It’s been in the back of my mind for awhile, but I decided to give a five-minute
rant lightning talk at this year’s ONA conference about one of my pet peeves in video journalism. The slides don’t offer much context, but my preso was called “Death of the Talking Head.”
For those who aren’t familiar with the phrase, “talking heads” is a traditional broadcast television term, where the camera only shows the upper half of a reporter’s body so it looks like they’re a “talking head.” It’s also a style of reporting that has dominated broadcast television news since its inception in 1930. Why do organizations, regardless if it’s a television network, newspaper, HuffPo Live, or YouTube channel, continue to deliver the news the same way it has been done for decades?
The dirty, little secret? Talking head videos are easy, fast and inexpensive to produce. Imagine taking a one-hour live stream of reporters talking about the hottest topics of the day, chopping that livestream into two-minute segments to create thirty videos and splattering them across relevant articles. All of a sudden, top traffic-driving stories are also driving views to accompanying videos, and, as a result, publishers can charge higher CPM rates to advertisers. Does video of a talking head really add more context, value and information to a story? Maybe, but probably not (see slide 12). It’s visual clickbait, and we can do better.
There are a number of new and traditional media organizations that are redefining visual journalism (NFB, NPR, Conde Nast Digital Video Network). It takes time and resources to chart a new path, but sometimes it just requires thinking outside of the box. Why can’t news organizations produce music videos, animations or motion graphic videos to tell a story? The medium is vast. The stories are infinite. With an ounce of creativity and fun, video journalism can seize this incredible moment and realize what it has always been– limitless.