And with Ann Derry, editorial director of video and television for The New York Times, who has an eighteen-person staff and a goal of “making video become a storytelling and journalistic language for the Times, the way print and photographs are.” She’s experimenting with formats like TimesCast, the daily report from the Times newsroom. Though I’m not a fan of TimesCast—because it’s mainly newsroom interviews and they’re pretty boring—I’m happy Derry’s team is trying to build awareness among viewers about Times video, which can be really good. One of my recent favorites is An American at the Bolshoi, which follows a fifteen-year-old who leaves her family in Texas to learn dance at the highest level.

News-related video today is a raucous field. It’s a place where you find the number-one story on YouTube’s top news category to be a parody of Old Spice commercials. But you also find that The Associated Press’s YouTube channel has streamed more than 458 million videos since September 2006, providing quality, hard-core news to a wide audience.

Because video reporting is a game everyone can play, consequently blurring all the lines that had previously set off professional, independent inquiry, it’s more important than ever that serious journalism organizations engage in video as more than just an offshoot of their core missions.

For candid video to move to the forefront of online news and address a rising generation of news consumers, several things have to change: online video journalists need to develop their own storytelling styles, breaking with the anchor-centered conventions of broadcast. Newsrooms need to better integrate and bolster their multimedia and video staffs, and create career paths for visual journalists that extend right to the top. Great video needs to be promoted just as big text stories are.

Video stories need to be judged like all other stories—by how good they are, not how many clicks they get. And at the same time, media companies need to push search engines to focus on creating better tools to highlight well-produced, unique video stories.

Although there’s likely to be no immediate payoff, the current obstacles—like poor search returns—that block quality stories from finding quality audiences will be surmounted.

I have seen such things happen before, through the prism of my own family. My husband’s father, Robert L. Drew, was a correspondent for Life magazine when he took a 1955 Nieman fellowship and developed a concept for candid filmmaking that became the basis of cinema vérité in the U.S. It’s his concept of “picture logic,” versus “word logic,” that I feel is the key to great video.

He produced breakthrough documentaries like Primary—the first candid documentary, which followed John F. Kennedy and Hubert Humphrey on the stump in Wisconsin in 1960—and Crisis: Behind a Presidential Commitment, filmed inside the White House and in the Alabama governor’s mansion as the Kennedy administration forced the desegregation of the University of Alabama against the will of Governor George Wallace.

He revolutionized visual journalism with his belief that a camera shouldn’t stand on a tripod, but should move freely with the characters. Working with Albert Maysles, D. A. Pennebaker, and Richard Leacock, he took the tools available and re-engineered them to work in new ways, including replacing a camera’s noisy metal gears with quieter ones, fashioned from plastic, to enable a new kind of intimate storytelling. Today’s lightweight and easy-to-use technology makes it easy for journalists to continue exploring candid filmmaking.

My other inspiration here is my husband, Derek Drew, who started a little venture back in the early 1990s to provide meta-reviews of consumer products. His Consumersearch.com remained obscure—until Google’s algorithms revolutionized search. Then his high-quality content soon stood atop Google’s search results for queries like “best washing machine” or “digital camera reviews” and traffic started pouring in. He sold the outfit to The New York Times Company’s About.com subsidiary in 2007 for $33 million.

The content on Consumersearch.com in 1999 was essentially the same as the content in 2007. But superior search transformed it into a high-growth, moneymaking business.

The same can happen with online narrative video. It’s so close. I can feel it.

 

Jill Drew is a 2009-2010 Encore Fellow at CJR. She was an associate editor at The Washington Post until August 2009. For nine of her fourteen years at the newspaper, she was assistant managing editor for financial news.