Tuesday, March 23, 2010

NY Times Launches Daily TimesCast Video

Have you noticed the New York Times' new TimesCast, which launched yesterday with very little fanfare?

It's a daily video, posted mid-day, that strives to offer a lunchtime roundup of the day's top headlines in under seven minutes -- delivered by the New York Times editors and reporters themselves.

The New York Times is so far ahead of the curve in online videojournalism that they produce more high-quality video stories in a day than most newspapers do in a month. And now this:

“It’s not just straight, breaking news, it’s talking about the way The New York Times is looking at the story – our analysis, our particular take on the story,” said Ann Derry, the paper’s editorial director for video and television. “We already produce a lot of video to go along with stories, but we felt the need to have a regular video news overview on the home page.”
The TimesCast shares the articulate intelligence and polished production values of those other videos in its classy stable.

It starts with the newspaper's 10:30 a.m. Page One meeting, with top editors in their neckties assembled around a large conference table, sequentially going over the day's roster of most important developing stories, patching in correspondents or bureau chiefs via speakerphone, as needed. It's intended to evoke a fly-on-the-wall feel, yet one can't help but wonder if the presence of cameras alters the proceedings. Do their editorial powwows really run so smoothly that they practically look scripted, or are these print journalists playing to the camera?

Then we cut to senior editor Jane Bornemeier interviewing executive editor Bill Keller, against a news room backdrop, about news highlights -- China censoring Google, Obama signing the health care bill, Clinton meeting Netanyahu. Then there are more newsroom interviews -- not reporters interviewing sources, but New York Times editors interviewing New York Times reporters and even other New York Times editors.

It's well shot and produced, and slickly edited with lower-thirds and appropriate B-roll. But there's a slightly awkward aura to it all.

First, the interviews take place standing up, and not sitting down, which would seem more natural and comfortable. Is this intended to give it a sense of urgency?

Second, one can't ignore the overriding question as to whether journalists talking amongst themselves is content that a news audience seeks or wants. Other major news organizations have experimented with similar behind-the-scenes transparency, inviting us to eavesdrop on editorial meetings, and to hear reporters offer on-camera "backgrounders" of important stories and issues. Rarely are these enticing.

What's remarkable is how the TimesCast, unlike most newspaper-generated video (including its own), clings more to the traditional TV news format of field correspondent conducting on-camera interviews. The big difference here, of course, is that it's the home field and the subjects are the home team. So it can veer dangerously close to seeming like an exercise in narcissism.

There is one critical difference between the TimesCast and similar forays into mid-day news videocasts at other media Websites. What we've previously seen has mostly been an attempt to capitalize on video in the most cynically inexpensive and least labor-intensive way possible -- they just stick a camera in the editorial meeting and let it run, and then stick a camera in their own reporters' faces and let them ramble, and then post the raw unedited mess in a well hidden corner of their Website. When no one watches, they complain that nobody cares about the process of gathering and reporting news.

Or we've seen newspaper video departments team with similarly beleagured local TV newscasts, and in an attempt to avoid a double drowning, produce well intentioned videocasts that are designed to serve double duty, on air and online. But ultimately they resemble scaled-down TV news, with 1:15 segments that contain snappy soundbites, not well developed themes and stories. Not necessarily a step backwards, but hardly a step forwards.

By contrast, the TimesCast seems more like a move in the right direction, targeted for a specific medium and audience. It's smart and articulate, professionally polished and well crafted. And genuinely illuminating.

But wait! Can this be? For the first time, the Times is enabling viewers to embed this video on their own blogs or websites. We've previously taken the Times to task for not making this feature available. Apparently they're making an exception for the TimesCast, or maybe it's a baby-step experiment that will eventually liberate the rest of their video arsenal for wider distribution, o frabjous day!

So ignore our meager descriptions and nitpicks, and partake of the seminal TimesCasts for yourself, below. We're eager to hear what you think about them. Are you likely to watch them daily? If so, in addition to, or in lieu of, reading homepage headlines? In terms of content or style, what would you like to see them do better or differently?

No comments: