March 17, 2016

BERKOWITZ | Video and the Future of The Cornell Sun

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If “the pen is mightier than the sword,” and “a picture is worth a thousand words,” then what does that mean for video? The presence of videos in our lives, particularly in mobile and digital form has grown significantly lately. Whether we’re watching ‘Snaps,’ or YouTube, our generation is increasingly enamored with a video-first mindset when it comes to absorbing new content on all platforms.  What does this mean for The Cornell Daily Sun — why should it have any bearing on us? Given the shifting landscape of content consumption towards video, it’s important to seriously consider delving deeper into video content in order to reinforce our reputation as the premier collegiate newspaper in the country.

It’s ironic isn’t it? Recommending video content as a strategic move for a newspaper. But consider The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and USA Today. All three newspapers, which are among the highest circulated in the country, have had to change their business model and ramp up their online presence to deal with declining readership in order to remain financially sustainable. One aspect of this web-push has been incorporating video content into their digital presence. Today, these papers significantly integrate video into their websites, either in association with a top story or as a feature. This has helped them better compete with television networks who have also proactively  increased their video content online.

There are also important arguments against expanding our video content. First and foremost, why do we need it? To be fair, The Cornell Sun isn’t a national paper, and its position as Cornell’s student paper is stable. So no, we don’t explicitly need it, for now, but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t greatly benefit us. Creating more video content is important for The Sun as a means of standing out from our local competitors, such as the Ithaca Journal, as well as other collegiate newspapers.

Another benefit of our delving deeper into video content is associated with another argument against doing so: cost. How do we pay for the cameras, editing software, etc. ? First, The Cornell Sun does in fact already create video content. Did you know that? On the Multimedia page, you can find videos on topics ranging from politics to the 18th Annual Chili Cook-Off in Ithaca. While we may have to make some additional equipment investments, these costs could be outweighed by another benefit: increased video content can provide a new, untapped source of revenue. The advertising world is continuously adapting and trying new strategies for monetizing video content based on evolving Internet and mobile trends. Maybe we could start developing plans around these trends, such incorporating pre-roll ads, working with local businesses to create sponsored video content or focusing on highly shareable videos designed to drive more traffic to the website where we already have ads.  Regardless of how we do it, The Sun can and should take a serious look into the profit-generating potential of developing enhanced video content.

So what can The Sun create? There are so many ideas worthy of video format to share with our followers beyond what we already offer. If The Sun is committed to the idea of embracing video content, it can experiment with different topics: national news, Cornell news, sports commentary, branded content, original content and investigative journalism. Videos can be short clips or long and in-depth. Clips can be anything from funny satires about the happenings on our campus to a reactionary piece covering a major Cornellian sporting event. Unlike with the daily grind of print, there are no rules dictating how often The Sun must churn out videos. Especially early on, The Sun can test out different videos covering different subject matters to get a feel for what sticks, as well as what its readers-turned- viewers would be interested in.  As we mentioned before, the videos to date on The Sun’s site have barely scratched the surface in terms of potential.

Who would create the video content? Just like the written content, our students can take on these new roles. Currently, there are surprisingly few opportunities to get involved in video productions on campus. For Cornellians, especially non-PMA students, few classes or clubs offer access to a variety of video-based positions like The Sun could. Thus, it’s hard to imagine The Sun having trouble finding willing and able students interested in journalism, filmmaking, editing or producing, who would wholeheartedly embrace the new opportunities to create video content.

While there are many upsides to expanding The Sun’s video content, there are many internal and external challenges as well. Internally, it demands we push ourselves creatively: what topics can we cover that would be best for video? How can we make our content viral? What’s the best way to deliver a specific idea in a succinct way? At the same time it demands top-notch leadership amongst the editors to maintain structure and integrity: how can we make sure this content is tasteful and insightful? Is this video thoroughly thought out and worthy of being posted and branded as original Cornell Sun content? These challenges don’t include external obstacles: can we shore up potential filming issues on campus? Can we interview the faculty on camera? It would be short-sighted to think that aren’t other issues to deal with such as these, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take a serious look at how to address these challenges.

Earlier this year, The Sun took a major step forward by redesigning its website with a “digital-first mentality.” Why not reinforce this mentality by going one step further by building out our video content? Previous Sunnies have worked hard to help us establish the reputation we have as the leading collegiate newspaper. If we are truly committed to sustaining this reputation whilst striving for “strong, digital journalism,” let’s challenge ourselves to see how video can fit into this goal.

Ethan Berkowitz is a senior in the College of Industrial and Labor Relations. Views From the 14853 appears alternate Fridays this semester.