by dipping a few more toes into the video pond, either out of hope or desperation, doubling down on their initial investment. Even so, embarassingly few have figured out how to put their wares on display -- newspaper video sections more closely resemble the jumbled shelves of a dusty pawn shop than an elegant Tiffany case.

Before a newspaper website can truly measure the value of its video, it first needs to bolster its quality, both journalistically and aesthetically, but then it also must candidly assess whether it's properly promoting its goods for maximum consumer appeal.

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