Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Detroit Free Press Completes 50-Video Tribute to Motown Records

To commemorate the 50th anniversary of Motown Records, The Detroit Free Press (freep.com) undertook a massive videojournalism project: "Motown at 50." The staff set out to re-create and celebrate the label's colorful history and lore via a mosaic of 50 short videos, and publishing them online at the rate of 3 per week.

The Miracles, The Temptations, The Supremes.... Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson.... And of course label founder Berry Gordy.... The freep.com video staff brought dozens of great music makers to life, along with lots of behind-the-scenes players and observers.

KobreGuide.com proudly showcased the ambitious series when it started earlier this year, "Happy 50th, Motown!" Now that it's finally hit 50, freep.com has repackaged the entire extravaganza under one big umbrella, making it all easier to navigate and enjoy, and using the occasion to launch a brand new videoplayer. That happened this Sunday. Accordingly, we're bringing it back to our homepage this week -- it deserves a wide audience.

We asked executive producer Kathy Kieliszewski to share with KobreChannel.com at this juncture the project's challenges and triumphs. With 20-20 hindsight she generously provided this wrap-up report, a reflection of what a small but mighty staff can do when sufficiently motivated and energized:

This has been our most successful video project to date. We have had thousands of hits on the videos and photo gallery – just at the new launch (on a Sunday – our lowest traffic day) we had over 8,000, with several hundred watching all the videos. I have had emails from Europe and South America praising the work – not to mention Berry Gordy himself told us that we were doing an excellent job.

When these first started rolling out we did a media blitz to Motown fan sites and music blogs. We Twittered and posted on Facebook when we added new content to highlight -- an all out effort to keep the buzz going. The new video of the day consistently topped our video views every day, with other videos falling close behind – an indication people were watching many in a row.

Considering that this piece is nearly three hours of video, it was a relatively small group of people that pulled this together. The genesis of the project started back in February 2008 with pop music columnist Brian McCollum and entertainment editor Steve Byrne coming to me and Craig Porter about the possibility of doing 50 videos. Both had produced our "Motown at 40" section ten years ago and have an institutional knowledge of Motown – a huge bonus when trying to decide who to talk to and what stories to do. Brian worked for months to gain access and arrange some of the key interviews.

Shooting began in the fall of 2008, and initially we assigned Romain Blanquart to the project. However, the amount of work and some scheduling conflicts prompted us to bring in Marcin Szczepanski to help. (Brian Kaufman and Eric Seals both produced a video each – again because of scheduling conflicts.) We started publishing three days a week on January 11, 2009 until we hit 50. In short, the main players consisted of Brian McCollum, Romain Blanquart, Marcin Szczepanski, myself, Steve Byrne, artist Rick Nease and web designers Brian Todd and James Thomas – 8 people. It should be noted that none of these folks worked on this full-time for the last 8 months – we had a lot of news between Chrysler, GM, inauguration, the Red Wings Stanley Cup run... and we launched a morning news program with our local CBS affiliate.

The videos first published in our standard video player. Our web designers were tied up on other projects, so we agreed that when we hit 50 we’d publish it in a more polished form – which happened this Sunday. This date doesn’t actually reflect when we hit 50 per se, but we have a big event scheduled with some key Motown people and we wanted the two to be in sync. Yes, I am glad we put it together as a more cohesive package. I think the video thumbnails, chatter and interactivity is more intuitive. We also had some export issues on the initial video.

The project was incredibly ambitious – almost to the point of insane. I think I would have pushed harder to limit the number of videos we published per week. The goal was to publish one a day Monday through Friday and then we paired back to three a week – we were scrambling a lot on deadline, and I think we could have done one a week and made more of an effort to highlight it online. If it was any other topic but Motown, I don’t think we would have gone this wild with it, but if we had to do it all over again, we would.
So go check it out yourself -- along with the 50 videos, there's an abundance of text articles, photo galleries, interactive features, even downloadable wallpaper! While other video staffs are pulling back, the Detroit Free Press provides a shining example of what a motivated and energized staff can accomplish -- even with limited resources that force us all to work with one eye tied behind our back.

And while you're at it, treat yourself to other topnotch video stories on the Detroit Free Press channel on KobreGuide -- and other goodies in our "Top 10" section.

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