I have a lot of respect for Howard Owens and the major contributions he’s making to the conversation about how newspapering is evolving, but I’m puzzle by a comment he made on a post by Melissa Worden.

Melissa’s post, Is narrative video worth the time it takes to produce it?, looks at the time and energy that needs to go into producing in-depth video stories and whether it really will produce the potential for increased advertising. It’s an interesting discussion, with no final answer yet.

Howard’s comment:

I’ve said it before, any video that takes more than an hour to shoot and edit probably isn’t worth the ROI.

That surprised me. It takes longer than an hour for a reporter and editor to cover, write and edit typical city council coverage. A profile that is reported, written and edited in less than a hour probably doesn’t have much depth to it.

The comparison might not be to storytelling, though, but to illustration. For the average photo assignment, an hour to shoot and run the image through Photoshop seems more than enough. The problem there is that it reduces the potential for newspaper video. It becomes only a new form of photojournalism (which it is quite often well-suited to) and not also a new form of newspaper storytelling.

From a day-to-day economic point of view, it makes no sense to put dozens of hours into video storytelling. But it doesn’t make immediate economic sense to turn a reporter loose on a week-long (or month-long) project, either. Good journalism never makes immediate economic sense: the ROI comes as the newspaper builds its local readership and reputation and parlays that into the position as preferred medium for advertising.

Perhaps I’m reading too much into this. (Maybe it’s a knee-jerk reaction, based on too many years of seeing too many publishers weigh the value of journalists only by weekly inch-count.) After all, nowhere in his comment does Howard suggest newspapers shouldn’t be doing video narratives and storytelling, and he has been in the forefront of those urging newspapers to get into video. Still, it took me aback.

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