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Newspapers turning to videos to enhance reporting the news

Many television news programs have become more like newspapers by having a print version of stories online. And now there is a trend for Mississippi newspapers to become more like television by providing online video coverage of news events.

“From a Mississippi perspective, we may be further along than some people realize,” said Layne Bruce, executive director, Mississippi Press Association. “There are a number of newspapers in the state that are dabbling in the process of using video to compliment their Web site. I can rattle off several daily newspapers employing this, and even some weekly newspaper that have gotten in the practice of posting videos to the Web. As time marches on, I believe it will become even more common for newspaper Web sites.”

While printed newspapers delivered to the front door or available at news stands are still what define newspapers, Bruce sees the online companion Web sites as a very valuable tool to do what newspapers do, but in a different way. News consumers are very sophisticated these days. When they go to a newspaper Web site, they are expecting more than what they receive in the print edition.

“Video is an example of how that is different,” Bruce said. “We expect the Web to be fluid, in motion and in color.”

By and large, newspaper employees are learning to operate in this new medium “on the fly,” Bruce says. Ad salesmen have to learn how to sell advertising on the Web site. And journalists trained to be wordsmiths have to learn how to operate video cameras, narrate video and sometimes anchor newscasts. For example, the Laurel Leader Call has in past year launched an online newscast.

“This is such a time of rapid change, people are trying new approaches,” Bruce said. “Not all of this will work, but we are very excited our members are embracing it as rapidly as they seem to be. Clearly, most newspapers are making money off their Web sites. Their Web sites are profit centers for their newspapers. As we go along, it will be a critical task to have Web sites that are contributing to the bottom line. I’d say anyone who has Web site now is at least covering expenses. As technology gets cheaper, video equipment is less expensive. And newspapers are using existing staff or perhaps hiring one person to take the lead on the online edition.”

The trend is reaching into the curriculum at colleges and universities. Dennis Webster, director of broadcasting and media production services, University of Southern Mississippi, said cross training print reporters in video work is one of the most important current trends in journalism.

“It is affecting newspapers and changing their approach,” Webster said. “Members of our advisory committee in journalism are talking about it. The discussion is on how to better prepare students for working for newspapers in terms of being able to deliver the news. Newspapers have to adapt to compete with CNN and other instant news sources. Newspaper journalists are going to have to be in that ballgame and compete. A lot of journalism folks will need greater experience in in-depth photography and video preparation.”

The trend is reflected even in advertising for newspaper reporter positions. Often now the ads will ask for reporters with experience in photography and video work for positions that used to be just for print reporting.

Any business today that has a Web page would like that Web page to be as modern, and enhancing as can be.

“One of the ways to accomplish that is to make sure video clips, streaming capabilities, or other motion-related opportunities are on those pages,” Webster said.

“I think what is most important since all of us watch television every day and see well- prepared professional video, we expect high-quality, aesthetically-designed, well-composed video materials on the Internet. The higher the quality of that material, the more effective it is going to be.”

Cheaper technology is definitely driving the trend. Webster said it no longer takes a $60,000 camera to do basic videos. You can even take fairly decent videos with some cell phone cameras. Software has greatly improved, and you can now store a huge amount of video on a laptop.

“The technology is there to do the job without a huge investment,” Webster said. “Today you can purchase Final Cut Pro and a nice large Mac with huge storage capabilities for under $20,000 that will do the same thing as equipment that used to cost $150,000. Some of the people I know have gotten rid of other, more expensive editing systems and have gone over to the Mac and Final Cut Pro. It has taken that part of profession from the storm. It is good and inexpensive.”

The Hattiesburg American has been doing online videos now for about a year. Online editor Lici Beveridge said it has been a learning process figuring out what kinds of videos people want to see on the newspaper Web site.

“At first we weren’t sure how our readers would take it and how we should present it,” Beveridge said. “Now we have a better feel for what people like to look at, and are getting better at giving them things they want to look at. The videos allow us to provide another dimension to reporting news like being able to post crime screen video like if someone holds up a convenience store. So hopefully it helps with community service.”

How do you train print reporters to think in video? Beveridge said their skills in reporting are already there. You just have to take those skills and use a more three-dimensional approach.

“The interviews are the same,” she said. “You ask the same questions. You just shoot video that reflects the story you write like you would with a print version illustrating with photo, graphics or other images.”

Beveridge said newspapers are expanding to provide video to be competitive in the modern world.

“I can tell you it does help gain more reader interest,” she said. “Keeping up with the latest technology is always important. As the computer age grows, people are more sophisticated in how they get their news and information. If we provide the news in a way that is conducive to their needs, that is good business.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at 4becky@cox.net.

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