Slate’s YouTube Channel: Can I write 150 Words That Matter?

It’s been a strange few years for me professionally. After nearly a decade reporting and editing for newspapers—a gig I mostly enjoyed despite the doom and gloom in an industry forever changed by the internet—I left to work in another “outdated” form of media: radio. At WNYC I ended up learning about more cutting edge digital journalism than ever before, and used those skills along some new radio chops to get a job at an online-only magazine. Now, I’m overseeing Slate News Channel, which is part of a cutting-edge partnership between Slate and the big bad(ass) Google.

The idea behind the channel is unique. Produce three videos every day, all under a minute long, that give you the most biggest news in three specific subjects: Politics, Tech, and Science. Editorial choice is heavily influenced by what’s trending every morning, but I also try and look forward on topics and even pick out bizarre stories that will hopefully catch wider attention with Slate’s help. We’re also doing longer form videos based on the magazine’s popular Explainer column.

I’m scripting or editing the scripts for all of this stuff, and with the help of an amazing team of video producers, we get the content we choose every morning up by the afternoon. By internet standards it’s not lightning speed. By video production standards it’s the speed of light. But can it matter to users? I’m having fun writing and editing this stuff, and I think it’s informative. The question we’re going to try and answer with our content, is whether we can provide something that users truly want to watch and will seek out.

I have to admit that for the first time in my life I’m creating a product that I was not already an obvious consumer of. Generally I’m a reader of words when it comes to news, and a watcher of video when it comes to the hilarious or disturbing corners of reality now given a wide audience by the internet. But that doesn’t mean there’s not an audience. The content made by Slate that I’m helping to expand on got the magazine’s first YouTube channel some 33 million views by the end of 2011.

So what’s the big plan? It’s part of Google and YouTube’s gamble to get into the original content game. And anyone savvy enough to know google buzz and google wave knows the search giant doesn’t always knock it out of the park. But I think the company has correctly identified a need here and the answer is undoubtably online. Look, I don’t have cable. I don’t know if I ever will. I’m not interested in 300 channels. I’m interested in 13. And I don’t want to have to dig through a bunch of crap to get where I’m going. This is not a revelation. This is why Netflix exists, it’s why Hulu exists, it’s also part of why people are pirating stuff off the internet. Here’s a more eloquent bit from a New Yorker article focusing on YouTube senior dude Robert Kyncl:

“For the past sixty years, TV executives have been making the decisions about what we watch in our living rooms. Kyncl would like to change that. Therefore YouTube, the home of grainy cell-phone videos and skateboarding dogs, is going pro. Kyncl has recruited producers, publishers, programmers, and performers from traditional media to create more than a hundred channels, most of which will début in the next six months—a sort of YouTV. Streaming video, delivered over the Internet, is about to engage traditional TV in a skirmish in the looming war for screen time.”

A skirmish in the looming war. And I’ve picked my side. It’s a test run and our window for success with this at Slate currently has a date of closure. Here’s hoping we gain some good traction. Either way, 2012 is going to be an interesting year.

Some More of My Favorites So Far:

About Ben

Ben Brock Johnson is a print, radio, and new media journalist working in New York City.
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