Washington Post Looks Inward for Video Talent

By Staff Published on .

Situation: Newspaper readership has been steadily shrinking as young readers increasingly turn to the Internet for their news. In 2005 more than 50 million Americans per day used the Internet as their primary news source, up from 27 million in 2002, according to a study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project.

As a result of these seismic shifts in news consumption, newspapers like the Washington Post and New York Times began investing in their Web video operations several years ago. The Washington Post started offering video on its Web site in 1999, said Tom Kennedy, Washingtonpost.com’s managing editor of multimedia.

Company: Washington Post

Industry: Publishing

Video play: Adding content to improve the newspaper's news offerings.

Strategy: The Post is using a cadre of video journalists and in-house reporting talent to create about 10 videos a week.

Result: The newspaper has created several new video features, including one featuring columnist Dana Millbank, that has attracted advertisers including Cisco, Verizon and Blackberry.

“When I came here I thought it made sense to develop video capabilities because we didn’t need to duplicate what the still photographers were doing. Our focus from the outset has been to quickly turn daily pieces, somewhat similar to what you would get out of a TV broadcast,” he said.

The paper tackles daily news, columns and deeper subjects online, including the nine-month online and print series, “Being a Black Man," that ran in 2006. The paper enlisted several dozen print and Web journalists for that project to produce a full multimedia series
Washingtonpost.com's video team includes six video journalists, who produce both features and daily stories, and three editors.

Video journalists shoot, edit and produce news and feature videos for Washingtonpost.com. The structure of the documentary film unit is straightforward: Video journalists working on a variety of assignments all report up to the managing editor of multimedia.

There is a separate unit more focused on cutting daily news video from hearings and pool feeds that reports up through the assistant managing editor. That unit also reports to Mr. Kennedy.

The daily routines of the video journalists vary widely depending on the day and the assignments. They may be working on a standalone video, or a video to support a newspaper story.

On an average day, one person is assigned to quick turnaround assignments and the rest work on assignments that can take between three to seven days to complete. Video journalists use Sony HD cameras and edit with Final Cut HD Pro. Only one of the video journalists has a broadcast background and most have still photography, print or Web development experience.

The paper’s reporters also produce video stories for the site, getting behind the camera and writing scripts. Washingtonpost.com posts about five to 10 video features per week and about 10 to 20 short news videos per day.

The site attracts about eight million unique users each month and generates more than 249 million page views per month. About 82 percent of Washingtonpost.com users come from outside the Washington area, illustrating the national reach of the material.

Problem: The Washington Post needed to a way to create engaging journalism that can support Web advertising as traditional print advertising declines. That meant turning to its existing content to see what elements would lend themselves to videography. It also means finding print reporters who have appeal on video.

“Washington Sketch” is a popular column that runs every day on A2 of the newspaper. Earlier this year, the paper decided to see if it could turn that column, written by Dana Millbank, into appointment watching as a weekly online feature.

Solution: The paper launched the video component to Mr. Millbank’s column online earlier this year.

“We had a guy who’s an incredibly funny person in print observing the political scene in Washington, observing the quirks and foibles," Mr. Kennedy said. "We wanted to see whether or not he could translate his humor in his written pieces and make them work visually on the Web.”

The goal with Mr. Millbank's videos was to test the concept of appointment viewing online and to build an audience and sell ads, he said.

Evaluation: Mr. Kennedy said specific Web views for the videos are difficult to calculate because of challenges in tracking usage, but the Dana Millbank videos are often the most popular videos on the site on the days they post. The politics section on Washingtonpost.com, where Mr. Millbank’s columns run, attracts nearly 3 million unique users per month.

Demand for advertising connected to Mr. Millbank's videos has led to sell-outs of pre-roll spots.

“We have had several different companies have video advertising on it and they all bought into it and rotate through it,” Mr. Kennedy said. Advertisers have included Cisco, Verizon, AARP, Nationwide and Blackberry. He declined to comment on what the price the Washington Post is able to command for advertising connected to its video.

The viewers are also sticking with the advertising, with a the majority watching all of the pre-roll ads, he said. Pre-roll ads generate the highest CPMs on the site. Mr. Kennedy declined to provide information on advertising prices for the ads connected to video.

Web video is not yet profitable for the paper, but the site is selling out, Mr. Kennedy said.
“Web video has the potential to break big at some point in terms of being a revenue stream," he said. Part of that plan is to get ad sales across a variety of devices.

The Web work has not had a huge impact on Mr. Milbank’s daily routine. He still writes five columns a week and spends most of his time at hearings and briefings. He selects one of those days he thinks is best for his video column, and a video journalist is assigned to him to shoot the hearing. The video journalist cuts together the actual tape.

Many Washington Post journalists are used to appearing on camera in interviews on television news networks, and the paper offers media training to make sure they are comfortable on camera. For Web video, though, many of the newspaper journalists are behind the camera. Preparation for that work includes a formal training process as part of the paper’s video program.

The Washington Post has three tiers of video: the short-form documentary news videos the video journalists shoot, video submitted from newspaper journalists who have gone through the training and are carrying mini cameras, and the videos that are a hybrid of those two, with a video journalist assigned to a print reporter.

Some videos can take several hours to produce since the site relies on a one-person crew for most videos. The benefit is that the process creates videos with a strong voice of authorship, Mr. Kennedy said.

By Daisy Whitney

Inside view: Washington Post columnist Dana Millbank's weekly video feature has become one of the most popular offerings on the newspaper's Web site.

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