Today in the obvious: video is not the (sole) answer to journalism’s woes

TV sets in the city by Enrico. Photo via Flickr. CC license.

We have to start asking ourselves: to what extent are we in the media shooting ourselves in the foot?

While my headline here might be a little over the top — nothing is obvious anymore when it comes to a digital era of journalism that has us all gasping for air and grasping for solid ground — the idea that video would be journalism’s savior seems to have only appealed to the bean counters. For anyone who has made any amount of video and tried to do it well, you learn a few things fast:

  • It is hard. Really hard.
  • It is tedious.
  • It takes time, skill, effort and sweat.

But most of all, and most crucially for publishers, it only really takes off on other platforms, like Facebook and Twitter, which means very little to publishers’ bottom line. Consumers are savvier than we give them credit — and if it’s not quality, people won’t watch, on any platform.

Which is why Heidi N. Moore’s piece for Columbia Journalism Review brilliantly starts with an homage to Southpark’s Gnomes Underpants Business Plan:

1) Lay off most of your writers, who produce stories fast and cheaply for your own website
2) Produce more video, which is vastly more expensive and time-consuming and which only finds an audience on other platforms, like Facebook, Twitter or YouTube
3) ????
4) PROFIT

And that’s OK, to some extent: there is no magic formula and we are all trying to humbly contribute a verse to the future of a craft we care deeply about through experimentation. But when whole departments are slashed to put the two print reporters left in bad lighting in a random newsroom hallway while a camera rolls on their thoughts, then we’re really talking self-inflicted meltdown time.

As Moore put it, so much nicer:

Instead, too many publishers are resorting to video as a flashy distraction from deeper underlying problems: falling digital advertising, the expense of creating good journalism, and the existential threat to journalism’s business model itself. In the face of these challenges, you need a smart strategy that diversifies streams of traffic. The biggest problem with the pivot to video is that it’s not well-considered strategy. Instead, it’s been born of desperation. Video deserves better, and so does journalism.
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