R.I.P. Pivot to Video (2017–2017)

“It sounds better to say you’re ‘shifting resources into short-form video’ than that you desperately need to reduce your run rate.”

In 2017, if you couldn’t find an audience or revenue model, for any of a myriad of reasons, there was apparently only one thing to do: pivot to video!

And while that’s become a media punchline, it’s not hard to see why the publishers who took that approach did. As the content boom finally seemed to go bust (see: Mashable, Mic, and Vice) and platforms proved themselves increasingly unreliable (read: terrible) partners, focusing on video was a Hail Mary attempt to ease economic and investor pressure by pandering to ad buyer preferences. It sounds better to say you’re “shifting resources into short-form video” than that you desperately need to reduce your run rate.

But it has already proven extremely shortsighted. There is no evidence consumers want more video, and video production is expensive, logistically difficult, and hard to scale (read Heidi Moore’s excellent CJR piece for more on this). There are early signs that even ad buyers are realizing video isn’t some panacea, and will redistribute some of their budgets accordingly in the coming year. And perhaps most importantly, such pivots seemed universally to come at the expense of good journalists and editors, still the beating heart of newsrooms and who didn’t deserve to be “strategically” discarded. It’s time to officially declare this particular approach dead and admit it’s not, in fact, a strategy or solution.

I’m not suggesting video isn’t an essential part of any content mix in 2018. It is, and as someone who spent many years working in TV and video, I know that some stories are better told visually. But video storytelling is an actual skill, developed over years of working in the medium, not something you pick up through osmosis by getting stoned in college and watching YouTube videos. It’s insulting to the people who do it well to assume that it’s a shortcut to success.

That’s why publishers who made the pivot are now pivoting away again, looking for the next thing that may “save” them. But that’s an endless cycle of restrategizing and layoffs. There is no easy answer, no one thing that’s going to magically make audiences find and connect to your work. The secret to success in journalism isn’t a secret at all: Make very good things that people actually want to read and watch. That’s it. That’s all. That’s everything.

Susie Banikarim is editorial director of the Gizmodo Media Group.

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