Much has been made recently on the evacuation of print media departments at certain major media outlets in lieu of video production staff. Consider “print media” as actual ink on paper, or words delivered via an online platform. Recently MTV raised a stink within the media community when they laid off a dozen or so writers in their news department, with the intent to replace them with people specialized in producing video and short-form content. Fox Sports made a similar move in late June, laying off their digital writing and editing team to hire more video production staff and emphasize their on-air personalities.
This impulse towards video and the discontinuation of print is in no way a new phenomenon in media. Media consultants have been pushing this idea of engaging with audiences via video for years. The effectiveness of moving content generation from print to video is arguable at best, with multiple outlets making the move eventually folding, though many were already facing desperate situations in the first place, initiating the format change. Others decide to revert back to a more balanced media approach after going hard into the video realm. Still others have thrived in the video environment. No matter what the medium, quality and engaging content tends to win out regardless of the format, and ultimately it is probably up to the outlet and media members to find the medium that best fits the subject matter, and what most appeals to their audience.
Individuals in the print media industry love to tout the value of print whenever news emerges about layoffs in the industry similar to the recent moves at MTV and Fox Sports. Certainly there is still incredible value in print, even in 2017. The theater of the mind that print media can stimulate, the long-form possibilities and in-depth analysis that print can deliver—and short-form video fails at—are just some of the valid arguments for outlets to include at least some print media in their ecosystem. But the truth is there is a large segment of the population that probably would rather have their news and human interest stories delivered to them in video form.
At the same time print media is being fazed down in many sectors of media, podcasting in the sports and entertainment realm is booming, and becoming an incredibly-important economic driver in the marketplace. Appearances on high-profile podcasts such as Joe Rogan’s “The Joe Rogan Experience” have been cited by music artists across genres for one of the reasons their careers took off, despite a lack of support from traditional mainstream media.
Podcasts that focus on discussing television series and movies, as well as sports commentary and even politics and human interest are replacing some or much of the old column-style media coverage that used to be the benchmark of the print media realm. Similar to video production, this has stimulated media outlets to attempt to get into the podcasting business, with similarly mixed results to video. In the podcast realm, it helps to already have an established audience (i.e be a celebrity), and the competition can be brutal. Once again it comes down to the value of the content itself, and if the media member can excel in the podcast medium.
Yet whether it’s short-form video or long-form podcasts, one underlying problem that remains for these mediums—and where online print media thrives—is the ability to effectively search the content for facts, information, sources, quotes, opinions, and all the other elements that it’s the underlying responsibility of journalism to deliver to its consumers.
The title and basic subject of a short-form video can be searched for in many cases. In fact since Google owns YouTube, you’re very likely to find videos at the top of your search results for certain subjects. But what if you’re attempting to search for a specific statistic, or a certain quote embedded in a video, and not listed in the video’s title or description?
In the case of a print article, you can search for a specific fact, phrase, quote, subject, source, person, or location, not just via a search engine, but in the specific piece of media by honing in on keywords or phrases. You can’t do this with video. This is what made the internet age the “Age of Information,” because so much information was right at our fingertips. However when that information is delivered in audio or video form, you’re limited in your ability to find it. This is one of the reasons that the coding language Flash—despite its enhanced visual components compared to PHP and HTML—was universally outmoded across the internet. It’s inability to display in words that were able to be searchable made it obsolete.
The other element that hindered Flash, and hinders video content today is the inability to link to source material or to other articles. Hyperlinking is what made print media in the internet age such an engaging, enriching, and valuable commodity. It was like a Choose Your Own Adventure novel, with links presented so readers could delve deeper into subjects if they chose, and where information could be verified by third parties cited in a story. In an environment where information is presented in audio or video form, such expansion or verification is more difficult. The only location to link to sources in a video is in its description, which is often marginalized compared to the video itself, or for certain media outlet’s embedded players, is non-existent.
This is an even bigger problem for long-form podcasts. Episodes of The Joe Rogan Experience can exceed three hours, with many topics discussed. Unless a print journalist puts the effort out to transcribe certain elements of a podcast interview, then an opinion, a topic, and important quote, etc., is left only for the audience of the podcast itself, instead of spreading on the internet via print, social media, and hyperlinks. At the same time, long-form podcasts have distinct advantages to print in the informal environment they present content in, and the ability to delve deeper into subjects than certain print media. Some consumers are willing to listen to a 3-hour podcast, even if it means listening in installments, to get that deeper insight into one of their favorite public personalities. To read a story that takes three hours to consume feels like a much bigger commitment from both the consumer, and the journalist to produce it.
Print media, and many of the companies that disseminate it, haven’t been doing themselves any favors either. With many local newspapers putting their print coverage behind paywalls, or loading up print articles with autoplay video streaming ads and popups, access to print media coverage has never been more difficult. In the case of a video, consumers may not enjoy having to suffer through a 15 to 30-second commercial before the video starts, but they know what to expect. When you click on a print story from many traditional print media outlets, often you’re immediately met with multiple popup-style advertisements, autoplay video players, or questionnaires that can be overwhelming.
What many print outlets are doing with their video budgets are producing short summation videos of the print content as an alternative for people who prefer the video medium. However these autoplay videos start immediately, sometimes at the same time as a video ad also embedded on the page, resulting in a garbled mess. Consumers who may be looking to read something in a work environment or a quiet space such as a library are turned off by this experience. Also, the potential higher advertising revenues an outlet might receive by integrating video also come with higher production costs, and increased bounce rates from people who don’t want video, and prefer to read. Video also consumes precious data on the mobile plans of consumers, where the footprint of print media is comparatively light. If you click on an article expecting print, but receive a streaming autoplay video, the data cost can be significant even if you click away relatively quickly.
The skill set of the media member is also key in deciding the best way to present content. Some media members thrive with the help of an eraser or backspace key, while others work best being put on the spot in front of a microphone or camera. For example, Saving Country Music was in the podcast business way before podcasting was cool, but decided print was the best format for its particular goal. In fact print was at the heart of the strategy to promote independent artists through outreaching to disgruntled mainstream country music fans using search engines to look for alternatives or like-minded opinions. Podcasting can also have outreach qualities, but can be more limited in reaching outside of the defined demographic the podcast is designed to appeal to in the first place.
The answer is not that print media is superior to video media, or podcasting can’t do what print can. The truth is that each individual story has an optimum format for it to be presented to the public, and each media member has an optimum medium in which they work. For some subjects, print is imperative for covering a story in the in-depth and involved way that only print media can, with sources cited via hyperlink and searchable facts at your fingertips. Sometimes video is superior because of the visual component of a story, or the need for additional engagement with the audience. Sometimes an audio or video podcast is best, still stimulating the theater of the mind, but presenting it in a more conversational manner.
The problem is when we think any one medium is the only one we should disseminate or consume our media through. Since print has been around the longest, it’s easy to fall for the idea that it’s arcane in the multimedia-driven internet age. But in truth, print’s venerable, verifiable, straightforward, data-light, an idea-rich format is exactly what we need for a healthy balance in a cluttered and noisy media landscape.