I recently stumbled across a video about a 10-year-old, 99-pound, Orthodox Jewish female weightlifter. It was an incredibly compelling, well-shot story by the Jewish Daily Forward.
It turns out the niche weekly newspaper is pushing the envelope in streaming media.
I talked to Jane Eisner, the editor-in-chief about her thoughts video, newspapers and the future. The following is an edited transcript based on our interview.
AJR: How big is the video staff?
Jane Eisner: We have one person [Martyna Starosta], and she shoots video and edits. We have a few other people who have various levels of skill, and we publish freelancers. But we are operating on a shoestring.
AJR: What’s the strategy? Are there different audiences for video compared to print?
Jane Eisner: Just by way of background, we publish weekly, about 30,000 copies of our print edition read by about 80,000 people. Our print audience has been flat, which these days we consider good, but our digital audience is growing. We’re at least half a million unique visitors a month. In November we surpassed that.
So clearly video is reaching a whole level of readership that print can’t possibly do.
[For instance a video we did about an] Orthodox girl from New Jersey, who it turns out is the top weight lifter in her class in the world. The video news producer went with the reporter to interview Naomi. But the video itself went viral, and it was the most popular video in Brazil for a day.
Now we’re using video to enhance our projects. We are also trying to position ourselves as the home for Jewish video. Every day we publish two videos on our homepage. Sometimes it’s our original work; other times it’s video that [we think] is just great. We did a very moving interview with the rabbi of the Pozner family, the only Jewish family to have lost a child in the Newtown shootings.
I think our strategy is to really build on that daily diet, and it’s starting to work. I don’t have that big a staff, [but] what I do have is a name and a brand, and a website that will become evermore attractive to people who want to have a larger audience for their videos.
AJR: A lot of smaller newspapers say they don’t have the budget for video. How do you make it work with a smaller staff?
Jane Eisner: I would try to partner. That may seem obvious, but I come from a time when you didn’t publish anyone else’s work on your front page. It was a point of pride that everything was original. But the digital space isn’t like that. You may have something that you saw someplace else, but your readership may want to see it on your site and curated your way.
One of our other big strategies here is to become the hub for smaller regional Jewish news outlets that don’t have the kind of traffic we have. We are already hosting a Jewish newspaper out of Boston on our site, and we’re soon going to be hosting another one from another large city.
We’re close to closing a deal with another Jewish organization that produces video conversations. They just put it up on their website, which is much smaller traffic-wise than ours. We see an advantage of having first-rate video that complements what we do.
AJR: What do you see as a successful video?
Jane Eisner: It’s so unpredictable. Every now and then, you’ll get a great topic that will just soar, but mostly it’s just steadily doing the work every day and growing the number of people who get our daily newsletter.
It’s great when things go viral, but it’s not to say that those quarter of a million or half a million people are going to come back the next day.
AJR: How do you see video playing into the future of newspapers?
Jane Eisner: I think it will be an essential part of the storytelling that we do. I don’t even think we run a newspaper anymore. In fact I kind of bristle when people say, “Oh, you’re a newspaper.”
I’ll tell you about my personal conversion on this. I remember being a foreign correspondent before there was email and faxes. I know what it’s like to write stories with a pencil and a notebook and dictate them to the home office. A couple of years ago, I went on a reporting trip to Haiti. It was about eight months after the earthquake. I took the notebook, pens, a camera and a video camera.
Some of the video I took was kind of shaky. But still, it captured something that I couldn’t with words or even still photographs. We put together a video that included my photographs, some of my moving images and then a voice over. I also wrote a big long news feature about what I saw, and I wrote editorials.
Creating the video enabled me to express myself and tell the story in a whole different medium. When I gave a talk at a [Jewish Community Center] here in Manhattan, they showed my video to open it. It became an entity all to itself.
To put it into historical context, we were founded as a Yiddish newspaper in 1897. For a very long time, the only people who could read our content were those who could read and understand Yiddish, and then in 1990, we started an English weekly. But then again, only those who picked up the print paper could access the content. While we knew that certain people in high levels of government in Washington were reading us, most of our readers were self-selected.
Now, we’re competing. It’s very competitive in the digital space. For all of us, not just the big guns, it’s going to be an essential part of our tool kit.
AJR: What do you say to the editors who think, “We just don’t get the views on our videos?”
Jane Eisner: You really have to have a deep commitment to staying in it, and it’ll keep getting better. This isn’t about just some short-term gain. This is about doing the best journalism you can. It’s not like we say, “Oh, we didn’t get enough hits last month, we’re going to drop it.”
Now people are starting to not just put the video up as an add on, but really talking about doing stories that start with video. That’s how we’re going to really and truly integrate it.