By Wayne Karrfalt
Special to TelevisionWeek
Washingtonpost.com won a Murrow Award this year for its video coverage of subjects including the plight of the homeless in the nation’s capital and the rebuilding of New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. It might seem incongruous that a newspaper site is being awarded for video coverage, but Washingtonpost.com has made a commitment to covering national and international events online using the most compelling medium available to journalists: high-definition video imagery.
The paper’s multimedia division staffs six full-time video journalists who go out in the field to shoot and produce segments using Sony HD cameras. “Reaching for the First Rung,” the cinema verite-style look at D.C.’s homeless population, featured three related pieces focusing on various aspects of the problem, filmed over the course of three months. The site’s post-Katrina coverage gathered emotionally resonant stories about a few of the individual lives affected by the tragedy.
“We tried to drive the coverage with subject-driven narrative,” said Tom Kennedy, managing editor of Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive. “It makes a big difference when you can attach human stories to such a complex event.”
The video isn’t splashed all over the homepage the way it would be on local news site, but a single video story is usually featured on the front page, and more can be accesses from the homepage. Some of the footage produced by the Washingtonpost.com interactive crew is also repurposed for television, through a content-sharing partnership with the local independent broadcaster MHz Networks, owned by Commonwealth Public Broadcasting.
Of course, Washington-post.com also features a rich complement of columns, blogs, video and audio podcasts, photo essays and print news coverage of the national political scene, the beat the Post is known for throughout the country. The site’s search feature takes into account the diversity of media offered, searching archives for articles, videos, blogs, commentaries, podcasts and commentaries that relate to the topic.
The Web site has taken on a life of its own at the company. The paper’s interactive division is autonomous and financially self-sufficient, Mr. Kennedy said, benefiting from a strong base of national advertisers.
The company recently switched over to displaying video using a Flash 8 player, which features many interactive elements that can enhance the user experience. The site is also looking to strengthen ties to its affiliated Web properties Slate.com, Newsweek.com and BudgetTravel.com.