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Mark Van Patten

Recently, MediaShift started running reports from “embeds” at various media outlets and educational institutions. This report comes from Mark Van Patten, general manager for the online efforts at the Bowling Green (Ky.) Daily News.

I was as excited as anybody to be able to post video on our website. Our newspaper readers were turning more and more to their computer screen to read our news and it seemed logical that they would appreciate and enjoy seeing video enhancements for the print edition.

My excitement soon turned to frustration as I started to run into hurdles. While I saw an opportunity to expand our “share of mind,” our photojournalists saw it as an expansion of their work load. There also was immediate disagreement over hardware and software needs.

Now, the hardware and software issues have been resolved, but we still haven’t come to a mutual understanding or agreement on who should do what and when. Consequently, local video on our website is not fresh. As general manager, I have no oversight of the newsroom, only the online newspaper.

Getting the Right Equipment

I think photographers are often too involved with looking the part rather than getting results. It is especially true when it comes to photographers shooting video. When we made the commitment to video, our chief photographer purchased a prosumer videocamera, i.e. a camera that was between top-of-the-line professional and an amateur — or consumer — camera. It was an unnecessary expense, but it looked good.

Our online director Chris Houchens offers this great example when he speaks to newspaper groups on how to do video:

What photographers say they need

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This is what your photographers say they want. A prosumer camcorder that looks so different from the regular consumer camcorder that the shooter will obviously be doing “serious” work.

What photographers really need

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This is what photographers need. Since the end result is going to be web video — not broadcast — the difference in quality isn’t discernible by the average viewer.

Excellent video and sound can be captured without spending more than $700 total on equipment including camera, tripod and microphone. However, the photographer won’t look like the photographer from the TV station. Despite the size of your community, people know what TV photographers should look like.

Overcoming the look of being a photographer shooting video is not a small hurdle and should be addressed early on.

Gary Moyers, webmaster for Shurz Communications newspapers in Kentucky, told the Kentucky Press Association recently:

When we started, we got the big $8,000 Sony camera…it came with all the bells and whistles, but the equipment doesn’t have to be that costly…at (Jessamine Journal in Nicholasville, Ky. (6,200 circulation weekly), they have a $300 JVC camera that works fine and they post their videos through YouTube.

Getting the Right Software

Probably the most often overlooked aspect of newspapers putting video online is the software needed to make better video. Video is better when it is edited. If a newspaper is shooting and uploading raw unedited video it often will have the YouTube look, i.e. amateur. But with simple software, often free, video can easily be edited and you can even add a voiceover after the fact to give it a more professional look.

At the Daily News, we started with Visual Communicator Pro. We paid about $200 for the software a couple years ago. Since we purchased it, the company has been acquired by Adobe and the software now sells for $400 with numerous additional features. The version we have is useful for web productions. Houchens used it for a couple years to produce our daily online tease for the print edition.

This is a Daily News Now webcast that was produced by Chris Houchens using Visual Communicator Pro. The webcast is no longer produced because of a decline in viewer interest.

What photographers say they need

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Newspaper photographers think they need a full blown professional editing bay (like the one pictured here), when in fact a smaller, less costly alternative is available and perfectly acceptable for web video. (Photo by DF Shapinsky for PINGNews.com/Shapinsky MultiMedia via Flickr.)

What photographers really need

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The Daily News uses Visual Communicator Pro with no special lighting, as you can see in this photo. The green backdrop is a vinyl sheet that is included with the software package. However, we have replaced the coat rack with a more permanent string suspension arrangement from the ceiling.

For editing raw video, Houchens uses the software that came with the video card, Pinnacle. He classifies it as a mid-grade editing program. Daily News photographers prefer to use Final Cut Pro Express from Apple.

This is a video story produced using Pinnacle software included with the computer video card.

This is a video story produced by Chris Houchens using Final Cut Express.

Who Shoots Video

At the Daily News we have two video sections on our main page. One area is reserved for photojournalists’ work, called Multimedia and includes slide-shows and video; the other is for all the other video and is labeled Web Video.

If we get one video story a week from the newsroom, it’s been a good week. Our web video is shot by myself and Houchens. We also run hot and cold on getting new video online. Since we both have other duties, we just don’t force ourselves to get out and shoot. In our newsroom, there is very little discussion of the online newspaper and how it can be used to enhance the print edition. Houchens does not sit in on newsroom planning meetings.

This indicates to me that the online newspaper is still viewed as something less than journalistically worthy of consideration. It is still an afterthought in the newsroom.

Mark Van Patten isn’t as smart as he thinks he is. He has compensated by surrounding himself with smart people. As a result, he in his 38th year of working at small newspapers, starting on the street as an ad sales rep and working his way up to publisher. Currently, Van Patten is general manager of the Daily News in Bowling Green, Kentucky. He blogs, Twitters, Flickrs, Diggs, Stumbles, Tumblrs, and Woopras his way through the web and is Linked-in. He blogs at MarkVanPatten.com for business and GoingLikeSixty.com for fun.