I want to return to one of yesterday’s squibs, Howard Owens’ post Journalists doing their job better is a competitive advantage.

I wrote, “I’m still tryng to reconcile his argument about better journalism with his earlier insistence that there’s no ROI on video that takes longer than an hour to shoot and edit. In his argument for quality storytelling, something doesn’t connect.” In the comments, Howard responded: “There’s no reason you can’t do quality video in less than hour. Why is that so hard to understand?”

I won’t argue with that. Video that’s intelligently shot, with a storyline in mind, can be like those stories that write themselves. Like the rest of journalism, reporting, shooting and editing are not separate operations, they’re part of a process that runs from initial story idea through to finished report.

And I agree with Howard when he disparages those who equate quality with equipment. As he wrote:

The quality crowd doesn’t seem to understand, or doesn’t seem to care, that quality isn’t about the camera you carry, the software you use or how much time you spend in an editing bay…. Quality is about the skill, knowledge, experience, understanding, talent and intuition that helps you get bits of interesting stuff — the stuff people really care about, want to read about, or want to see and hear.

What I should have said better in yesterday’s squib is that while able and experienced folk can create quality video in less than an hour, I have serious doubts you can create quality journalism — “the stuff people really care about, want to read about, or want to see and hear” — in an hour. Good storytelling demands getting beneath the surface, providing stories with depth, putting raw information not only into readable (watchable) form but giving the story context and the reader (viewer) a reason to care. Howard again:

It is time for newspaper journalists to set up and start creating the competitive advantage that will help us win. Current newspaper journalism is pretty much a commodity. When what you produce becomes a commodity, you can no longer win on price…. You can only win on a competitive advantage. For journalists that should be doing a better job of story selection, presentation and interaction with the people in their communities.

Yes, yes, yes. And all of that takes work that newspaper folk need to be doing.

I don’t, overall, disagree with Howard. (I read him every day and, if you care about what’s happening with newspapers and wonder where they should be going, you should too.) Journalists need to go out and do this stuff and learn how to do it better and better. Howard says, and I agree, that if you’re not being trained, you need to go out and train yourself and that you have to be prepared to fail. That’s always been the case, whether the issue is narrative journalism, info graphics, new story forms or, now, video and audio.

Journalists will connect, or reconnect, with better, more appropriate storytelling in whatever form. Some stories take 20 minutes, some an hour, some days, weeks or even months. My concern (and perhaps I’m finally saying this as clearly as I should have originally) is that statements like this, from an early post by Howard…

One of the statements I’m incorporating into my spiel (again, the focus is on crafting a disruptive newspaper video strategy) is that any newspaper video that takes more than an hour to produce isn’t worth the ROI.

…leave us with video not as connective, attractive, entertaining storytelling, but as commodity.

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