Comments, registration rise at paper websites

tn_graph1.jpg One third of large newspaper web sites now let readers comment on stories, while three out of ten require registration or payment to access their online material, according to a recent survey of how the top 100 U.S. newspapers are adapting web technology.

The survey, conducted by the Washington, D.C. public relations firm The Bivings Group, looked at a range of potential new media tools or techniques and charted their use by the rapidly-reforming dead-tree media.  (See above).

I highlighted comments and registration because both are pet issues — I love comments and fear registration.

I am also astonished to see web videos rocket past podcasts. A colleagues with extensive multimedia experience told me it takes two hours on average to produce one minute of highly edited video. That’s an enormous investment of time – toward what end?

Let me hasten to add that I believe in cross-platform storytelling and think video coverage can occasionally augment written reporting. 

For instance, while writing an article about copper pilferage I visited a scrap yard and was blown away by sound and fury of metals being crushed and bundled like cardboard. At my request, a colleague, image guy Frederic Larson, shot and edited a 71-second video clip that very nicely captured the industrial grittiness of the place. As an experiment I am rather proud of this coupling of print and moving pictures.

But as a business reporter for the last 15 years, I have to ask: how many people viewed the video as opposed to read the news article; what did it cost to produce each; how much did each presentation recoup in advertising revenue or brand equity; when does video make sense on a news website?

That last point is worth another few words. Video is about motion and emotion. It is about events in which seeing is believing, such as the Rodney King video that sparked riots in Los Angeles.

Given this I think news web sites should focus on eliciting user-generated video. As video phones become more common it is inevitable that ordinary folks will capture newsworthy footage. The trick will be getting and filtering it. 

So while I will continue to look for ways to tell stories in multiple media, I think the most useful and cost-effective video will come from cititizen paparazzi.