There’s nothing new to the idea that the world is going the way of multimedia. It has since the printing press, the telegraph and now the iPhone. Companies like Apple and Google have spurred a marvelous upheaval in how we – the short-attention-span, oversaturated-with-information public – gather and process even more information.

Google Reader, Second Life and blogs are all examples of how the Internet/information/media age is coalescing into concrete qualifiers. Thanks to innovation, both corporate and organic, the laptop-toting masses have an easier time catching up on celebrity gossip, USB-gadget updates and breaking news.

Thrown into the fray is the reassessment of the role of newspapers, our pillars of objective and informed subjective reporting. My last column nutshelled the blogs-vs.-newspapers “debate.” A crucial extension of that dialogue is how newspapers are adapting to multimedia platforms beyond the use of blogs, and they are – sort of. There exists a hierarchy of media online: Lead print articles are at the top of the website, and videos and slideshows are rarely close to the top and hardly included in RSS feeds. In print, online content receives marginal support.

The respective websites for The New York Times and the Washington Post are chock-full of videos and slideshows and links to dozens of blogs. Though the Times’s site is better designed with a more effective integration of media, both sites are heavy-handed in their attempt to represent everything they have to offer in one gulp. Aesthetics of Web design and hierarchies of information butt heads here. Papers of this caliber are expected to have the world within arm’s reach – hence the predominance of written content. Breaking news still follows the necessary template of photo (if available), headline and text. Since this news takes precedence, for example, over an audio slideshow on climate change’s impact on a specific community, the link for the feature goes south, so to speak.

There is no denying hardnosed, on-the-ground reporting as the foundation of great multimedia features. But the features themselves, as a medium, have just as much potential as a 50-point headline atop a 1,000-word article. We love our YouTube and our blogs and will stick to our favorites (geekologie.com), but newspapers need to prove they can do it better than the rest.

They have all the street cred their ubiquitous mastheads offer, and to be fair, they’ve gotten off to a great start. But the possibilities need to be pushed. We should see key Web videos featured on homepages and reporting in blog posts that trigger extensive debate. Print teases (promotions) of online content are alive and well, but they could, and should, be bigger.

Up the stakes and put those teases on the front page.

The top newspapers can hire the top videographers and already employ the best photographers. Show that off. Print, audio and video don’t need to be divorced from each other. A video can be just as – and in many cases, more – effective at directing Web readers to front-page articles than the headlines and pictures themselves.

The New York Times has dozens of videos on YouTube gathering hundreds of thousands of hits. Why aren’t they getting hyped more on the main page? Web content as a whole is always doubling back on itself, always self-referential. But not every website is The New York Times or the Washington Post. We look to these institutions for the truth. Now that truth is even more digestible by multimedia.

News editors, take a breath. I want to see a video in place of a photo on the top of a newspaper’s homepage. A video of on-the-ground footage with AP photos and a voice-over referencing relevant print articles. Link a slideshow right below a breaking headline. Take the online elements that first endangered your profession and own them. Legitimize them beyond their already crucial role.

One step at a time, newspapers can be the flagships of the online world, impossible to ignore by even the casual Web surfer. Think of it this way: Half the world gets its news from the AP. We can do even better.

– E-mail Klein and talk to him about Geekologie at andresar@umich.edu.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.