In Depth

Video Gives Print Media New Game

Newspapers Are Still Learning, But Recent Honors Prove They’re Getting the Hang of It

Talk about respect. That’s what the Detroit Free Press got when it won the News and Documentary Emmy for “40 Years of ‘Respect,’” its video news feature on the history of Aretha Franklin’s iconic song and what it means to the people of Detroit.

The piece beat entries from PBS’ “Frontline” and Web sites for The New York Times and The Washington Post in the category of arts, lifestyle and culture.

The win was emblematic of newspapers’ recent emergence as awards contenders, competing on the same prestigious playing field where traditional broadcast news organizations have been competing for decades. Yet most newspapers have been using video on their Web sites for just the past few years.

“We start with the premise that we’re storytellers, with strong visuals and a compelling story to begin with,” said Nancy Andrews, managing editor for digital media at the Free Press. “We had to learn new skills, but we were also students of the craft.”

For the Free Press, the move toward using video started in August 2005, when Gannett purchased the newspaper and started making inquiries. At the time there were no video cameras in the newsroom, but that quickly changed.

“We wanted to be the very best, and decided if we’re doing video, it’s going to be Emmy Award-winning video. It’s going to be excellent, it’s not just going to be a video component,” said Ms. Andrews. “These stories we’ve done allow photographers to really own the story in a new way in a historic newsroom.”

The news department brings the breadth and depth of its staff members’ experience to the Web and commits heavy resources to its video journalism efforts. More than 25 people contributed to “Respect”—not only the producers, reporters and editors, but those who wrote an interactive quiz and researched and pulled old photographs for a photo gallery.

“One of our platforms is a newspaper, and our other platforms are online, mobile and video,” Ms. Andrews said. “Our still photographers have been able to translate their craft into videography. Our work is marked by composition, and we’re well-skilled in sensing the moment, telling the story and looking at the light, the form. We’ve learned to hear the story in a different way, and pace and sequence it in a different way.”

Like the Free Press, the Washington Post’s Web site is an awards heavyweight, garnering a multitude of national and local Emmy, Edward R. Murrow and Peabody Award wins and nominations in the past few years. But unlike the Detroit newspaper, whose multimedia team is integrated into the newsroom and varies according to editorial needs, the Post’s video output is generated by an online division separate and distinct from the traditional print newsroom.

“We really wanted to create a narrative voice for our video that was different than that on the broadcast nightly news,” said Tom Kennedy, the managing editor for multimedia at WashingtonPost.com, who previously was the photo director of National Geographic.

The site prides itself on pieces that have more in common with independent filmmaking and documentaries than with traditional, reporter-driven broadcast journalism, pieces like its award-winning coverage of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, a look at the causes of childhood obesity, and “Being a Black Man,” a Peabody Award-winning series of videos produced by Ben de la Cruz in 2006.

“We aim for subject-driven narrative, with interactions and dialogue that propel the arc of the narrative and create the throughline of story, and have it told in a natural, fly-on-the-wall way,” Mr. Kennedy said.

Beginning in 2002, WashingtonPost.com won the Edward R. Murrow Award four straight years in the category of Web site, non-broadcast-affiliated. Among its other honors in recent years, it has picked up trophies from the White House Press Photographers Association and the Cine Golden Eagle awards.

“We just want to play and have our work validated,” said Mr. Kennedy. “It’s hard in craft areas to compete head-to-head [with television]. We have to evolve our own vernacular. It’s still such an early stage of being, and there is still room for experimentation that broadcast television can’t afford. We’re rapidly being pushed by the same pressures for financial return, so it’s interesting to see how long this first phase will last. I’d like to think we’re not running down a blind alley.

“We’re where TV was in the late 1940s,” Mr. Kennedy said. “Is there a use for video as an aesthetic medium that can’t be done in broadcast? Maybe going forward, that’s the secret sauce.”