Can online video save the newspaper industry? Should it?

Newspapers tend to be a tad slow on the uptake. They were slow to realize classifieds--their bread and butter--were draining away to online ad sites; slow to realize consumers liked the idea of near-instant news updates online and then on mobile websites; slow to realize personal ads--those Facebook precursors--were here to stay.

And, most have been slow to embrace online video as anything more than a novel experiment. Newspapers are facing a rapidly changing climate that might relegate them to the bone rooms of libraries, stored among rare books, dusty boxes of microfilm and yellowing copies of Life magazine.

But newspapers occupy a link in the evolutionary chain that could save them. They're purveyors of information, and information--now as always--is king.

The problem is, newspaper don't know how to take advantage of their edge. They gather news better than any other organization in existence-the old fashioned way, with HUMINT that makes governmental intelligence agencies jealous. But they haven't managed to take the next step, to take it beyond newsprint.

They're tried, fitfully, to shovel the stories they run on their pages onto the Internet, but few have managed to convert their stream of information into a stream of revenue. But a few have jumped feet first into the online video world. And that's a good thing because newspapers maintain a unique relationship with their readers, especially in small- to mid-sized towns that the metro dailies have overlooked. They're still the place people look for local--really local--news.

Newspapers need to reinvent themselves and develop products that fit easily online. There's a difference, of course, between doing it and doing it right. Crafting a professional presentation requires trained videographers, producers and editors. A Washington Post, Newsday or Detroit Free Press can afford to spend because they've got plenty of viewers to attract advertisers with pre-roll ads booked to pay for staff.

The problem, of course, is scale. It's tough to make money off a new product when you're throwing money at it and not getting a lot back. Sites like hamptonroads.tv, a project of The Virginian-Pilot, made waves when it launched in 2005. But lack of ad support has caused it to cut staff-and trim its efforts.

There have been several other projects recently to cut back as the economy has stayed gray for the newspaper industry. One, 702.tv, a Las Vegas Sun project, pulled the plug last week after just four months of production. Rationalized the Sun's owners, Greenspun Media Group, on announcing the closing: "This situation is yet another reflection of events taking place nationally in both the media and the economy."

How shortsighted.

Even without a big staff tasked to produce slick online video, or an inventory of pre-roll ads, there are papers making the effort to stay relevant. Check out the Allentown Morning Call's "On the Cheap," or a local feature on a cemetery from the Holland (Mich.) Sentinel. Neither are flashy, but both convey extra value to readers and maintain the personality of the newspapers they are trying to keep relevant. Can the newspaper industry be saved? Maybe, maybe not. But online video can certainly keep local news fresh.-Jim

P.S. Thanks to those of you who have sent nominations for the Fierce 15 OnlineVideo Movers & Shakers. Keep 'em coming! Email your nominations to [email protected]

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