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Newspapers in Multimedia Metamorphosis (Part 2)

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We are in the midst of a revolution, as newspapers metamorphose from paper-based broadsheets to streams of bits and bytes, as newspaper publishers evolve into multimedia newsgathering entities, and as old-fashioned newsrooms become "converged newsrooms."

We are living in exciting times, but the excitement has brought with it fear of change and lots of nagging doubts and questions. As newspapers consider how they’ll capitalize on streaming media to survive and prosper in this new multimedia world, they are batting around some big issues—some technological, but most having to do with personnel and management. Newspaper people are asking themselves many questions, including these:
1. Should we even be doing video? Isn’t video something that should be left to specialists?
2. Who will do all the extra multimedia work? Staff reporters, staff photographers, new hires?
3. Can we make money from video? How?
4. Are we competing for viewers with the local TV station? Should we? Can we?
5. Will we just do TV on the cheap, or can we do something new?

Various newspapers, both big and small, are working through these issues in various ways.

Should Video Be Left to Specialists?
Are newspapers that are delving into video newsgathering getting out of their league? Isn’t video something that should be left up to the specialists, like those at TV stations and network news operations? Aren’t print and video two different art forms?

"Well, you need to understand each medium before you do it," says Mark Glaser, an influential media watcher who is responsible for the provocative MediaShift blog, which is hosted at PBS.org. "You can’t just take someone who is a print reporter and stick him on a camera and say, ‘Do the video report.’ People have to learn the strengths of each medium. News people will need to be multi-talented and know a little bit about everything. That’s the way these news organizations are going. They’re sending out reporters with cameras, and they want to put the reporters on camera and have them do podcasts. So journalists will need to learn how to create content for various media. But in the short term you’re going to end up with some junky video on the web. It’s going to take a while before everyone figures out how to do it."

Who’ll Do the Work?
At the nation’s small and mid-sized newspapers, it seems that any new multimedia work is being tacked on to the responsibilities of existing staff. There’s very little new hiring going on. Multimedia editors are being promoted from within the ranks, often the ranks of the photography staff. Both Seth Gitner at the The Roanoke Times in Virginia and Colin Mulvany at The Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Washington, were veteran staff photographers who were removed by management from photography duties to assume responsibility for their respective newspapers’ multimedia efforts. Both are practically one-man bands who are currently busy trying to teach their reporters and photographers how to gather news with video.

At bigger newspapers, the situation is actually quite similar, though on a larger scale, of course. Although some big newspapers do have staffs of video specialists, those staffs are usually quite small, and the primary onus of video newsgathering still falls on the backs of staff reporters and photographers. Dow Jones, the parent company of The Wall Street Journal, actually purchased a TV/online news operation from CBS News (MarketWatch), brought it in house and made it responsible for its converged video news gathering. [This story was written before Rupert Murdoch sealed his deal to purchase Dow Jones.—Ed.] In charge is Robert Leverone, who is VP of television for Dow Jones Online. Leverone started out with Michael Bloomberg’s media operations and has about 20 years of television experience.

"We have a small production group of about 12 people, and we have camera people who have come from TV and we have video editors here," says Leverone. But this group is meant to be support to the regular staff. "We recently purchased 25 high-definition video cameras and distributed those to our Wall Street Journal reporters through the various bureaus, and we expect them to take them out, and they have. We have had video from reporters embedded in Afghanistan and Iraq. And we’ve had a reporter take a camera into a meeting with Warren Buffett."

At newspapers both big and small, there seems to be an ongoing discussion over who should be doing the video—reporters versus still photographers.

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