Philadelphia Business Today: A newspaper doing video right, mostly

philadelphia-business-today

I think the Philadelphia Inquirer is doing at least one of its online videos right – mostly.

The storied newspaper’s business section puts out a daily, noontime, three to five-minute news show called Philadelphia Business Today, and it has developed into one of the best newspaper-produced videos online. What are they doing right? What are they doing wrong? What can newspapers across the country learn. And Is anyone watching?

What’s right

Mike Armstrong is an Inquirer business columnist and blogger with a simple delivery. During the past year, I have followed Business Today and watched him get increasingly comfortable on camera. He isn’t showy, and he isn’t a jerk from TV news with too much makeup. He is an editor who has reported for almost 20 years. You can almost feel the newsprint on him.

For everyone concerned about multimedia infecting everything good and right and self-imposed about the culture of newsprint, I believe Armstrong to be a small example of maintaining that in a digital world.

While I have good experience with the Philadelphia Business Journal – the Inqy business section’s primary competition – I don’t pretend to be able to offer detailed analysis on how comprehensive Philadelphia Business Today’s daily reports are.

But what is reported is genuine analysis and visuals. When their limited b-roll comes up short, they run with high-resolution images. I certainly imagine, though, with a degree of organization learned from TV news stations, the Inqy is slowly developing a catalog of footage which can be accessed and run by their video shows.

What’s more, the product looks professional and downright impressive. Advancing from the regular stand-ups I saw Armstrong do months ago to filtered backdrops of today, the video package is always pleasing to the eye and can be seen in high quality at full screen.

It’s often something I watch while eating lunch, making its noontime release timely.

What to learn…

We’ve been talking for years about whether newspapers can make money online and how they might if they can.

Video on newspaperdotcoms is often called a long-term strategy. Some say developing committed multimedia teams for newspapers can develop profit. The story goes that as mobile devices become wider spread, newspapers ought to figure out how to sell online advertising and look professional.

About Branding

We’re dealing with brands, here. Newspapers need to be wary about that. What public trust do you have? What video will get the most views? Do the answers to those two questions comingle?

Learn from Philly.com, the shared online home of the Inquirer and its once competitor, now awkward cousin, the Philadelphia Daily News.

This summer Philly.com had a podcast on enjoying the beaches of New Jersey, a popular destination for Philadelphians for at least a century, aptly named Down the Shore. It featured a handful of attractive, often half-naked women. I am certain Down the Shore got plenty of clicks – I surely watched them – how much damage did that do to what’s left of the Inqy’s reputation?

This is my concern whenever disparate newspapers merge online. When the Inquirer – the third oldest daily newspaper in the country, among its largest, with 18 Pulitzers and likely deserving of more – shares a Web presence with the Philadelphia Daily News – a big urban tabloid with good city coverage, cheeky headlines and lots of fun – losses will be had.

The Inqy should be serious. Giving way to easy-clicks will only further hurt its brand. So, PBT is perfect as its premier video segment. The Daily News can host its Sexiest Singles and Down the Shore video. We expect that, and that’s fine. If they merge on Philly.com, much is lost.

So newspapers and journalists out there, what is the best purpose of your video? There are two schools of thought on newspaper video, get it up fast or get it up *good. Covering breaking news is swell for smaller markets, but when you’re covering a major city – Philadelphia is the fourth largest media market in the United States with at least four network TV news stations – there is a glut of fast-paced video products.

Big, urban newspapers, instead, should be looking to leverage their expertise or be developing evergreen material that will last. PBT and Down the Shore, in some form, each represent one of these. The Inqy business section ought to be home to among the country’s best business reporters, so its analysis and news aggregation should be better than any other in the region. Down the Shore, in which the girls speak about the best places to visit and experiences to have, is something that viewers can visit in the future.

They both are ways to go, but don’t hurt your product brand, as Philly.com has done to the Inquirer.

If you’re a newspaper or a newsprint reporter (or whatever name you give yourself), maintain that. As fitting as Armstrong is, I think recently engaged Brandy Bell, who fills in for Armstrong and is a reporter with Philly.com and a former reporter for CBS 3, is a bit too polished. Her TV reporting comes through. Update: 1/5/09 9:30 p.m.: She is clearly talented, but I don’t know if I believe she is clearly talented in what newspaper video should be and, mostly, that is not TV news.

Newspapers will not beat TV news in production value or the traditional art [cough, that hurts to say] of video. Newsprint needs to find its own voice and style.

About Dissemination

Now give the Inqy a point for giving their videos direct URLs, so I can tell you to see Dec. 22’s episode, during which Armstrong discusses slow Christmas travel. And they do offer the option of embedding, but their own video player is naturally not universally compliant, meaning it probably won’t be able to be posted on your mom’s free blog.

What’s the fear of putting their video product on Youtube?

At the worst, put a lower-quality version on Youtube, with the URL to a high-quality version on your site.

If I am Mike Armstrong, I want to build my brand and that of PBT much more than I want the additional clicks of forcing people to my site. What’s more, I wouldn’t be surprised if putting the video on Youtube couldn’t bring in additional viewers. For now, Youtube is a free promoter.

If Universal posts its music videos and, frustratingly, the NYTimes has been posting its videos there for more than two years (big freakin’ surprise) why the Hell is the Inqy behind?

Now, when you search “Philadelphia Inquirer” on Youtube, the most powerful social networking tool on the planet today, you get this bizarre cat-related, fellowship thank you from a Chinese journalist and the below posted video, an 18-month-old ditty on how the Inqy is going to reinvent itself. Uh huh.

Is anyone watching?

I really do understand how hard it is to move an old newsroom, and I applaud movement made by folks like Chris Krewson, the Inqy’s online editor and someone who seems to really “get it.”

The Inquirer has made some genuine developments this year, from May’s Philly.com redesign to its breaking news blog to an increase flow of video, highlighted, in my opinion, by PBT. But I think the Inquirer needs to hold itself to a far higher standard.

If the Inqy’s best multimedia work, PBT, is a regular daily video product, why isn’t it a podcast with an RSS feed and the ability for viewers to download it ? (From what I could find, there is an RSS feed for all videos, but not for individual productions). It is a sure-fire way to increase your views and dissemination. I can say that, unlike most Philly.com blogs, PBT offers a text description, though other videos don’t in their RSS feed.

Instead, though PBT is a BIG small step, it is still part of a culture that isn’t appropriately monetizing and branding online. The whole industry is behind, but rather than innovating, one of the country’s largest and formerly most-respected newspapers seems to be lagging behind in even areas most seem to have already figured out.

Like podcasting for mobile devices and selling advertisements on its mobile views.

One good product isn’t enough, especially when flaws remain and no one seems to know about it.

Conclusions

Make a newspaper online video, not  less-polished TV news-lite. Use your expertise and find evergreen content. Let the walls down. Throw on your watermark, create stars and disseminate. Make your own Mike Armstrongs another brand that viewers trust.

You want a video to tell you what newspaper video should be? See and hear the thoughts of the crew at Ledger Live, the top newspaper video out there, from the Newark Star-Ledger.