Unless you’ve been living on the backside of one of Neptune’s moons for the past couple of years, you know that video is big on the web. There’s a major trend toward transforming text-only sites to text plus video and audio sites.
To change gears for a moment, back in 2005, I wrote this about podcasting:
you need the talent. Everyone learns writing in school, so the barrier to entry is pretty small. However, nobody (or very few) learns how to be a radio broadcaster. Like it or not, that takes ability, practice and, ideally, a great voice. I try not to read poorly-written blogs, and I donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t have the patience for dead air and mumbling…
Over the past week, I’ve had the opportunity to watch several short videos, hosted by big formerly-text-only sites and presented by writers. They are:
- A. O. Scott reviewing 28 Weeks Later for The New York Times
- Emily Yoffe providing advice at Slate’s new video site
- Walt Mossberg reviewing the iPhone for the Wall Street Journal.
Take a couple of minutes and watch those. I’ll wait.
A. O. Scott is rigidly reading off cue cards through the bottom part of his bifocals. Emily Yoffe looks stiffer than her headboard (note the incredibly awkward nod to her dog). Walt Mossberg prefaces every sentence with ‘uh’.
These folks are all good writers who I admire. The operative word there is ‘writers’.
Presenting is a Craft All Its Own
Much as we like to take cheap shots at news anchors, being an effective presenter takes skill and practice. There’s an art, I suspect, to appearing natural on camera. People go to school for this, and usually spend years honing their craft before we ever see them on national television or radio.
Most writers aren’t presenters. They don’t know how to do it. They’re just victims of online content trends, and have been thrown to the video wolves by their managers, editors and publishers.
It’s odd that Slate would make this mistake. For the past two years, they had the wonderful Andy Bowers (who has a background in radio) reading articles written by other writers on their podcast. June Thomas usually does the Explainer podcasts (a podcast I skipped today because writer Michelle Tsai recorded the last two), but she never wrote them. Yet, when Slate went to video, they’ve thrown out the middleman and turned the camera on the poor writers themselves.
Back in 2005, I also wrote:
This issue is only going to be multiplied when video blogs, or vlogging becomes popular. Amanda Congdon is charming, smart, cute and has a great formula, but sheÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s not a professional newscaster. Maybe that doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t matter to you or me, but it matters to average humans who are accustomed to watching professionals.
I was wrong about that. Amanda Congdon is a great presenter. She’s natural, charming and charismatic on camera.
These media giants ought to hire people like Amanda to present their content. Let the writers write.