Is journalism’s final frontier online video?

While plenty of reporters are giving it a shot, there’s no rule book yet for video journalism says Tim Burrowes.

In recent months, I’ve been involved in judging a couple of awards involving online video journalism. And the more video I’ve watched, the more I’ve realised: this may be the last remaining frontier of journalism where nobody has the answers. There is no definitive rule book as to what works.

When it comes to judging these new award categories, I quickly became aware that I and my fellow judges were all looking for different things. Those from the technical end looked for beautiful camera work – it was all about the framing of the shot.

Others like the editing – were the cuts matched to the beat? Was the music choice good?

Being a writer by background, I looked for the tale that was being told. Each style of video is very different, yet all are on offer on local online news sites. You’ll also, of course, see the tackier stuff – viral videos stolen from YouTube with a quick voiceover from a newsroom journo in an attempt to crowbar the stolen content within the copyright auspices of fair dealing are popular fare.

What works? I don’t know, but I’ve learned a couple of things with the videos we’ve created. Short content gets more views than long. An interview with someone will persuade far more people to hit play if it’s a couple of minutes than if it’s 15. Even if it’s brillaint and compelling. You have to choose whether to give people the snack they want or the meal you wish they’d consume.

What you write about a video makes a big difference to viewer response. If the accompanying words are an urgent news story about the video, people will click out of curiosity. Use the words to simply announce the contents and the views will be far fewer.

Of course, with IPTV, the rules will change. And my hunch is that consumption habits within tablet newsstand apps such as Encore will be different again.

Right now, the video field is wide open.


  1. Rushdie
    14 Dec 12
    12:40 pm

  2. Problem with video, if it’s a talking head, is that people talk way slower than I can read. When I’m online I don’t have the patience to wait for spoken sentences.

  3. Wayne
    14 Dec 12
    1:55 pm

  4. As a journalist myself, I’m expected to be this awesome writer and fountain of ideas. I have to be able to sub, proof, learn all the publishing programs. My employer then wants me to do websites too, meaning I have to master CMS, HTML, Photoshop. I’m also expected to do video, meaning I probably have to fork out $5000 for a pro camera and have a proficiency in Final Cut Pro. And all for no more salary. One – these “super humans” don’t exist! Two – I might be a great journo, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to be a great cameraman and video editor (I’ll probably be very crap and the end result will be very crap.) And three – who the hell is going to pay for it all? From my experience, most uni media graduates can’t even spell! Let’s get the basics right first.

  5. Fabfour
    14 Dec 12
    10:07 pm

  6. its an interesting, and somewhat critical, question – what works in online video.
    As a user is I’m not in the habit of putting earphones in and work in an open plan office. I don’t always want to reveal what I’m reading / consuming to the whole office … or to disturb them.

  7. MeMeMeMeMia
    15 Dec 12
    7:58 am

  8. Speaking of getting the basics right – your headline should read: “Is online video journalism’s final frontier?” Subject, verb, object. There’s nerver any need for sloppiness or poor grammar.

  9. Jack B. Nimble
    15 Dec 12
    12:38 pm

  10. Wayne, I totally get where you’re coming from. Too many publishers and editors these days talk up video as the next wave of content, they say staff and contributors should be skilling up for it, but they forget that this is a HUGE additional load to produce even ‘good enough’ stuff – basic scripting, shooting the video including interviews and cut-aways and close-ups, then editing it all together. And even if you are some Renaissance Man who can combine all those skills, it has a dramatic impact on your overall output as measured by old standards such as ‘how many stories did you write today’.

    For contributors it’s even worse, because to deliver a polished little three minute package can easily take a half day of actual work, but no publishers or editors are willing to pay for the equivalent of that in writing time.

  11. Jim
    16 Dec 12
    1:45 pm

  12. The problem here is knowing how to confidently weave a narrative. Filmmaking is not like the written word and takes a huge degree of technical competence combined with the ability to preempt a film as you’re shooting it so as to get enough coverage for the editing room. I am often dumfounded how Newspapers go down this route and just throw a camera at a journo and ask them to slap it together, the end result is generally crap. Newspapers would do well to start surfing vimeo and they will find an enormous amount of highly skilled filmmakers prepared to shoot stories for them.

  13. Wayne
    19 Dec 12
    2:05 pm

  14. Just further to that, I was working on a mainstream magazine where we started to shoot a lot of video for the website. Often there was 2+ hours of footage shot by the journalist, this was given to the video editor guys who’d spend 1-2 days editing it back and compiling it into five minutes of watchable footage. By the time the graphics were added, it got approved etc, it could be a week’s work for four or five people. HUGE costs in man hours and staff. There’s this dumb idea in media that the internet and video is somehow “immediate”. But unless you’ve got scores of people and big budgets that’s just not the case – this shit is expensive and very time consuming to make! We all want to go down the video journalism route? Then prepare to markedly upsize staff numbers and, sadly, I don’t see any media outlet doing that right at this present moment.

  15. anon1
    21 Dec 12
    3:06 pm

  16. >There’s this dumb idea in media that the internet and video is somehow “immediate”.

    That’s a dumb idea in non-broadcast media. How long do you imagine the turnaround for a breaking TV news story is?

    The problem is that magazines and newspapers never bother (ignorance? arrogance?) to actually go and study how it is done.

    It is NOT done by filming hours of content for a 1’30 piece.

    It is NOT done by dumping a load of tapes on an editor.

    It is NOT done by hiring “old era” multiperson film crews: it should be VJs only in this era

    It IS done by:

    – training journalists to shoot with a view to the end product: this is KEY
    – using cheaper, portable, “prosumer” gear (even iPhones and iPads)
    – keeping it simple: top-and-tailing and rushing it online, not spending days compositing

    It can and should be immediate.

  17. Wayne
    22 Dec 12
    9:30 am

  18. @ Anon1… I agree anything shot on an iphone would be immediate. It would also be total crap (which is fine, if that’s what you’re aiming for)! And yes, TV broadcast can do it because as I said they’ve got “scores of people and big budgets”! You reckon those nightly news stories on TV are done by one person? Have you seen the numbers, the technology, the cameras, the producers, the editors, the voiceovers required to make that? They’re billion dollar media businesses! Somewhat out of the realm of most of us.

  19. Really?
    3 Jan 13
    1:35 pm

  20. Wayne, perhaps you should stop telling us your opinionsand try actual fact. Anon1 is completely right – you CAN get great video results from iPhones. My team of comms people produce fantastic video work and we do it quickly because we follow Anon1’s basic outline.
    As for your earlier comment about being expected to be an expert across different channels and platforms – get used to it! Comms people have been doing this for years!

  21. Wayne
    7 Jan 13
    10:38 pm

  22. @ REALLY…. really? Where? I certainly ain’t ever never seen it… Please enlighten us of these miracle workers with mere phones producing outstanding brilliance from mere dust…..