It is many decades since the words "golden age" and "newspaper" have been used seriously together in the same sentence. But in a piece for New York Magazine last month, the renowned author and zeitgeist-reader Kurt Andersen did just that. He identified a new medium, Web video, which is taking print newsrooms by storm.
It is telling, for example, that the two most compelling pieces of news video footage in Britain this year have been broken on newspaper Web sites rather than on television news bulletins. The Sun's exclusive cockpit video of the fatal mission that killed British soldier Matty Hull in Iraq received considerably more than 1.5 million views on the Sun's Web site alone -- and that is without counting the various copies that ended up on YouTube, some of which have been watched upwards of 100,000 times each. CCTV footage obtained by the Guardian of the violent police arrest of Sheffield clubber Toni Comer led bulletins on all major news channels.
But where newspapers are beginning to realize they can really score in the world of moving pictures is by allowing their reporters, their photographers and their Web development staff the freedom to get creative with video technology that is now cheap and accessible enough for them to use widely.
Michael Rosenblum is a former New York Times executive whose consultancy practice now provides training in video journalism all over the world for clients including the BBC.
"Newspapers are very well placed to take advantage of Web video -- far more than local TV seems to be," he says. "Because Web 1.0 was text-oriented, it impacted far earlier on newspapers than it did on TV. TV seemed to feel that it was immune and so to a large extent was able to ignore the Web. In TV news, they still believe that the `show' leads the Web site, and that the Web is for `leftover video.'"
Which is why UK newspaper groups are investing heavily in video elements to their online operations. Both the Times and the Telegraph have "TV" sections on their Web sites, while the Sun and the Mirror sites are awash with video content -- although much of it is aggregated from elsewhere. At the Guardian, editor Alan Rusbridger said earlier this month that ?1 million (US$1.96 million) in investment would be earmarked for developing video projects.
Tony Watson is the editor-in-chief of the Press Association, which provides "white label" video content to various newspaper clients as well as training in video journalism for print reporters.
"When it comes to video, newspapers have moved in 18 months from a position of `we don't really get it' to `we can't get enough of it,'" he says. "It's a massively exciting time. Everybody's recognizing where the growth statistics are."
And at a conference last week held by the Association of Online Publishers, it became clear that advertisers are getting every bit as excited. Yahoo's video manager Matt West said that the money is likely to flow in the direction of publishers who are providing sophisticated content catering to a focused, targeted audience -- rather than to the less controlled end of the market typified by sites such as YouTube.
What is more, Rosenblum reckons that newspaper reporting staff are traditionally used to working faster on their feet and operating alone -- which gives them a further advantage over TV reporters, who have been brought up to rely on camera crews and sound engineers.