Maybe I should explain …

I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with video, and if you’re a regular reader of this site, maybe you have, too.

Thoughtlessly depositing a YouTube or Vimeo clip into a post can be a real turn-off, especially if the production values are substandard. Insert it into the right place, though, and it can move the story forward, illustrating a problem far more effectively than even the most nuanced writing.

After years of struggling to know the difference, maybe we’ve finally hit the nail on the head. (I’ll let you tell me.)

My early forays into video were as disastrous as my short-lived cable TV show, What You Get For the Money: Vacations. But then, that’s what happens when you have zero creative control and are nothing more than a sleep-deprived talking head.

On this site, I was doing video for video’s sake, and it was awful — so awful that I’ve deleted most of it from my YouTube channel.

Thanks, TSA. But when the TSA’s scan and pat-down disaster began to unfold a few years ago, I quickly discovered the importance of video. Let me put it this way: If the TSA had banned passengers from recording their screenings, then none of these posts would have been possible. Video provoked a necessary discussion, fueled our collective outrage, and became an integral part of the story.

At about the same time, my colleagues at USA Today asked me to start shooting short “advice” videos. I probably shot close to 50 of these in a studio. Then we switched to doing voice-over–only to keep the production costs down.

The clips were great once we figured out how to integrate them into my weekly USA Today column. You could either read the full column or just watch two or three takeaway tips.

Let me explain, again. But for us, the question was: What place does video have on this site — if any at all? Apart from illustrating a federal agency’s misdeeds (a story you can only tell so many times) and lending your talents to the nation’s newspaper, should we even be involved in video production?

Actually, yes.

I recently realized that I have to keep repeating myself during the mediation process, explaining the same basic concepts over and over again. For example, how do we advocate?

Like this:

Or here’s one — what’s a paper trail? Nothing says it like a little video clip.

These are not sexy, overproduced videos. They’re basic explainers that get a lot of information across in less than a minute. Our goal is to condense these clips to 30 seconds so you can get on with your life.

We can do longer ones, too. Here’s a commentary on racial profiling we produced recently.

I’m lucky to work with a skilled crew of editors and producers, including my talented 14-year-old son, who has a knack for Final Cut. But we now understand one thing to be true about video: If it helps move the story forward, and only if it helps move the story forward, it’s worth doing.

But as window dressing? Not so much.

I’d love to get your suggestions for future videos, as well as any ideas for improving the quality of our clips. It’s part of our effort to make this the most useful and user-friendly consumer site on the internet. I hope this brings us one step closer to that goal.

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