All right, time to take another look at a conspicuous use of Web video.
Remember, our idea isn’t to view platforms, partnerships, investments or technology. It’s to take a look, often through parted fingers, at the stuff that some one is putting on the Web, and asking: Would anybody really want to watch this stuff?
Today we look at Wall Street Journal online technology reporter Andy Jordan’s just-launched Tech Diary video podcasts.
“Tech Diary is an extension of [Journal online columnist] Andy [Jordan]’s other work as a multimedia reporter covering technology. The video podcast format is the perfect complement to the stories Andy tells so well on the quirky intersection of technology and culture.” — Jason Anders, Technology Editor for The Wall Street Journal Online
Medium-Message Match Downgrades for inane video fad-mongering; upgrades for content best conveyed by video rather than another medium. The videocasts are Jordan’s contribution to the reporter-foolin’-around-with-people-and-a-cheap-video-camera-within-a-few-blocks-of-work genre. The competition is fierce: Hundreds of reporters are currently working through this phase of multimedia adolescence. Like puberty itself, this phase is full of great promise, bad decisions and humiliating gropery. Let’s hope it only lasts a few years too.
Andy’s a smart and funny guy with, so far, three mini-journeys under his belt. There is none of the self-serious smarm you see when some reporters try to “go broadcast” with their little video cameras and pursed-brow stand-ups. There’s just a bit of hamminess–a kind of reporter-at-large throatclearing endemic right now. But Jordan has clearly messed around with enough Circuit City inventory to know the difference between a tool and a toy. But back to medium-message match: Is video a good medium for exploring the people/technology relationship? There are moments that make me think, well, maybe so.
- When Jordan discovers in a New York wi-fi park an opera singer willing to perform for his hand-held (to overdramatize the point that she will later send voice clips to a show producer), it’s an usettling, compelling 9 seconds.
- When he follows around some poor iPhone early adopter schlep who learns that, well, nobody really is impressed that he has an iPhone (and, better, that someone sees early adoption as a negative, not positive, social attribute) it’s a hilarious, heartbreaking vignette-ette.
- But the video in which Jordan trails a New Jersey family “geo-caching” (using GPS units to find stuff hidden in the woods, a high-tech scavenger hunt). This would have been done far better with an annotated Google map with photos and voiceovers, or snippets of video linked to various locations along the path. For the geo-caching story, the medium-message match is poor.
Score: 3 out of 5 rabbit ears
Respect for users’ time and attention Upgrades for tight editing; downgrades for excessive length and production incontinence.
The productions, with simple titles, voiceovers and clean swipes, are craftsmanlike but not slick. Except for the intro video, however, the three Tech Diary videos nudge the 4-minute mark.
[Pause for effect]
- John Lennon delivered “Imagine” at 3:04.
- You can complete two speed-dates in 4:00.
- The Space Shuttle escapes the earth’s gravitational pull within 4:00.
- There are some people who can run a freakin’ mile in 4:00.
I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: On the Web, except under extraordinary circumstances, 2 minutes is your allowance: spend it wisely. I know editing a video for which one has high hopes into 2 minutes is difficult, even demeaning, relative to one’s grand auteur ambitions. Tough nuts. Nobody’s forcing you to put video on the Web. Certainly nobody’s forcing anybody else to watch it.
Score: 2 out of 5 rabbit ears
Commercial Time-Suck Upgrades for space- and time-efficient ad presentation; downgrades for tedious, excessive commercials that cannot be avoided.
Remarkably–alarmingly–puzzlingly–there are no commercials blocking the way to the Tech Diary videos. And no, they will not reside behind the Wall Street Journal’s swaying, crumbling pay wall. So who’s going to pay the cable bill? Let Rupert worry about that. Meantime, Tech Diary is on the air 24/7, and free for the watching.
Score: 5 out of 5 rabbit ears
Innovation Upgrades for inventive use of the video medium; downgrades for pack-trailing production habits.
It’s early, so let’s cut Jordan a break for filming two of his videos within a few blocks of his pod at WSJ headquarters, and a third in the wake of a family making their way through nearby woods.
So far, Jordan gets a few points for some playful interaction with his subjects and an understated hand in editing. But is there anything fresh in his efforts to use video to explore the links beween people and technology? No.
Score: 2 out of 5 rabbit ears
Bottom line: Like most Web journalists playing with video for the first time, Jordan is educating himself in public and casting some amusing, insightful light along the way. There is little harm, modest payoff and an unclear path ahead.
But the Tech Diary videos illustrate one of the perils of doing “multi”media journalism when you have just one device around your neck. When you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail. When you have a video camera, everything looks like “a cool visual story.” As the tapes inevitably show, looks can be deceiving.
As journalists begin to enter the next stage of multimedia maturity, a good question emerges: How do you get the right tool in the hands of the right journalist at the right time for the right story?
An image of Batman’s utility belt flashes briefly through the mind. Four seconds, max.
Net score for Tech Diary Video: 3 out of 5 rabbit ears