Teaching Examples

Who has time for video?
February 14, 2007, 2:21 pm
Filed under: journalism, online, video

“How do you find time to look at all this stuff?” People often ask me that question.

The answer is twofold: It’s my job. And: Really, I don’t have the time. Other things suffer because I don’t allocate my time as well as I should.

This leads me to a comment about video and podcasts and all that linear-based media we are getting online today.

Who in the world has time for all this?

I happened across a post on this same subject from Tom Abate, who writes MiniMediaGuy — an often interesting blog about local and community-focused journalism. First he describes a panel of four newspaper journalists who have been shooting video and producing multimedia for some time at the Ventura County Star. He attended the panel in person, at the University of California, Berkeley.

Then Abate mentions that Berkeley generously archived Webcasts (video) of all the panels at the conference. Wow! This is great, isn’t it? Here’s what Abate wrote:

… the truth is that, having missed the original lectures, I may never consume the information. It’s just not pleasurable to spend 50 minutes viewing a webcast.

He had the same reaction later when he started to listen to some podcasts highlighted in a Poynter article by Amy Gahran. The content of the podcasts was stuff he really wanted to know, but listening is just so inefficient.

It takes too long.

This brings me to onBeing, a gorgeous new video project from washingtonpost.com (for which Rob Curley is getting accolades from all over). The project made its debut a week ago (Feb. 7), and lovers of multimedia journalism were immediately impressed. I’ve seen probably a dozen blog posts about it since then.

Last night about 7 p.m., I finally had time to check it out.

Well, I certainly am impressed, like everyone else. It’s compelling, it’s interesting, it’s beautiful in both design and execution. I’d like to see more hooting and hollering about Jenn Crandall, the videographer, because she is the person who captured these intimate interviews with regular people. That’s what makes this so special, you know. If the content of the videos were crap, all that sexy interface would not matter one iota.

But back to the time issue.

There’s a brand-new video at onBeing today, an interview with a woman who plays football. I have it playing in the background, while I’m writing this. I’m listening while I write. I don’t have time to watch right now.

I watch YouTube. My students watch YouTube. But when I need to answer a question, verify a fact, get solid information — I do not have TIME to wait for a video to play — even for 2 minutes. I can scan at least three Web pages in 2 minutes, maybe four, processing thousands of words in a high-speed quest for answers.

I do watch a lot of video online. But we’ve got to keep some perspective on this.

The Post’s onBeing is a really good use of video in part because the subject matter is right. You’re going to watch one of these when you want to relax a little, be entertained, and maybe learn something new — but you’re not sure what that might be. Like striking up a conversation with someone at a bus stop. You don’t expect to get a big benefit out of it, a key nugget of life-changing information. You’re just passing the time in a pleasant way.

Passing the time vs. managing your time.

There are big differences between these two uses of time — which is precious to everyone. Some content is going to be very well suited to video — but other content will be better when it’s delivered in other, more appropriate formats. We’ve got to have open discussions about when video is a good choice and when it is not.

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3 Comments so far
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Slightly tangential comment: While I think time is an important factor, I think we need to remember that while there are limitations to video, it has assets as well. I think there are three things we need to talk about in relation to this: the remixing the content (which while not exclusive to the medium, is certainly a mostly untapped resource), creators only capable of using video and consumers only capable of using video (the latter two are more exclusive than in all but the most extreme cases, but you get the drift).
First, the remixes. While it may be beyond the fortitude of Tom (or anyone else) to sit through a 50-minute Web cast, but if the original producer or someone with more time than him sliced and diced and put out the ten minutes of Joe Editor talking about how much he loves those all-Flash sites and the eye-rolling from the Web-head at the other end of the dais, it becomes a lot less onerous. This, of course, depends on there being someone both willing and capable of doing the dirty work, but hopefully it will become more and more the norm. (A low-tech version is the “good stuff happens at 13:40 into the clip”, which requires some user knowledge of the media player–and some capability in the player itself.) Also, would it kill the panel people to put out audio-only for the podcastees?
Second, there are those creators or subjects who, for one reason or another, would be less fully realized in other mediums–to the point of being unrealized in some cases. An example might be the homeless people I read about using YouTube to publicize their plight, or even something as banal as reality television.
Finally, there are some audiences for whom video is the most, or even the only, accessible medium. For example, I am in the midst of a so-far fruitless search for a video explaining unipolar and bipolar depression with the punch and clarity of Joshua Wolf Shenk’s words in Lincoln’s Melancholy, so that someone dealing with a loved one suffering from the disease can better understand what’s going on. I can read it or listen to it and get an good mental picture, but that’s not how this person is wired (but try her out at the Scene It games, and you best bring a lunch).
What do these three points have to do with time? The first is about saving time: I, like everyone else, don’t want to wade through 45 minutes of blah blah to get to the good stuff; the second is about making sure we make time for video by those with no other outlet–we can’t let our lack of time squeeze them out of the conversation; the third is about making sure that we take the time to create video for those who need it because otherwise they won’t have access to the information.
Whether or not this fits in with any media company’s business plan right now is another matter altogether.

Comment by Pierce

“How do you find the time?” I get asked that question a lot. My response: I find the time for the things I am passionate about. I wrote that at the ICM blog too.

We’ve got to have open discussions about when video is a good choice and when it is not.

I think that’s what’s going on now. I see it all the time in the “quantity” vs. “quality” debate that crops up (aka Owens v. Grant) 🙂

I see a place for both. But now is the time when we’re in flux. People are placing their bets and summoning their arguments on both sides of the issue. It may be a while before we get a definite answer. Because ultimately, we may find that people (“real people,” not media producers and professors like us) vote for something completely different than we would. Just like they vote to read different things than some of us would like them to read or watch (anna nicole over the frontline war series, for instance). Not saying it’s right, but it’s a factor.

As for onBeing, I think it’s interesting that people have been quick to lay comment on this offering. Curley himself says he prefers to give something a year to 18 months to really judge it a success or failure. But the industry is in such a nervous state that we’re all quick to draw conclusions one way or the other.

Comment by Murley

Remixing — definitely key today. Very important, I agree.

Video as the only medium some people can or will use — that’s a really interesting idea! I saw the homeless video from St. Pete that you mentioned. Great example.

I think maybe the Rodney King video is another example. No one would have believed it if the guy had only written text about it.

Pierce, thanks for the thoughtful comment. That was really thought-provoking for me.

Comment by Mindy McAdams

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