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Strib TV: Get ready for the Lileks channel!

Two months ago, I wrote about the debut of Strib TV, the Minneapolis daily’s latest venture into multimedia web content. This afternoon, editor Nancy Barnes laid out the starting lineup for this month’s debut, and it’s as light and frothy as your average cable channel.

There’s a bit of E!, Comedy Central, HGTV and ESPN. The ubiquitous James Lileks will “host a quirky, offbeat look at the news,” while Connie Nelson provides gardening tips and a look “inside some amazing/bizarre/unusual residences.” Sports guy Michael Rand will “take viewers into the lives of famous (and almost-famous) athletes,” while TV columnist Neal Justin vamps about entertainment options.

Hard news is nowhere to be found, but that’s entertainment! To be fair, Barnes indicates reporters will be trained in July — you can see an excellent early effort here — and will probably haul cameras to stories when photographers aren’t present. (Photographers are in the process of being video-trained, Barnes notes.) She says a news program should be ready by year’s end.

The TV shows will debut as part of a multimedia block “featured front and center on StarTribune.com” within the next 24 hours.

As always, here’s the memo:

Newsroom update
Tuesday, June 10, 2008

I want to update everyone on our efforts to grow and broaden our video offerings, which are important components in our strategy to grow audience (and eventually) revenue.

First, sometime in the next 24 hours, multimedia content will be featured front and center on StarTribune.com. Literally. With our video hosting service now up and running, we are launching the long-awaited home page multimedia display block. This block puts video, audio, photos and special projects in a prominent position on the site’s front page. The home page of StarTribune.com is seen by about 2 million visitors a month, so there’s no better way to publicly announce our intention of competing aggressively with broadcast outlets.

Of course, the home page block will only be as effective as the video content it includes, and as we look ahead, there are several areas in which we need to expand:

• Video features
• Programming
• Breaking news

A number of initiatives are already underway to address some of these, and more are on the way.

Photographer training: Since last fall, more than half of the photo staff has undergone intensive training in producing, shooting and editing video stories. Last month, a class of seven completed a four-day course, with instruction by Regina McCombs, senior producer, Julie Jones from the University of Minnesota, and Scott Dodd, a certified Final Cut Pro trainer. The sessions included professional instruction in storytelling and editing technique.

This training is aimed at equipping more photographers to shoot and produce video news and feature stories that can drive audience on StarTribune.com as well as on other platforms as we explore other means of distribution.

Video programming: Jenni Pinkley has been assigned to develop and produce our first batch of scheduled shows. She’s currently working with staffers from across the room on four projects we hope to launch later this month:

• James Lileks will host a quirky, off-beat look at the news
• Mike Rand will take viewers into the lives of famous (and almost-famous) athletes.
• Connie Nelson will offer tips on home and garden projects, plus take viewers inside some amazing/bizarre/unusual residences.
• Neal Justin will help viewers plan for the weekend with entertainment reviews and discussions of recent and upcoming events.

Our priority for these projects is creating video content that our audience will want to come back to day after day, week after week. As we launch these and other programs, the concepts will likely shift and evolve.

Our goal is to have a brief development window, and adjust or retreat when necessary. We’re looking for ambitious ideas, so if you have some, let Will and Cory know. We hope, by the end of the year, to be ready to add brief, scheduled newscasts as part of our programming.

Video for reporters: In July, trainers from the Society of Professional Journalists will conduct two one-day sessions to teach reporters the basics of video storytelling. The course will cover shooting techniques and the types of footage necessary for complete stories, primarily focused on breaking news. These sessions will be aimed at reporters and team leaders in topic areas that lend themselves to visual stories in breaking news. We’ll work with AMEs and team leaders to identify candidates for these sessions. If you’d like to be considered, let your team leader and AME know.

A primary goal of this training is to increase the volume of breaking news video on StarTribune.com. These often are stories to which we don’t send photographers, who are focused more at print display targets, but where reporters are often present. Yet these brief video stories can have high viewership and will be important to our growth.

As we move forward, it’s important to remember that all of us are responsible for growing and sustaining our entire audience — in print, online and elsewhere. That means we’ll continue to look beyond the photography and video staff for video content, whether it’s on-camera work, shooting breaking stories or even helping in production.

I know this requires new skills, new ways of approaching our work, even new ways of thinking. I am committed to providing the training that is needed to build the skills to do it well. That work has already begun in Strib U.

Department leaders are committed to this initiative and are also learning what changes they need to make to best help their staff members move forward in this regard.

It’s become a cliche to say that his is a time of great transition for our industry. We have to move fast and aggressively to embrace the change that threatens to overwhelm us. If we succeed, I believe strongly that we will have a great future ahead of us as a multimedia news and information company.

Nancy, with help from Will and Cory

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