Video will take your story-telling to a new level

By Jack Sheard

Editor's note: Jack Sheard led a session during the National Newspaper Association Convention in St. Paul.

“Rock and roll all night, and party every day!”

It has been nearly 14 years since Paul Stanley yelled those words to me during a rock concert.

I'm not sure exactly why – maybe because I was in the front row, maybe because it was loud, maybe because it was a great moment – but those words that night in 1996 from the KISS singer still echo in my mind – especially when I'm asked about video on the Web.

Huh?

Let me explain: When a newspaper is starting in video for its online site, it needs to remember three key things. One: Keep it simple, stupid (get it? KISS). Two: Rock it. Three: Roll with it.

The “party every day” thing is your reward.

First off, newspapers need to remember they aren't TV news stations. Nor are they movie producers. Publishers and editors who have these expectations of Steven Spielberg quality news packages – or even Dateline NBC reports – need to dial it back a few notches.

If your expectations are too great going in, you're going to fail. Start with simple things and move forward. Baby steps.

Buy a small handheld digital video camera, post the videos on YouTube and paste the code into a story on your site.

If you didn't understand that, ask a local high school student to explain it to you. This is the modern version of having your kid fix the VCR so it doesn't blink 12:00:00 over and over.

Once you get the hang of a simple step – and your readers catch on – take another step.

Next, remember to rock it. Do what you do well, just do it differently.

Consider video as a new way to tell the stories you already tell better than anyone else. Newspapers do a fantastic job of telling local stories. Tell a few with video.

Sights and sounds you could only explain in print can actually be shown as sights and sounds in video. Have it complement your story. Maybe it replaces a story.

Rocking out is when you take your storytelling to a new level.

Just because a TV reporter has a camera doesn't make them a better video storyteller than your newspaper reporter.

Simple production on a great story is better than elaborate production on a boring story. Content is king, and as a newspaper, you're already two steps ahead. So add a camera and rock out.

But as you do, you still gotta roll with the changes.

At my newspaper, we started with a camera. We later added two more. We were doing a few news videos a week. Then we built a multimedia production studio and started doing two video newscasts a day.

Now we don't. We do about 8-10 video packages a week. We do a 'Husker football show every week during football season. We sit down with candidates and do interviews in our studio before elections. We roll with it. We were using cameras with tapes. This week, we've unpacked a digital camera from its box--with no tapes.

We constantly find new things that work and old things that don't. It's not failure; it's learning.

It's always changing. It's true with the Web, it's true with video and it should be true with newspapers. We have to roll with the changes.

And keep it simple.

And rock out.

Then we can party every day.

Who knew a make-up-wearing rock star knew so much about online video?

© Jack Sheard

Jack Sheard is the new media director at The Grand Island (Neb.) Independent. He spent 10 years in newsrooms as an artist, designer, copy editor and multimedia presentation editor before moving to the online department earlier this year. You can reach him at jack.sheard@theindependent.com.

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