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The Post's problematic 'Dancing Bears' video

By Andy Alexander

The Post is launching a major effort to use video on its Web site to promote its journalistic brand. But there's broad agreement that using dancing bears wasn’t the best way to start.

The “Dancing Bears” video in question appeared on the site about two weeks ago. It begins with a brief intro by Anqoinette Crosby, a seasoned on-air TV host hired recently as the site’s first “anchor” for a wide range of live and originally-produced video content on the Web.

“Hi Everyone. I’m Anqoinette Crosby in The Washington Post newsroom,” she says in the intro to the 151-second video. “Well, ‘Dancing With the Stars’ has nothing on these four-legged amazing animals. Take a look at some incredible real footage of bears moving and grooving like the pros.”

Viewers are then treated to YouTube video of bears appearing to dance or frolic to the up-tempo pop song, “I Don’t Feel Like Dancin.’” At the conclusion, The Post logo appears.

Almost from the minute it was posted, newsroom staffers contacted me with reactions ranging from raised eyebrows to horror. Most said it is at odds with the brand image The Post wants to convey. Cynics saw it as a gimmicky way to draw traffic to the Web site.

It includes no Post-originated video of the bears. Rather, it simply combines three videos already available on YouTube and sets them to music after the introduction by Crosby, who will serve as anchor of The Post’s new “Post Now” video cast.

On the evening when it first appeared on The Post’s site, a colleague drew it to the attention of Sandy Sugawara, a veteran editor who heads the Universal Desk that processes content for print and online. When she viewed it, Sugawara told me, she found it funny and started laughing. “It seemed harmless enough,” she recalled.

In retrospect, she said, “I should have said, ‘Let’s just take it down and put it on somebody’s blog’” rather than including it among the site’s featured videos.

Sugawara offered what many said was an apology during a meeting of newsroom editors on Monday. Executive Editor Marcus Brauchli also acknowledged there were problems with the video, according to those attending the meeting.

Later Monday, Brauchli told me by e-mail that, “We shouldn’t have taken what was essentially a viral video and tried to turn it into a Washington Post video package.” But, he added, “we should be and will continue experimenting with new ways of serving our audiences original content that is relevant to them.”

There’s no harm in offering light-hearted video on The Post’s Web site. Rather, the problems here are with how it was produced, where it appeared on the site and how it was presented.

First, as Brauchli implied, there’s not much original in splicing together some YouTube videos of animals and making them appear like they’re dancing to music. There are ways to produce laughs using smart or clever humor. As an example, take a look at the hilarious video book reviews by Post reviewer Ron Charles. In contrast, the “Dancing Bears” video comes off as a stunt.

Second, as Sugawara noted, it should have been relegated to a link in someone’s blog. Steven King, The Post’s video editor who heads the team that produced “Dancing Bears,” added that it “could have been packaged differently” to offer more explanation of where the videos came from and “why this was of interest and why we were putting it up” on the site.

Finally, providing the newsroom backdrop for Crosby’s intro implied an inappropriate connection to The Post’s journalism. “The most painful moment of it was the close, where it fades off the last dancing bear and we go to black and the words ‘The Washington Post’ come up,” said Defense and Foreign Policy Editor Cameron W. Barr, one of many in the newsroom who found the video problematic.

The fault here is not with Crosby, who simply narrated the video and played no role in producing it. But the “Dancing Bears” video seems at odds with the role she is expected to play as the Post launches its “Post Now” video cast later this month. When Crosby’s hiring was announced Oct. 14, a newsroom memo said: “You can expect to see her across all areas of the site and in the newsroom as she works to increase our video content by interviewing reporters and editors as well as presenting the top news throughout the day.”

There is no problem with her anchoring a hard news interview and then shifting to a witty and intelligent light feature. But the transition from serious journalism to “Dancing Bears” is jarring, to say the least.

By Andy Alexander  | November 2, 2010; 11:53 AM ET
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Next: Crowd counts: When The Post did it right


You take yourself much too seriously over there at 15th and L. Rather than sitting around the newsroom watching silly videos, isn't there a lot of news to be dug up and reported on. I say this as a stockholder, and WPO is not doing well.
As for the video, I didn't find it a particularly well-done, and the bears could have been better sychronized to another rock and roll tune. But what's objectionable about it? It says nothing about anything and should offend no one. Perfect election day pablum.

Posted by: edwardallen54 | November 2, 2010 2:21 PM | Report abuse

Dancing bears? Really? It's an election year and this is how we are using our ombudsman's time? How about addressing the self-fulfilling prophecy of the front page story about how the Democrats are all losers?

Posted by: yellojkt | November 2, 2010 4:14 PM | Report abuse

Seriously? This is a big newsroom issue? The ombudsman and senior editors waste time even thinking about this (and I have to waste time reading about it)?? Your priorities are all wrong, Posties (and I say that as a long-time former Post newsroom staffer).

Let's take Alexander's inane last sentence—"the transition from serious journalism to “Dancing Bears” is jarring, to say the least"—and search-replace, "Dilbert," "Gene Weingarten's column," "the horoscope" or any number of other regular features for "Dancing Bears." See? This is a total non-issue.

Unbelievable. No wonder circulation is plummeting.

Posted by: Eyewitness1 | November 2, 2010 4:27 PM | Report abuse

This is not serious journalism. The ombudsman blog is a joke.

Posted by: georgesmathers | November 3, 2010 12:11 PM | Report abuse


Posted by: dfdsfdsfdsf | November 4, 2010 3:59 PM | Report abuse

I can't believe the honchos think a "anchor" is going to help the WaPo's video You all got rid of the best video storyteller in the business....Travis Fox.... go look at his stuff if you want to know how to do things RIGHT.

Posted by: nvonstaden | November 4, 2010 6:01 PM | Report abuse

Dancing Bears recalls a time in our history when sensitivity to mistreated animals was non-existent and when chained bears danced on leashes for the entertainment of uneducated people in Baltic countries.

Posted by: blasmaic | November 5, 2010 2:17 PM | Report abuse

I hear that Marc Fisher's old office is now inhabited by dancing bears that work at the Post. Remarkably, the bears get more work done, take fewer breaks and work for canned salmon.

Posted by: exPostie | November 5, 2010 2:53 PM | Report abuse

Security is tight here. Watch for bears in the air. Watch video

Posted by: jobandon | November 8, 2010 5:37 AM | Report abuse

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