Friday, February 16, 2007

The Advertiser Does Video--and more

Sometimes what you are looking for appears right under your feet. The Advertiser is quietly takng real steps to implement downloadable video. Right chere in river city, cher. And they are doing a pretty credible job of it too, even if the bandwidth and the interface to the material is pretty seriously lacking. They're even smart enough to be focusing on what's truly local (e.g. the weather and Mardi Gras).

If they get really smart they'll rent themselves a big chunk of LUS' forthcoming fiber to the home network, stream hi-res video and photos, hire some smart editor/designers, partner with Google's new local advertising initiative and figure out how to make money on the internet with local content. But more on that later.

You think YouTube is last word in short video content or that Flicker is all she spoke for interesting photography? Take a look at what the Advertiser is producing and be pleasantly surprised. The recent tornadoes have kicked over a pretty amazing little series of videos on the Advertiser site. Photographic images of Mardi Gras balls and parades have been similarly impressive.

Example tornadoes: 1) 90 year old victim, no insurance; 2) low key rendition of a truly frightening experience, and there are many more available from the sidebar of a recent story. These are real, interesting, and valuable to the community. Part of what is impressive about these shorts is that they are well-composed and the audio is pretty good. Someone put some training and thought into these--they're not just random shots or interview afterthoughts. They're short but they are composed stories.

Example Mardi Gras: 1) The Krewe of Apollo ball (a short peek at one end of the glitterati spectrum; but there is a larger gallery), 2) the Krewe des Amis ball (a different end of the spectrum) 3) Another spectrum altogether: royalty of the Krewe des Cheins, the Krewe des Cheins on parade, and 4) The Rio Parade 5) Lafayette Mardi Gras, Inc. Now that, taken together, is a picture of Mardi Gras that is at once more realistic and more interesting than you'll get on MTV or any of the national media.

All this media occasionally comes together in some pretty impressive ways. Even if the reader has to stretch to construct it. An example might be the recent story on Patricia Rickels. There's the story, a set of audio pieces from a sidebar, e.g. #1, a (hard to find) photo gallery, and a full, footnoted written transcript. Very nice.

Just for Fun...Laigniappe

Great stuff, no?

But you probably didnn't know that any of that grand material exists. In fair part that's because they verge on impossible to get to in any consistent manner. The main access points are in boxes found on the right hand side of some stories that use teeny-tiny type to link to bare-bones video the size of business cards or MP3 bars floating on a gray field. The photos are too small to reveal interesting detail. The sidebars only point to material related to the story at hand and the one "central" location clearly doesn't provide a path to the full library. Improving the interface, making it more attractive, making it searchable, integrating it better into stories, and providing a consistent framework would go a long way toward making this the popular community resource it deserves to be.

Now, be aware that these goodies can't be credited to some sort of Lafayette-based tech innovation inspired by something the city fathers put in the gumbo. Gannett is, by all reports, the most aggressive of all the national paper chains in its attempt to move its paper online and to make its content "hyperlocal."

(An aside: the nifty content this post is concerned with is but one element of the top-down changes associated with Gannett's new corporate strategy. Have you wondered about the left wing/right wing blogs that suddenly appeared? The new crop of, well, odd commentators? The Youngsville/Duscon/Broussard weekly material? The calls for reader photos and content? All traceable to Gannett's attempt to stem the systematic loss of readership that dailies have been plauged with for the last two decades. You can read up on it if you like: Gannett To Change Its Papers' Approach; A Newspaper Chain Sees Its Future, And It's Online and Hyper-Local.)

While better organization and a little inspired interface work could go a long way toward making some damn good content accessible and valuable the truth is that the small videos and the tiny photographs are not only small--they download frustratingly slowly. What is needed to make this content compelling is not simply a better interface. What is needed is enough bandwidth to use as a starting point.

The Advertiser/Gannett and LUS ought to consider a little mutual benefit pact. LUS provides some monster bandwidth for city customers and the Advertiser offers some lush monster video and photo files to match. LUS needs applications that show off its competitive advantage in bandwidth. Gannett needs to find a way to turn a pile of files into a profitable local news site before time runs out and newspapers vanish.

Their interests meet in a news application that is second to none running over a network that can't be matched.

Wouldn't that be fun?

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