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InContext / An inside look at the business of digital content

The Washington Post is focused on video. Here’s why

February 8, 2017 | By Jan Ozer—Independent Technology Journalist @janozer

In an era when many publications are contracting, The Washington Post is expanding, particularly in the group charged with producing and hosting web videos. To understand why, we spoke with the Post’s Micah Gelman Senior Editor, Director of Editorial Video.

Tell us about the recent expansion in the video department.

We recently posted close to 30 new jobs in the video department to expand our efforts in two basic ways. First, we want to present videos with our news stories when it’s complementary to the story. Second, we’re developing content for over the top delivery, and delivery in UGC and social media sites, to position The Washington Post as a video destination.

Let’s look at the first focus. Where does video fit in for a newspaper?

The Washington Post produced six hours of coverage of the Women’s March with over 8.3 million views. (Editorial note: per Facebook statistics, the Post had over 4.1 million views for the election and inauguration, and over 8.3 million views of the Women’s March).

Video has become a core part of our mission to present readers with a full 360 view of the news; it’s complementary to the written story, not either/or. Some news is inherently visual, so we present video as part of the story. Sometimes video enables a deeper dive into the content, so we present that.

Sometimes, the story is live and we produce that as well. For example, we broadcast the recent presidential election on Facebook Live for eight and a half hours, the inauguration for about nine hours, and the Women’s March for about six hours. Each event drew millions of viewers.

Overall, we want to become a one stop shop that presents our readers with the story produced in all the formats that it should be in.

What percentage of stories do you cover directly as opposed to using footage from other sources? How will this change over the next 12 months or so?

Today, about 40% is original, and 60% is from other sources. However, even when we use third-party video, we put our own editorial package around it, adding reporting, annotations, and other elements that makes it original. Over the next 12 months, we’ll double the size of our video staff and that’s probably going to flip to 65% original content.

Though our base is in DC, we’ve sent video journalists to North Korea, China, to cover multiple terror attacks overseas, as well as covering stories all over the United States. Our readers are global and so is our video coverage. And this will expand greatly over the next few months.

Can you elaborate on your over the top strategy?

A Washington Post YouTube video discussing how quotes from 1984 are relevant in 2017, dramatically boosting sales of the book.

The next phase of growth is to position The Washington Post as a destination for video. We want to change the perception of The Washington Post as a legacy newspaper with video, to a video-first enterprise, essentially re-imagining The Washington Post as a video destination, not only on Facebook Live, YouTube and other social media sites, but also over the top via Apple TV, Roku, and Fire TV.

Editorially, what works well in an article page typically isn’t as effective as a standalone video consumed on a living room TV. So, we’re producing longer, more scripted pieces with studio quality production value. We’re adding YouTube-style personalities, and producing video to distribute not only through our own OTT apps, but through other channels as well. Again, it’s video as the destination.

How do you market OTT content?

That’s the key question. We have to use all available megaphones to call attention to what’s new and what’s different and promote our discoverability, to let our readers and viewers know what’s available.

Talk about what you’re doing on social media.

We’re producing 150 to 175 events a month on Facebook Live, YouTube Live and our own website. While it’s easier to monetize video on our own site, Facebook Live and YouTube Live provide scale because we’re attracting an audience that wouldn’t come to our site. So, it’s very valuable to us to be on both sites, and other social media properties.

How does Facebook Live compare to YouTube Live?

Facebook has been very aggressive in their own repositioning to a video destination, which obviously YouTube already was. YouTube viewers are on that site to watch multiple videos, which is obviously good for us, while Facebook viewers are a bit more passive and on the site for a range of content. They’re both really valuable audiences to us in different ways.

Can you briefly describe the tools you use to capture/edit/encode/deliver your streaming videos?

We shoot either using DSLRs, or with Sony FS5 cameras, which are 4K and deliver more broadcast quality. We use LiveU on-camera transcoders/transmitters for sending live feeds from the field, and edit in Adobe Premiere Pro.

Tell us about your staff.

We have about 40 on our video staff, almost all capable of shooting and producing events, with about 32 regularly shooting and producing. Fortunately, we’re far enough along in the evolution of video journalists that many of our staff have experience in other places. Otherwise, we have staff who worked in TV, some who came through photography, and some that were trained as multimedia journalists.


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