The Chicago Tribune dips its toes further into the online video waters

A couple weeks ago, I noticed that the Chicago Tribune removed the navigation window that allowed direct access to its blogs from its front page. (Boo-hiss, incidentally.) In its place was an expanded video console that gave you access to more of its taped video packages, from site-specific packages to CLTV news reports.

So it shouldn’t have been a surprise when they launched an entire separate site devoted to video called ChicagoLive.com. I wrote a brief post about it for TOC, but it started squeezing my mindgrapes again today when the Trib posted a story about Mayor Daley’s response to his son’s investment in a company that had business with the city.

(That’s a whole separate post, so I’ll just say this, particularly to those Chicagoans who’ve found themselves calloused over by corruption as of late: if you’re giving Mayor Daley the benefit of the doubt, and believe he didn’t know his son was involved with Municipal Sewer Services, is that really a man you want running a world-class city?)

Here’s what’s great about the way this story is posted: I can get the 4 W’s from the story itself, and then see what happened at that news event via the video of the news conference, unedited and uninterrupted, complete with some guy shushing the chatterboxes in the background and Daley’s voice cracking when he speaks of how much he loves his son. It’s a complete picture.

Unfortunately, it’s the exact opposite of how the Trib normally handles video on its site.

More often than not, the Trib slaps video segments on its site that aren’t at all complimentary of the stories they’re paired with. In fact, they’re usually CLTV stories on those same topics. CLTV is fine on its own, but everyone knows that television news presents a shorter, capsulized version of a newspaper story. So instead of the video providing more of the story, it actually provides less.

And that brings me back around to ChicagoLive.com. The Trib is honest enough about the goals of the site. In a press release (posted in full at The Lost Remote), Allison Scholly of Tribune Interactive said:

“Chicagolive.com serves our customers by creating a unique and visually engaging environment for users to post or view videos and for advertisers to promote their messages.”

An excerpt from an internal memo posted by Chicagoist put a finer point on the matter of advertisers:

“Chicagolive.com will also serve our advertisers by offering a new avenue for them to reach the audience they are looking for. Online video is growing by leaps and bounds, and advertisers are looking for ways to take advantage of its interest to web users.”

As I alluded to on TOC‘s blog, ChicagoLive.com is “unique,” but for all the wrong reasons: it doesn’t have many of the social networking or community aspects people normally expect of sites that depend on user-submitted content, and it requires an approval process before videos will post.

The latter is perhaps to be expected: The Trib’s a huge entity, and an easy target for lawsuits. So it’s in its best interest not to post videos that would be controversial. The likelihood that someone will submit hard-hitting citizen journalism is certainly there, but it’s unlikely it’ll get past the Trib’s screeners since they’d be unlikely to post anything that would anger a potential source or their advertisers. But if they’re serious about it, they’ll need to find a way to come to terms with it. Still, I think the jury’s still out on the feasibility of crowdsourcing in journalism so perhaps it makes sense for the Trib to take tentative steps. (Then again, it’s been a year so perhaps a mistrial’s already been declared.)

That hesitancy is, I think, what is at the heart of the the Trib’s reluctance to embrace all of the Web 2.0 tech. In its past online offerings, the Trib has taken a wait-and-see approach. Tribune columnist Eric Zorn was an early adopter – early for the MSM anyway – of the power of blogs, but it was a while before the Tribune extended the privilege to anyone else. But with all its resources, the Trib is in a position to give people exactly what they’re looking for so it can compliment what it already offers, and provide that complete picture. The Daley story above is a great example of that.

Sooner or later, the Trib will get more comfortable providing this kind of instant access to news events, and will see the value in allowing people to create their own version of its site, whether through crafting user-specific front pages or offering more user-submitted content. They’ll do this if for no other reason than because advertisers follow users, and users follow content that gives them more information, not less, and information that gives them exactly what they’re looking for, and allows them to move it around as they please. Even if that information is as mindless as a bunch of kids from Park Ridge High School doing “The Safety Dance.”

And for anyone who’s reading this and thinking “Hey, why don’t you take all these high-minded musings and put ’em to work on TOC‘s site, smartass?” all I can say is: just wait.

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