Carnival of Journalism #fail: The glittering allure of Web video

Note: This post is another installment for the Reynolds Journalism Institute’s Carnival of Journalism project, where people passionate about journalism are sharing ideas in the blogosphere about ways to preserve and improve the craft.


Fear comfort, not failure.

Innovation theorists often talk about “failing fast” — taking risks and then quickly evaluating whether the risk is reaping hoped-for rewards.

This is my tale of “failing fast.”

In June 2001, I became online editor of the Springfield (Mo.) News-Leader, and I was eager to put my stamp on our Web site. One of my first major projects involved working with an assistant city editor to develop strong coordinated coverage of the Ozarks Open, our area’s premier golf event. Besides luring many rising professional golfers to the area, the event raised thousands of dollars for local charities.

Our big idea: A virtual tour of the course.

We repurposed newspaper graphics for the Web and developed individual pages for every hole. We broke down the key elements and analyzed the primary obstacles. And then, the editor — who was also a videographer — spent days at the course with the golf pro shooting videos that offered from-the-golfer views explaining how to navigate the holes.

Eighteen videos. Each about a minute long. Each about 9.8 megabytes in size.

We launched the mini-site in conjunction with coverage in the print edition and provided links from the home page. We praised ourselves for being ahead of the curve and thinking multimedia. Our site was deeper than any other — even deeper than the event’s own site.

But I failed to consider two critical details: The majority of our users connected to us via dial-up, and those who came through broadband connections typically did so during work hours.

The videos sat dormant. Views languished in double digits. Obituaries and death notices continued to be our top draws.

We had spent days of staff time and resources developing the mini-site. And no one was using it.

I learned a valuable lesson, though. From a news site, most people just want the information quickly, sans multimedia doo-dads. In many conversations with online editors since, I have found staff-produced videos typically are not major draws. It’s the raw video from breaking-news scenes or the goofball YouTube amateur that pulls in the audience.

As a researcher, I’ve investigated this question a bit further. A secondary analysis I conducted of media usage in 2009 showed that multimedia was not statistically significant in whether someone chose the Internet as his or her primary source for news. The primary factor was frequency of updating.

Indeed, my recent research at the Christian Science Monitor found that the news organization improved traffic more effectively with frequent updates than multimedia content. Videos and a weekly webcast were abandoned because they didn’t generate much interest from the audience. And the push toward regular updates, combined with search-engine optimization, helped the Monitor increase page views to more than 25 million per month.


4 thoughts on “Carnival of Journalism #fail: The glittering allure of Web video

  1. I was just talking about Web video with my class today. We were watching CNN’s coverage of bin Laden’s death and wondering why CNN put videos at the top of the page. Maybe you should target next?! Great post!

  2. I dunno
    I was a correspondent for Monitor when the CSM ran a daily TV news show on Discovery Channel. I think it was one of the best news shows on TV. Should work on the web, particularly in the age of Hulu.

    1. I’m not saying news organizations should avoid video at all costs. But if your motivation is to garner page views, it may not be the best move in a news context. For added depth and value, it’s worth doing. But in this age of doing less with more, I wonder if that time spent shooting and editing video would be better spent on creating more interactive content (Flash graphics, news games, etc.)

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