February 3, 2012

Maybe you watched a Republican presidential debate on your laptop, propped up with pillows in bed, instead of on the television set in your living room. Or you saw parts of President Obama’s State of the Union speech in a Web video clip the next day on your tablet computer. Or you watched video and audio excerpts from Washington Post sports columnist Sally Jenkins’s interview with Joe Paterno on your smartphone, just days before the legendary Penn State football coach died.

If you did, there’s a good chance you were watching a Post video production.

Video is becoming an increasingly significant, and profitable, part of the digital content offered by The Post and other news sites. You’ll be seeing more of this in 2012 and beyond.

No, The Post won’t be a full-service TV station, at least not for now, but a well-equipped video-production suite already sits adjacent to the main Post newsroom, and the department is hiring more video journalists and producers in the coming weeks and months.

In the past two years, viewership of Post videos tripled, and revenue from the accompanying video ads went up significantly.

“Video traffic is skyrocketing,” said Andrew Pergam, The Post’s new director of video, who has a background in television news, “and so are ads sold against that video.” Indeed, video ad spending is the fastest-growing part of the digital ad revenue stream, according to many estimates.

Just this week the Huffington Post announced plans to hire 100 video journalists and stream 12 hours of live video per weekday. The Wall Street Journal already is webcasting about four hours per day of live video, and the New York Times just began a daily webcast of business news.

So what’s this all about?

Well, Pergam and Dave Goldberg, The Post’s director of video strategy, say that it’s about three aims. First, it is meant to enhance “engagement” — the number of times people come to Post digital platforms and the amount of time they stay there. Second, it’s a revenue-chaser. Advertisers love, and will pay handsomely for, the 15-second and 30-second video ads that precede most Web news videos, even if viewers are annoyed by them. “There’s a lot of money in it,” said Pergam.

And third, video, if done well, can enhance The Post’s journalism and reinforce its brand as the indispensable guide to Washington.

Newspapers have been dabbling in online video ever since Internet bandwidth became robust enough. At first, the vision held that every journalist would carry a video camera and shoot footage of whatever story he or she was working on. That does occasionally happen, but making a high-quality, complete video story that is good enough for The Post, or a Post advertiser, to put its name to, requires more skill and editing time than that original vision allowed.

So now the idea is to have a relatively small staff of video journalists and producers to do stories, on their own and in collaboration with Post writers, that will enhance The Post’s coverage of politics, national and local government, lifestyle news and sports.

Videos will be short, generally less than three minutes long and, at the optimum, 90 seconds or less. And there will be a lot of experimentation at first. “No one has cracked the code yet,” Goldberg said, on exactly what works and what doesn’t in online news video.

The goals for this year are to produce more video and to make it work better on all digital publishing platforms — mobile phones and tablets, too, and to “surface” Post video more. That means getting it out to YouTube, Facebook and other social media and video communities where more viewers will see it and, with luck, get hooked enough to come to digital Post content for their text news, too.

In recent months, popular Post videos have included a special report on the crash of the Air Florida plane into the frozen Potomac 30 years ago; a collection of crashes involving D.C. Metrobuses, first obtained by WTOP, which went viral; and of course, live streaming and highlights from political events such as the State of the Union address, GOP debates and happenings at Occupy D.C.

People’s media habits are in flux in this digital age. The TV is seeing less use while laptops and mobile devices are seeing more. The Post needs to play in this field, as long as the video keeps to the core mission: stories and pictures for people who want and need to know about all things Washington.

Click on washingtonpost.com/multimedia/videos to see more of Post video.

Patrick B. Pexton can be reached at 202-334-7582 or at ombudsman@washpost.com. For updates, read the omblog at www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/omblog.