The Times They Are A-Buzzin': Jim Roberts and Ben Smith Talk Video Collabo

A media odd couple was formed on Monday, when BuzzFeed and The New York Times announced that they will join forces to cover the Democratic and Republican national conventions in live-streaming video “TimesCasts” on NYTimes.com.

The collaboration, which serves to lend the Times’ growing video department a jolt of buzzy, young talent while cementing BuzzFeed’s nascent journalistic credentials, was born from the Twitter-based mutual admiration of New York Times assistant managing editor Jim Roberts and BuzzFeed editor-in-chief, Ben Smith. The two met IRL when they sat on a panel together during Social Media Week in February. 

The TimesCast team was then gearing up to go all-out on its live broadcast of Super Tuesday, which incorporated dispatches from almost twenty reporters and columnists.

“Once we got that done we started immediately thinking about what we’d do for the convention,” Mr. Roberts told Off the Record. “I put the convention and Ben together and reached out to him.”

Mr. Smith visited Times headquarters, met with executive editor Jill Abramson and some video editors, and media old and new formed a partnership.

Scratch that. Times legal would prefer we don’t call it a “partnership.”

“We’re teaming up,” Mr. Roberts clarified. “We’re collaborating. It’s nothing that formal. It’s an alliance. It’s a chance to take advantage of some of the signature strengths of two interesting news organizations.”

Mr. Smith and his crew of social media-savvy journalists (which just poached Roll Call’s John Stanton as their D.C. bureau chief and Metro Weekly’s Chris Geidner as a reporter) will contribute to TimesCast segments in the months leading up to the convention, but the Times has not yet decided whether it will syndicate the videos back to BuzzFeed, Jonah Peretti’s hub of LOLs and WTFs.

Asked what he thought l’esprit de BuzzFeed would bring to the paper of record, Mr. Roberts said he was looking for some creative input.

“There are a lot of things to conquer, the technical aspects, the distribution aspects,” he said, “but the actual creation aspect is something we need to master. And I would love for a little of their social media mojo to rub off on us.”

But according to Mr. Smith, a Politico alum hired to oversee the social aggregator’s move into original reporting, BuzzFeed’s “mojo” is rooted in Times news values.

“My broader view is that great journalism is what will wind up winning the social space,” Mr. Smith wrote Off The Record in an e-mail message, “there’s no trick.”

The upstart also brings an awareness of a political dialogue occurring on social networks.

“Twitter is going to contain a kind of giant parallel conversation to the conventions,” Mr. Smith wrote, “one that will weave nicely around the livestream.”

(Speaking with Talking Points Memo last week, New Yorker White House correspondent Ryan Lizza said the Twitter club’s eagerness to meme-ify every gaffe had created a “crisis” for political journalism, but that’s yet another conversation.)

Mr. Roberts stressed that the Times was still in an exploratory mode when it came to video content.

“I’ll be the first to admit the process of creating video is sobering to me,” he said. “It’s expensive. It’s hard. I have the utmost respect for the people to do it.”

Which, he pointed out, is just about everyone these days. “We’ve got competitors big and small in the space.”

Over the past year, previously text-based news operations have rapidly turned to video content—where embedded commercials are more valuable than banner ads—to help stanch the loss of print advertising revenue. Spending on video advertising is expected to increase 43 percent in 2012 and will be a $7 B. industry by 2015, according to the most recent Pew study of digital advertising. As a result, most robust print and digital news organizations are racing to stretch their journalistic DNA to a new medium.

The Wall Street Journal launched “DC Bureau,” a weekly politics show hosted by DC bureau chief Jerry Seib, on Friday.  The latest addition to the now nearly five hours of daily WSJ Live programming, its debut featured interviews with David Axelrod and Kevin Madden.

The Huffington Post is staffing up for the July launch of Huffington Post Live, a “nonstop” news talk show streaming twelve hours a day, five days a week. And after CSPAN broadcast Politico’s live streaming coverage of Super Tuesday in March, editor-in-chief Jim Vandehei promised more Politico TV was on the way.

Off the Record wondered how print journalists—historically afforded a margin of schlubbiness—were adjusting to their imminent close-ups. According to Mr. Roberts, Times reporters needn’t rush off to get their teeth bleached a blinding Fox News white.

“We don’t want to mimic broadcast or cable television,” he said. “We’re looking for our a voice, a style that comports with us as journalists and as a newsgathering organizations. While I don’t think anyone wants to do video of people slouching at their desks and eating potato chips, I don’t think that we want to be glossy either. There’s a middle ground for us.”