The San Francisco Chronicle has a great story today on Dr. Richard Olney, a UCSF neurologist and Lou Gehrig’s disease expert who is in the late stages of the disease himself and working to finish a research project before he succumbs to the illness.
Back in December, there was a fascinating Chronicle feature on the last hotel in The City that washes its incoming coins.
Both stories had slideshows of still photos to accompany them online. But both these stories missed an opportunity to become true multimedia packages because the Chronicle no longer does video stories.
I have gripes about most of the large papers in Northern California. I think the San Jose Mercury-News likes to get drive-by web hits too much. It’s really painful seeing that the Sacramento Bee didn’t just cut its sports staff to the bone, but cut its limbs off completely to the point that my >20k circ newspaper (read: less than one-tenth the Bee’s size) covers more Friday night football games than they do.
But it’s especially aggravating seeing a newspaper that can and should be a leader in multimedia journalism, but they’re failing at it. By not pushing video news features, the Chronicle and its website SFGate is doing just that.
Once upon a time, SFGate did shoot videos to go with stories. But that’s been gone for a while now. Heck, even the Chronicle’s YouTube page hasn’t had a video upload in eight months, and only 17 in the past two years.
This is bad for the Gate, for several reasons.
First, I’ve always thought the Chronicle was stronger in feature writing than hard news. I could go my entire life without reading the politics page on Gate and not miss much that I’d get elsewhere, but I read the food section every week and at minimum glance at every feature piece that gets put on the Gate homepage. Outside of breaking news situations, features make for better video opportunities than hard news.
Second, the greater Bay Area’s reputation as a technology hotbed means the Chronicle should be doing everything possible to stay as least on the apex of the curve, if they can’t be in front of it. Having video to go with stories, along with playable video from the paper’s mobile site, should be one of the first things they’re doing. Heck, video’s one of my main priorities at my paper, and we’re in the sticks. Shouldn’t it be just as if not more important in San Freakin’ Francisco?
Third, it should have become even more obvious to the folks on Mission Street when Mark Fiore won his Pulitzer last year, ending a five-year drought for the Chronicle. Here’s the key paragraph, from the Chronicle’s own story (bold emphasis comes from me):
It is the first time since the category of editorial cartooning was created in 1922 that the Pulitzer has gone to an artist whose work does not appear in print. The Pulitzer jury said Fiore’s “biting wit, extensive research and ability to distill complex issues set a high standard for an emerging form of commentary” – online video cartooning.
If the Chronicle can syndicate an innovator in online cartooning (and any smart person in the industry knows the value of a paper having a good cartoonist), shouldn’t there be a value given to online video in general?
I believe if a story can merit a still photo slideshow, there should be consideration for a web video as well. This doesn’t mean a slideshow always equals a video, but the question should at least be asked. With DSLR cameras coming into use in newsrooms, staff photographers have the ability to shoot print-quality stills and theater-quality video by flicking a switch. There’s a learning curve that will go with that, but in the long run it pays off – not just with feature videos, but to have video from breaking news as well as stills.
If video is made available online, in ways that make it easy accessible (like on a mobile site in addition to the desktop website), people will watch it, and the newsroom will be stronger for it.
The Chronicle and Gate just have to be willing to do video again.