Chapter 5

Building a news organization’s capacity for video

Despite the differences among the many organizations producing digital video, a consensus appears to be forming around three organizational best practices. They include:

  • Create clarity around the role of video
  • Develop a flexible work force that understands video
  • Identify a distribution strategy that includes social, mobile and partnerships

Create clarity around the role of video

CNN’s KC Estenson believes that an organization needs to set its intentions about the role of video.

“For every organization, you’ve got to get really pure and clear on what you’re trying to do — who’s your audience? What are your goals? What are you trying to achieve?”

Estenson said such clarity leads to action.

“Once we set video as a priority, it drives how we program the homepage. It drives how we program mobile platforms,” he said.

Drake Martinet is head of platform at Vice News. “The internal goals in terms of viewership and growth are so clear and so high that absolutely everyone in the organization must pull together.”

Stephen Bach of NDN said the “human factor” in legacy organizations is one of the biggest stumbling blocks to increasing video views.

“Some organizations are still saddled with a non-digital mentality. Folks in the newsroom will say that they don’t want the video to compete with the text.”

Which begs the question: Is there an advocate for video high up within the editorial structure? Organizational structures reflect priorities.

The importance of video at the Wall Street Journal has been made very clear to everyone, according to News Corp executive Rahul Chopra. It’s an editorial and financial imperative. When reviewing the performance of his team, he looks for one particular metric first.

“How many stories or article pages have video embedded at the top of the page? One, it’s a sign that the reporters and editors and journalists are understanding the value that that video provides and two, there’s an incremental 5,000 to 10,000 more views we get on the video. There’s money to be made,” Chopra said.

Develop a flexible workforce that understands video

Early in the digital age, it was thought that the journalist of the future would combine four jobs in one: shooting video, recording audio, taking notes, and snapping still photos. Reality set in quickly. There are only so many things one person can do, and do well, at the same time.

Editors need to be able to say, ‘That video is really bad and that’s not going to go on our site.’

Expectations for today’s journalists have shifted. They aren’t expected to do all these tasks at the same time, but many are expected to be multi-faceted and comfortable with video and its demands.

“At CNN we’re looking for people who can write, shoot, edit, produce and potentially go on camera, and many of them are graduating from J-schools with precisely those skill sets,” said Ed O’Keefe of CNN. “They don’t have a lot of experience … but these are folks who have grown up with the internet. They are digital natives in every sense.”

For legacy print organizations, video literacy is important. Andy Pergam of McClatchy said, “You need people to be able to speak the language of video.”

“In the same way you’d say to a print reporter, ‘Hey — that story’s not good enough for A1,’ … editors need to be able to say, ‘That video is really bad and that’s not going to go on our site.'”

Identify a distribution strategy that includes social, mobile and partnerships

Assuming your staff is video literate, and the role of video is clear and reflected in your organizational structure, distribution is the final key. Are you finding all the potential audiences that exist that can drive viewers back to your site?

ABC News increased the size of its social team to six people. “It’s all about social, ” says Sara Just of ABC News, “until whatever is coming next comes.”

Partnerships are another means of distribution, says Zena Barakat at the New York Times.

“We’re finding ways to display and distribute our content so that [the videos] have a longer shelf life.”

Extending the shelf life of news-related videos might be the unexpected upside of a digital ecosystem otherwise driven by speed and quantity: If you make something good, it can live well beyond the news cycle.