Jun 03, 2008, 05:33AM

I Want My WebTV

The mainstream dailies have been dropping the ball when it comes to online video technology, but (surprisingly) the Times is leading the way.

Untitled 1.jpg?ixlib=rails 2.1

I’m not always in the mood to read. Sometimes, I need someone to simply tell me something about this world while I sit back in my chair and space out. YouTube, of course, is the mothership for video browsing/soul searching while at the office. But while it reigns supreme in terms of quantity, it can be quite difficult sifting through the dreck and jettisoned muck for real nuggets of “truth”—the contemporary, vetted and sourced type of truth.

Frankly, it’s up to major daily newspapers—those belly-aching dinosaurs that cough up a plastic-coated pellet on your parents’ front lawn from time to time—to hold the lamp up high for us to follow. But very few have any clue as to what it is they’re trying to accomplish with Web video.

Look at it this way: Blogs and their infinite tentacles are ultimately attached to the huge, inky and beaked mainstream media. Without all that reporting (you know, research), what would the blogosphere natter about? As far as I can tell, Daily Kos and Talking Points Memo and The Drudge Report don’t have foreign correspondents in Baghdad. Not to discount the volumes of legit commentary and actual reporting that occurs at blogs, but let’s be honest: without the dailies, the pickings would be a lot slimmer.

Of course, something has to give as print media companies slide more into the red and online media into the black. But we’re talking about video, here, those one-to-five-minute clips of interviews, highlights, cooking features, tech reviews, etc. These little clips of movable type (get it?) ensnare millions of clickers every day. Much like Icelanders tapping into underground fonts of geothermal energy, newspapers can and should unlock the power of viral video.

Now, The New York Times doesn’t necessarily need to upload videos of laughing Nordic babies to its online front page (or could it…); the point is that when you see the Times' masthead or “AP” in the corner of a video clip, you have a general confidence in the veracity of the content. There is comfort in brand recognition. Head over to YouTube and search “new york times” and see how many ensuing clips claim tens of thousands of hits. The Times’ YouTube channel (“all the news that’s fit to stream”: har, har), which boasts over 4,000 subscribers, led recently with a satirical video as part of the series “The Naked Campaign,” replete with clever animation and eggs and plenty of Bush quotes. It looks sexy—regardless of political affiliation, if you’re good-natured enough—and, coming from the Times, it just feels comfortable, much like its hunky-dory iPhone tutorial from last year that logged over 1,000,000 hits. Not too shabby. The paper is obviously having a good time producing media both hard-hitting and satirical.

Just try to find anything of similar value from The Washington Post, USA Today or the Los Angeles Times and you’ll come up short. Heading over to their respective websites, you can see why. The Post has a banner of videos and audio slideshows far down the page, away from the lead headlines and photos. What you get is an almost-decent selection of entertainment, news, fashion and other odds and ends. What the Post should be doing is showcasing as many clips of Tony Kornheiser as possible (ESPN’s Pardon the Interruption and also a football analyst for the same station). There are few sports gurus out there with more poise and guts than Kornheiser.

(For a quick glimpse of Korheiser’s awesomeness, check out this clip of him taking his own newspaper to task for a pretty damn insulting bit of copy. Basically, the front page of the sports section ran a tease for an inside article by Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon, which read: “Kornheiser and Wilbon deign to discuss female athletes.” Either a mid-level editor was feeling pissy or hung-over or someone just simply goofed. Big time. Kornheiser had the balls to call it out.)

Anyway, for all the Post’s video deficiencies, the paper certainly outstrips the Los Angeles Times and USA Today in terms of originality and relevancy. These two outlets pretty much throw up AP wire videos and hope for the best (don’t even look at the sports videos on USAT’s site). There is little to no creativity at work at these papers. That’s a shame, especially since the Post won a Pulitzer in feature writing for a story that included a lot of video and audio. The paper set up world-renowned violinist Joshua Bell near a D.C. Metro stop with a $2 million Stradivarius and documented who stopped to listen and who didn’t (unfortunately for Washingtonians, a lot of one and not a lot of the other). The accompanying videos are crucial in experiencing the story’s angle. The Post could package its seemingly extensive footage of Bell into a sexy YouTube clip, but it hasn’t.

The New York Times regularly features videos “above the fold” on its website, as well as showcasing its multimedia projects. It glorifies its multimedia in ways the other major outlets don’t. There needs to be more of this. Yes, newspapers now have blogs—sometimes way too many—and are starting to understand the Internet better than they did one, two and 10 years ago. When it comes down to it, newspapers should be the fucking vanguard of viral video—or, if not “viral,” then go-to video. The wheels are turning, creaking and moaning: Progress is being made.

But, yeesh, there’s still a long way to go.

  • A very informative piece, and one of the good things I've read about The New York Times in a dog's age. But Andrew Klein, while certainly correct that blogs and websites (for now) rely on huge media companies for content to launch off on, this clearly won't be the case in a just a few years. Print newspapers will soon be "boutique" items, somewhat similar to vinyl records today. It's hard to believe that a company as large as the Times, with a bloated staff, will be able to recoup the revenue from lost print advertising and circulation to remain a behemoth in the industry.

    Responses to this comment
  • I don't disagree that the print media as we know it is in for some serious change — the end result being something totally new. Although the print product may become boutique, the structure of trained, vetted journalists at home and abroad will never leave. The major dailies have the existing DNA — the journalists — they're just simply in need of evolution.

    Responses to this comment
  • I think this is a quaint and hopeful notion, but economically naive. How will the Times, for example, continue to fund their very expensive (and admirable) foreign bureaus with a vastly decreased stream of revenue? It's only because of the Times' largesse (though shrinking) that it's been able to avoid the cutbacks of once prestigious newspapers, such as Los Angeles Times. And, as time goes on, and those journalists with the "DNA" will die off, just like print readers, and the industry as we know it will be in shambles.

    Responses to this comment
  • Christian, I don't have the financial know-how to fully respond to the eventual death-to-all-newspapers scenario. What I do know is that the demand for vetted information will never cease—I think it will only increase as major media outlets founder. In the case of a vacuum, perhaps great vats of money (Google, Apple, Microsoft) will fill the void. The industry may go to shit sometime in the near future, but the future after that future will still depend on those journalists—however different their job will be from the original.

    Responses to this comment
  • You're an optimistic guy. There will be an explosion—say when the New York Times is sold and then downsized—but who knows if the "demand for vetted information will never cease"? Google, Apple and Microsoft, of course, won't touch any print products. Maybe a vanity buyer like George Soros or David Geffen will. This is just conjecture, but difference between journalists in 2008 and 2018 will change far more dramatically than journalists from 1940 to the present. A whole new animal.

    Responses to this comment
  • My optimism is not necessarily wedded to print. Though I love newspapers I am more than ready to see them permanently into, perhaps, online-only platforms. That's the breaks of industry. But they'll only do it when they capitalize on the demand for multimedia content. On a different note, think about the AP: half the world receives its news from it, and it's a non-profit organization.

    Responses to this comment
  • ASKlein: You might have noticed today that Microsoft's Steve Ballmer has predicted the end of print by 2018.

    Responses to this comment

Register or Login to leave a comment