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Online News: A Decade of Change or Stasis?

"Quietly, without much fanfare, online news sites have begun making good use of a revolutionary new information tool," the opening line from a online news article proclaimed. "It's called video. Until now, anyone seeking to capture the flavor and texture of a news event was limited to surfing the old-fashioned way: with a TV set and a remote control."

That quote, if taken out of context, could describe the minority of online news sites today, as many sites still provide a text-only version of their news stories. Yet the quote was written over a decade ago. The next line gives it away:

"News sites on the web have offered the occasional QuickTime video, but that required long download times, typically several minutes for just a 30-second clip—hardly worth the trouble. But a fairly new technology called streaming video allows users to watch news clips instantly, at the click of a mouse, though the quality is a bit herky-jerky if you have anything less than a high-speed ISDN line."

What was novel then, though, is essential now. As newspaper masthead readership falls and online readership of news rises, print journalists are being asked to carry not just still cameras (to minimize the number of people in the field at any one time) but also to carry video cameras and to learn to edit streaming content before placing it on the web.

The Changing Face of Newspapers
"I don't mind the still camera," one reporter told me recently, as I conducted industry interviews for a college communications department's overhaul of its traditional journalism program. "But I don't like shooting video and having to learn how to edit. I didn't sign up to be a cameraman."As newspapers try to position themselves as quasi-broadcast journalists, print news organizations would initially just throw raw video up on the web, but the feedback on shaky camera work and monotonous 3-minute long shots soon forced the newsroom to explore editing.

At least year's Streaming Media East show, a keynote speaker from The New York Times showed how The Grey Lady was moving in this direction.

"Arthur [Sulzberger, Jr., chairman of The New York Times Company and publisher of the newspaper] asked me when I was interviewed in 1995 if I understood we weren’t in the print business, but that we were in the journalism business," said Martin Nisenholtz, senior VP of digital operations at The New York Times Company, in his keynote speech. "Since we’re in the journalism business—even though we have a deep and consistent print business—this is why we can expand to an additive process that includes both video and print."

This is a sentiment that's been expressed for more than ten years.

"The beauty of the web is that it gives us the ability to cover a story through print, photos, graphics, sound and video," said Jim Kennedy, director of multimedia services for the Associated Press, more than a decade ago. "Streaming video will become much more prevalent, especially as these online news sites move to the TV screen. It's tough to read a story from across the room, but with products like Web TV, it works just fine if the story is mostly visual and audio."

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