Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Working Out the Kinks

The Springer Machine moved its headquarters to Berlin late last year (2007). In those months, the company has been pouring resources into their online department, in particular video.

Because it is such a massive publishing factory of information, it has 3, count them 3, video departments: ASDTV, and It's set up this way so they compete with each other, according to Stefan Tappert, one of the top editors in the video department of ( I guess that means they have 4, count them 4, separate video departments. Whew!) Obviously a sign that Springer is figuring out how to integrate video on the web for its myriad newspapers and magazines. (Springer owns tabloids in Poland as well as niche publications like Bild Frau, for women. I could list all of them but sufficed to say, it's a long list.)

I've noticed a few kinks in the couple days I've been in the division.

So let's go down the line.

Kink #1: Access to Video

Bild has an account with the Associated Press Archive, but it had never attempted to access its video archive until they needed it for a Bush piece (he had dinner with Chancellor Merkel Tuesday evening on his final European tour as president). After an hour or two, poor Sylvia (who I had been shadowing) ended up going with photos googled and youtubed (or geklaut, or stolen as one of the video editors termed it.)

Bild of course doesn't have its own video archive - traditionally a newspaper, not a broadcaster. Clearly an issue for them, but it's a small kink and they will work it out.

Kink #2: Uninformed Video Editors

Sylvia is a video editor - no journalism training. Sure, everything goes by Daniel and Stefan, the heads of the department. She wondered why they needed the Bush piece. I told her because Bush was coming to Germany for his final tour. She didn't believe me, knew nothing about it (it had been on the front page of all the German newspapers, that's how I knew.) That's a problem. Which leads me to the next kink, which I think is part of the problem why Sylvia didn't know Bush was coming to town.

Kink #3: Poor Communication

Part of me wants to blame the passive aggressive German psyche (I do so love to harp on the deep, dark night of the German soul), but in this case I think it's a factor of the managers (Daniel, Stefan) under constant pressure to churn out content for the website. Sylvia told me it's not unusual for her to splice together 4 videos in a shift.

Another person writes the text - I find this odd. Which leads me to the next kink.

Kink #4: Lack of Teamwork

The video section hasn't quite figured out how to effectively combine the video editors with the information side. So you have a reporter or an editor writing text without knowing if there are any pictures, still or moving, to go along with it. I'm not trained in TV, but in radio it's usually a pretty good idea to know what audio you have to work with.

On the flip side there are things that are amazing about this video department, and when you think about the potential this organization has to mobilize its resources, it's like being on the front lines of a world war, or an invasion (and it is war, Bild is gunning for Der Spiegel Online's impressive advertising revenue and ability to draw traffic). They're doing tedious, grunt work, digging the trenches, holding the line.

And the goal you might ask? Well, maybe you won't, because it's obvious, but the goal is always to generate more clicks, more eyeballs, which translates into more revenue coming from advertisers. So the video I worked on yesterday (click on the Truck Weitsprung updated at 11.06.08 at 17.26 Uhr) was produced to do exactly that: get people to hit the site and play the video.

Stefan shows me the stats (they check them at 11:40 and again at 4:40, the peak times.) He also tells me that the video player link on the front page of used to be at the bottom of the page - now it's further. As soon as they did that, he said, they started generating more clicks. If you build it, they will come. If you put it up top, they will click. So simple.

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