Now See Here: Columnists at Conference Tout Use of Video

By: Dave Astor Good columnists have always written with "voice." Now, "finding your voice has taken on new meaning."

Those were the words of Mike Leonard during a Saturday talk, at the National Society of Newspaper Columnists conference (NSNC), on the growing phenomenon of video columns. Leonard and three other speakers discussed their video columns and played samples for the audience.

Leonard does three print columns a week for The Herald-Times of Bloomington, Ind., and two 2-3-minute video columns for the newspaper's Web site. The former NSNC president said one advantage of video columns is that he periodically has a "nugget" of an idea that works better on video than in print.

For instance, Leonard heard about the selling of camouflage clothing for little kids, who, if they wandered off, would be harder to find in that kind of clothing. So, in a video column he showed NSNC attendees, Leonard stared straight into the camera and wryly recited various other should-be-avoided ideas for endangering kids -- such as "don't tie a pork chop around your child's neck to make the dog play with him" and "don't take your child to the archery range with a target on his back."

Leonard said video columns don't have to be that polished for viewers to enjoy them.

Self-syndicated political humorist Rick Horowitz combined the showing of two of his Milwaukee Public TV pieces with advice for columnists wanting to go the video route themselves.

His "Tips for the Technologically Tentative" included keeping video columns shorter and simpler than print columns, and making the language more conversational.

Horowitz's TV clips included one of him doing a "Big Al's Leadership Academy" commercial satirizing the techniques needed to be as incompetent an official as embattled Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. The other clip featured Horowitz doing a parody song about the infamous "macaca" moment that doomed George Allen's U.S. Senate candidacy in Virginia.

Jason Love, a humor columnist for the Ventura County (Calif.) Star and self-syndication, does videos that include him trying out various jobs and experiences. He played a video Saturday that showed highlights of his day as a circus performer, including a scene of him with an acrobatic dog on his back and other scenes of him getting dressed up as a clown. "I'm on air-roids," he quipped, when his clown suit was inflated.

Panel moderator Dave Lieber of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram came early to video columns, starting one in 1997 before dropping it. But, with computers more powerful these days, Lieber brought it back to the Star-Telegram Web site last year. He has done videos showing his son running for governor of Texas, a parade, kids visiting senior citizens, and an interview with a rodeo announcer.

"Try this, it's a lot of fun," said Lieber, in describing the benefits of video columns to the session audience.


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