Saturday, March 01, 2008

CEO math: Testing Craig Dubow on video

Gannett's CEO, who ran the broadcast division before taking the top job, says in his new annual letter to shareholders that "more than 800 journalists are shooting video for their newspaper websites.'' Let's say its 850, just to make the math here easier to follow.

There are 85 daily Gannett newspapers, from USA Today on down. Dubow's purported 850 videoshooters would average 10 per paper. (Obviously, the bigger papers would have more. But this exercise helps you get an idea about where I'm headed.)

If each of those video-journalists shot only one video a week, that would average 40 new videos per month per paper. I don't think USA Today was near producing that many each month when I left in early January -- and it's got more than 400 newsroom staffers. Maybe an average of one video per shooter per week is too much. I honestly don't know: Is my video math anywhere near reality?

Snarky content here: I remember Dubow himself appearing in one or two online videos maybe two years ago, streamed over the company intranet. All employees with company e-mail addresses got a link to them. (One video may have introduced Roger Ogden in a new R&D role; he retired a year later.) I was kind of impressed: The new guy, Dubow, was actually going to communicate with us -- and in the new medium, video. But I can't recall many (any?) since.

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[Image: cover of the 2007 Annual Report]


  1. Jim:

    You are correct. Dubow streamed a couple of videos to employees. Problem is, the bandwidth at most sites - and even corporate for the first one - wasn't robust enough to allow simultaneous viewing by all sites. In other words, Gannett didn't have the infrastructure in place (because of its culture of cutting its way to prosperity) to support Gannett-wide streaming.

    The other problem with these videos is that Dubow never really said anything. Even in introducting Roger Ogden. Both videos were rather boring. Dubow does not have a dynamic personality and he didn't deliver what people wanted to hear: A bold initiative that included a worthy and purposeful reinvestment in the company's infrastructure and people.

    Instead of putting the needed bandwidth and technology in place to further stream key announcements, they were just dropped to save embarrassment.

  2. The whole concept is just stupid ... not the video part, the part that everyone trained should be doing videos. I wonder if Dubow has ever shot and edited's a skill. That means a certain percentage of those trained simply will not get it. Add the editing and now that's two skills, so it's more than likely more people will not get it.
    I'd say of all the people who went through the video training, if 40 percent can actually shoot and edit video, that's a good number.

    Those with aptitude and experience will do better and vice-versa. Why GCI does not understand this basic concept of human behavior is beyond me.

    I do believe Gannett Web sites should have local video to display, but focus must be on quality over quantity.

    I know if I see one poorly done video, I'm off surfing somewhere else because there is plenty of good stuff out there so I do not need to subject myself to blurry video with shoddy sound. If I want that I can go to YouTube.

  3. In terms of the math, don't forget the 80-20 rule. Most of those who were trained probably do video infrequently and most of the videos are probably done by a smaller number of people who are better and faster at it.

    Some of the photogs, editors and reporters trained are doing really excellent videos and really getting into it. Where I work they're doing 120-130 videos a month and more all the time. I was skeptical at first but now admire what they're doing. Video complements storytelling in crucial ways and if you're efficient it doesn't have to take that much time to do. Kids coming out of j-school these days EXPECT to do videography with their stories, you know.

    That's on the news side, anyway; folks trained on the advertising side pretty much all over Gannett IMHO don't have much to show for it.

  4. Good points. My short experience making video for this blog taught me two things: For people comfortable with new technologies -- like me -- doing a reasonably credible video is fairly easy to learn, and easy to produce. But to do more -- adding, say, voiceover or a score -- to make it competitive with local TV, well that takes a lot more time. And if it can't be competitive, then it's just a wasteful distraction from more useful journalism --like actually covering the schoolboard.

  5. Something to keep in mind when discussing video as part of online coverage is that a lot of the TV conventions aren't necessary, because the context is radically different. Online video does not have to be a linear story, because the normal idiom is a video player or link embedded inside of explanatory text. This opens up the possibility for things like raw footage with trivial edits. Even when it tells a story, a video clip doesn't even need to tell the complete version, because it could be one of a series of clips collected together.

    However, the dream of a bevy of backpack journalists is as much of an impossible dream of a newsroom full of interchangeable employees. It comes down to old-fashioned staffing decisions, and making sure you have the skills you need at all times, ideally spread across several people.

    It's not too hard to set up workflows where a reporter goes out, shoots some video and some photos, takes some notes, and then passes the raw multimedia along to a producer while they write the story. That's just how you have to handle it on deadline, because otherwise the reporter becomes a bottleneck. If it's a feature story with plenty of lead time (and yes, this does still happen), the reporter may prefer to put together the multimedia package themselves, with help from others. For major breaking news, we pull out the stops the way we always have, and everyone specializes to get things moving quickly.

    This system does occasionally break down, and it breaks down for the same reason any system breaks down: Lack of communication. If the digital crew doesn't know a reporter is planning to come in at 7 p.m. with 30 minutes of tape that needs ingestion and editing, then obviously there will be hard feelings all around. But how many city editors would tolerate a reporter that doesn't fill out budget lines and comes in right before the deadline with a 30-inch story that isn't even comprehensible, let alone printable?

    The optimists are right to say that video isn't that hard. Neither is writing, photography or anything else we do. What is hard is doing it right, doing it on deadline, and making sure everyone knows what you're doing and when you'll have it done. The problem isn't the video -- the problem is that we haven't perfected the workflow to handle it.

  6. "What is hard is doing it right, doing it on deadline, and making sure everyone knows what you're doing and when you'll have it done. The problem isn't the video -- the problem is that we haven't perfected the workflow to handle it."

    Agreed! And I also agree that video can be embedded into explanatory text -- but who writes that text? Individual workloads don't grow in big chunks; they grow one small task at a time. For example: When I was at The Idaho Statesman in 1991-96, the executive editor decided that all section front stories had to have a small text element as a tiny sidebar, explaining one of three things: "how this affects you;" "what's next," or "how to get involved." As the business news editor, I not only wrote and edited stories, but also laid out pages and oversaw the back-shop production for the section. Adding those little text elements amounted to just one more thing I had to keep track of -- lengthening my day even more. It's death by a thousand (additional) cuts.

  7. Speaking of "executive" videos, what about the one Michael Maness did? It was supposed to be the launch of his blog on innovation, but as far as I know, there was never another one. Either means his being in charge of the DIG has resulted in no innovation or the first one, which everyone around the company was laughing hysterically over because it was so bad, led them to believe maybe his video personality matched Dubow's so they should both stop making them.

  8. I asked: His job is changing, as a result of Chris Saridakis getting promoted to chief digital officer.

  9. What does that mean? That they, once again, will demote an ineffective executive instead of holding them to the same standards the rest of us are held to?

  10. The DIG? Now there's a thread! What the heck has it ever done? I have seen the ListServe with a ton of great ideas submitted by the rank-and-file. Not a single idea on there has ever actually been implemented. The fact people are paid to be on that staff is lunacy.

  11. Maness? Oh my gosh there is another one that is as useful as tits on a nun.
    And how much are we paying him to do exactly what? and in the feild we have people paying for their own office supplies and shitting on the floor. Are we living in opposite world again?

  12. Maness is a real waste. There is no innovation in the DIG. Why would they put someone who has never created anything in charge of the "innovation" group? Why do you need a DIG when you just renovated your "digital" team? Makes no sense!!! I can only imagine that Maness is scared shitless of the new digital guy. Not the "old" digital in Jack-ass!

  13. Got to agree with you on Maness. Total waste case. He had everyone snowed big time. Now the new digital guy might be able to see through all the bull shit.
    To bring up a previous comment regarding highly paid corp execs that are wastes of spaces, the field is sooooo pissed that they are shitting on the floors, but corporate is still employing these do nothings! and they wonder why everyone is so pissed off? Come on! Show us that your serious by elminating corporate positions that don't bring real value to the company. Start with Maness. Do you need a list of who should be next?

  14. Dubow used to send company-wide e-mails once in awhile, too, but I haven't seen one of those in months, maybe even a year or more. It's just as well. They all boiled down to "you're doing great, but don't be surprised if we fire you later in the interest of efficiency."

  15. Jim, I've seen training go from 10 to more videographers at even the mid-range newspapers.

    What's interesting about this ventue is the quality of what's being put out by the various outfits. It's obvious which ones have gone beyond training and which ones have not. Arizona and Greenville consistently put out much better stuff than even the more favored papers (while AZ is definitely one of the favored ones, Gvl certainly isn't, but their stuff is still pretty good).

    What's really cutting these outfits is the incredibly expensive equipment and software. Avid for editing? Total overkill for a newspaper Web site. The Sony equipment is also proving a little flimsy and some kits are breaking after 1-2 years of non-daily use.

  16. The reason Greenville does well online can be attributed to one thing. An editor that gets it. He's one of the best.

  17. Uh-oh watch out ... looks like that editor from Greenville is trawling the blog. :-)


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