Newspapers Can Do Online Video on a Modest Budget

    by Mark Van Patten
    August 26, 2008
    Mark Van Patten

    Recently, MediaShift started running reports from “embeds” at various media outlets and educational institutions. This report comes from Mark Van Patten, general manager for the online efforts at the Bowling Green (Ky.) Daily News.

    I was as excited as anybody to be able to post video on our website. Our newspaper readers were turning more and more to their computer screen to read our news and it seemed logical that they would appreciate and enjoy seeing video enhancements for the print edition.

    My excitement soon turned to frustration as I started to run into hurdles. While I saw an opportunity to expand our “share of mind,” our photojournalists saw it as an expansion of their work load. There also was immediate disagreement over hardware and software needs.


    Now, the hardware and software issues have been resolved, but we still haven’t come to a mutual understanding or agreement on who should do what and when. Consequently, local video on our website is not fresh. As general manager, I have no oversight of the newsroom, only the online newspaper.

    Getting the Right Equipment

    I think photographers are often too involved with looking the part rather than getting results. It is especially true when it comes to photographers shooting video. When we made the commitment to video, our chief photographer purchased a prosumer videocamera, i.e. a camera that was between top-of-the-line professional and an amateur — or consumer — camera. It was an unnecessary expense, but it looked good.

    Our online director Chris Houchens offers this great example when he speaks to newspaper groups on how to do video:


    What photographers say they need


    This is what your photographers say they want. A prosumer camcorder that looks so different from the regular consumer camcorder that the shooter will obviously be doing “serious” work.

    What photographers really need


    This is what photographers need. Since the end result is going to be web video — not broadcast — the difference in quality isn’t discernible by the average viewer.

    Excellent video and sound can be captured without spending more than $700 total on equipment including camera, tripod and microphone. However, the photographer won’t look like the photographer from the TV station. Despite the size of your community, people know what TV photographers should look like.

    Overcoming the look of being a photographer shooting video is not a small hurdle and should be addressed early on.

    Gary Moyers, webmaster for Shurz Communications newspapers in Kentucky, told the Kentucky Press Association recently:

    When we started, we got the big $8,000 Sony camera…it came with all the bells and whistles, but the equipment doesn’t have to be that costly…at (Jessamine Journal in Nicholasville, Ky. (6,200 circulation weekly), they have a $300 JVC camera that works fine and they post their videos through YouTube.

    Getting the Right Software

    Probably the most often overlooked aspect of newspapers putting video online is the software needed to make better video. Video is better when it is edited. If a newspaper is shooting and uploading raw unedited video it often will have the YouTube look, i.e. amateur. But with simple software, often free, video can easily be edited and you can even add a voiceover after the fact to give it a more professional look.

    At the Daily News, we started with Visual Communicator Pro. We paid about $200 for the software a couple years ago. Since we purchased it, the company has been acquired by Adobe and the software now sells for $400 with numerous additional features. The version we have is useful for web productions. Houchens used it for a couple years to produce our daily online tease for the print edition.

    This is a Daily News Now webcast that was produced by Chris Houchens using Visual Communicator Pro. The webcast is no longer produced because of a decline in viewer interest.

    What photographers say they need


    Newspaper photographers think they need a full blown professional editing bay (like the one pictured here), when in fact a smaller, less costly alternative is available and perfectly acceptable for web video. (Photo by DF Shapinsky for PINGNews.com/Shapinsky MultiMedia via Flickr.)

    What photographers really need


    The Daily News uses Visual Communicator Pro with no special lighting, as you can see in this photo. The green backdrop is a vinyl sheet that is included with the software package. However, we have replaced the coat rack with a more permanent string suspension arrangement from the ceiling.

    For editing raw video, Houchens uses the software that came with the video card, Pinnacle. He classifies it as a mid-grade editing program. Daily News photographers prefer to use Final Cut Pro Express from Apple.

    This is a video story produced using Pinnacle software included with the computer video card.

    This is a video story produced by Chris Houchens using Final Cut Express.

    Who Shoots Video

    At the Daily News we have two video sections on our main page. One area is reserved for photojournalists’ work, called Multimedia and includes slide-shows and video; the other is for all the other video and is labeled Web Video.

    If we get one video story a week from the newsroom, it’s been a good week. Our web video is shot by myself and Houchens. We also run hot and cold on getting new video online. Since we both have other duties, we just don’t force ourselves to get out and shoot. In our newsroom, there is very little discussion of the online newspaper and how it can be used to enhance the print edition. Houchens does not sit in on newsroom planning meetings.

    This indicates to me that the online newspaper is still viewed as something less than journalistically worthy of consideration. It is still an afterthought in the newsroom.

    Mark Van Patten isn’t as smart as he thinks he is. He has compensated by surrounding himself with smart people. As a result, he in his 38th year of working at small newspapers, starting on the street as an ad sales rep and working his way up to publisher. Currently, Van Patten is general manager of the Daily News in Bowling Green, Kentucky. He blogs, Twitters, Flickrs, Diggs, Stumbles, Tumblrs, and Woopras his way through the web and is Linked-in. He blogs at MarkVanPatten.com for business and GoingLikeSixty.com for fun.

    Tagged: embeds newspapers video video editing videocameras
    • Social media will start to mainstream when it exits its buzzword phase. The meshing (mashup in social media-speak) of traditional print and digital is the natural maturation. Mark’s experiences are quite valuable toward that end.

    • Oh, this is so true. I have reviewed camera and software budgets for clients big and small and invariably Photogs and Multimedia editors tend to spec way-too-expensive cameras. Often, cameras they probably have never worked with before.

      Last week I led a video workshop in Wisconsin with reporters and photogs who work at small papers and we talked a lot about this issue as well as the techniques for improving their web video reports.

      Two truths emerged. Photogs videos need more reporting, and reporters videos need better visuals to illustrate the reporting.

      I looked and listened to your videos and can recommend that you spend at least $60 on a tripod and $150 on the Rode videomic.

      Using those two things will instantly elevate the quality of your videos much more than a “Hi-Def, 3-CCD camera that shoots in 24p.”

    • Recart

      Yes, get all the equipment you want, spend countless hours taping and editing and for all of that investment and if you’re lucky you can manage a few hundred hits out of your 100,000 print subscribers. And most newspapers don’t even monitor how long the viewers stay with the video.. Usually they don’t stay til the end.

    • Joe Imel, photo editor and co-worker of Mr. Van Patten here at the Daily News. I wanted shed a little light on our work flow. Mark hasn’t been down to see how we are doing things in awhile. While we do have a decent video camera in the form of the Canon GL-2 that staffer Hunter Wilson uses, most of our videos are made with the Canon G-7 or G-9 point and shoot cameras ($450), a Flip video recorder ($149) or a Canon ZR-800 ($250). Hunter uses Final Cut Pro that is on his personal laptop (he was trained to use that at WKU), but myself, David and Miranda use iMovie (a free video editing program that came with our personal Mac laptops. We actually gave our copy of Final Cut Express to one of the online department members because we do not use it. We also use a great $49 program to convert our files to DV and to raw FLV files for the web. Visual Hub is great. Right now some of our video’s are done with just under ($200) of gear. When we first looked at doing video we asked for pro-sumer camera and software but quickly found we prefer the ease of shooting with small, SD card video recorders instead of lugging around the larger tape cameras. We also found we prefer not having to import the video and like to just drag and drop the files into our editor. We are doing video’s on the cheap (cheap cameras and free software). When you are carrying two camera bodies, a bag and flashes, carry video gear can be tough. We opt to go smaller and cheaper. We do have a tripod with a fluid head for the Canon GL-2 that Hunter uses when send a still shooter and a videographer to an assignment. Those video pieces stand out in quality over the other quick hits. I will admit that it is really tough for one person to shoot stills and video at a general news assignment, spot news or sports. Just like when a reporter has to write and shoot pictures at small daily or weekly paper, something suffers. Do you let the still images suffer for your 25,000 readers or do you let the video suffer of the 500-700 people that are viewing them on a sub-par player on a template driven web site that does not treat visuals with kindness. The photo staff at the Daily News prides itself in its quality, moment driven photojournalism that has been recognized and awarded more times that any other department at the paper. While this new media shift presents a learning curve and mindset that we are having to adjust to, I am confident that we will continue to contribute to our online product with more frequency and with quality work. If you would like to find out how we do video here at the Daily News, email me at [email protected] You can view some of our work at http://www.bgdailynews.com (some of the videos archived do not play from some reason). Give me a shout, I would love to talk about. Two of the larger papers in the state have a videographer dedicated to shooting content for the web, but most smaller papers are relying on their photo staffs to try and juggle shooting both. The Kentucky News Photographers Association (a chapter of the National Press Photographers Association will be tackle this issue in the form of trained speakers that are our there doing it and will present at our annual seminar in January in Louisville. Maybe we can get Mark and Chris to speak to our members.

    • Mark — this is a good contribution to our collective knowledge!

    • Today, I announced an “open” training session for anyone in the building who wants to shoot video for our website. (The non-news “web video” section.)

      Our Online Director will conduct the training. I’ll report back on how it goes.

      @Robb: we do have a tripod (not always used – I prefer a monopod) and purchased a handheld mic recently but have not used it.

      @Joe: yes, you’re right, I have no idea what is going on in the photo department. Never said I did. This isn’t a factual report. It’s my opinion. Thanks for adding yours. Good for people to see there is an ongoing struggles – that’s the point of Mark Glaser asking for embeds to reflect real life issues.

    • Garrett

      Our video program at The Star-Ledger uses the first option you featured on the video camera, Mac Pro laptops and Final Cut Pro on the software.

      We had over 100 journalists, from all parts of the newsroom, volunteer for the video effort. The problem was that only 20 could be trained in the first stage. We are on our second training session. Each trained VJ is expected to produce one video a week.

      I’m still waiting to get my chance.

    • Chet White

      Wow. What a slap in the face to your photojournalists. It seems that people running newspapers are big fans of quantity over quality and are trying to come up with quirky ideas to sell more papers, like running reader submitted photos. But never have I heard talk about improving the quality of stories and design to bring in more readers. Put your pro-sumer cameras in the hands of your reporters (quantity) and let your photojournalists tell great stories with the gear needed to take the video beyond the level of a high school project and talking heads, like the ones you’ve submitted as examples. With the higher end cameras, photographers have more control than just pointing and shooting. I do agree that quality peices can be done with lower end cameras, but to take it to the next level, which is what most passionate photojournalists aspire to do, higher end cameras and better production software is needed. Let your photojouranlists take care of the quality, and you Mr. Van Patten, take care of the quantity.

      Chet White

    • Since we are sharing thoughts about video, gear, software, quality and quantity, I wanted to pass this on.

    • Just get out there and do the job NOW. Yes, quantity over quality. You don’t have to show it if it’s not good enough, but you do need to try your hand at it.

      Sure prosumer cameras may provide a little better picture quality, and a full editing suite might give all the bells and whistles, but photogs aren’t using that stuff straight off the bat.

      As long as the camcorder has external audio input/output jacks…it’s good enough.

      You definitely need quantity before quality. Quantity is practice, and photogs and journos need a lot of practice.

    • These ideas are not new…can anyone provide an example of a newspaper making them work?

      The YouTube link above had 68 views when I checked – 43 of them from this post!

    • Mark —
      I am a print reporter based in Lima, and I am looking to buy a cam corder to start adding video content to my stories. I work a lot with a photographer, so I’ve always regarded visuals as “his” thing, but I’d like to see what I can do w/creating visual narratives for online. No big investment. What cam corder models would you recommend for someone who’s just starting out?

    • Hi Barbara: Chuck Fadely runs an excellent forum:
      post your request there and you will get lots of advice.

      Best of luck!

    • Been doing local daily internet news show thats 30 minutes long for almost 2 years with Visual Communicator Looking to add ticker tape try of feed check it out and let me know if you find something I can use to add to this

    • Been doing local daily internet news show thats 30 minutes long for almost 2 years with Visual Communicator Looking to add ticker tape try of feed check it out and let me know if you find something I can use to add to this

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