Friday, July 30, 2010

Is the Wall Street Journal the Future of Online News Video? Let's Hope Not!

The Wall Street Journal's online video efforts have frankly been disappointing. As often happens when print journalists attempt to emulate broadcast personalities, they look and feel amateurish. Often the reporters end up interviewing each other about their stories, rather than the actual subjects of their stories.

This is not the best use of videojournalism to report compelling news.

Slate's "The Big Money" tuned in this week and seemed to agree:

It’s not hard to mock the Wall Street Journal’s online video operation. The outlet’s daily broadcasts can feel a bit like the A.V. club at a tony school aping the nightly news. That impression isn’t helped by the fact that a host, Simon Constable, resembles the Muppets’ parody of a newscaster.
Still, "The Big Money" wondered whether whether this represented the future of online news video -- and if TV news would look like this in five years.

Lord, we hope not.

Mysteriously the Wall Street Journal's approach apparently draws eyeballs, but we can't help but think that their reported "10 million streams a month" has more to do with the sheer quantity of video it's producing (by a team of 23!), combined with its brand-name reputation.

By its own admission, its live Webcasts of its signature twice-daily NewsHub show perform miserably. What it generously calls "experimentation" is actually just a poor attempt to reinvent the broadcast wheel. Just because you're a talented print reporter doesn't guarantee that you're going to do well on camera, especially in an anchor's seat. And you can brag about your "air of informality" all you want, but ultimately audiences sense the difference between roughshod and slipshod.

We don't mean to pick on the Journal, but that's the formula we see popping up across the nation, as daily newspapers join forces with their city's local TV newscasts. Instead of a professional studio, they stick a makeshift camera and mic in the newsroom, and livestream print reporters, who have limited on-air presence, joshing and kibbitzing with each other about the day's events.

This is not a step forward.

As the gatekeepers of KobreGuide to the Web's Best Videojournalism, what we'd like to see, of course, are more thoughtfully planned, shot and edited video stories that represent the highest standards of the journalism profession. That would indicate that news outlets are respecting their audience's intelligence, not pandering to it. It's OK to be informal -- but why not jettison the whole anchor/correspondent TV shtick, which doesn't work so well on the Web anyway? Produce feature videos that speak for themselves.

"As information converges on a digital platform, news organizations are starting to see that video is replacing photography as the attention-getting feature that differentiates their take on the news," concludes The Big Money. But there are smarter and more useful ways to get attention with video.

UPDATE: Slate pulled the plug on the money-losing "The Big Money" just days after publishing its report on the Wall Street Journal.

No comments: