Ten pioneers in online video journalism

Part One – Narrative freedom

One of the great advantages of online video journalism is that it allows you to break away from the constraints of television journalism.

The internet provides a space for greater creativity, experimentation and variety.

Perhaps most significantly, online video journalism is not restricted by the reporter-led TV formula. (A formula that is well explained in Charlie Brooker’s now infamous How to Report the News.)

As Adam Westbrook and US journalist Paul Balcerak have suggested, there is greater artistic potential in online video journalism.

But experimentation with form, as Westbrook points out, should not detract from quality.  There are several key rules surrounding form that can be broken, but certain fundamental rules must be adhered to.

Here are five sites that show exactly how online video journalism allows for a more artistic form of visual storytelling than its television counterpart.

1. Al Jazeera Frames

This channel contains some excellent shorts, each one is a two-minute treat. There’s also information about some of the filmmakers.


A Cup of Tea (below) – a look at Sri Lanka tea makers. Stunningly shot.

Debtris – a very original approach to data journalism

2. PNW Local News

This is a US-based organistation. It consists of 30 local community newspapers, but its blip.tv channel has a wide variety of video reports.

Recommend (click on the links below):

Navigate King County’s Future Intro Video

World Championship of Sand Sculpting 2010

3. Raul Gallego Abellan

This year’s winner of the RTS Camera Operator of the Year Award. As you’d expect, his videos contain some exceptional camerawork. He works for AP and is based in Bangkok.


Rising Waters – Pakistan Floods 2010 (see website)

Foot Patrol (below)

4. Harmit Kambo

In most of his films, he uses stills accompanied by first-hand witness accounts. But some films do include video footage.


Watching the Detectives (below)

A Bomb on Your Doorstep

5. video .fu

Adam Westbrook’s Vimeo channel collates a pool of films by different producers that exemplify the creative art of online video journalism.


The Sartorialist (below)

The Mast Brothers

In the second part of this series, I shall look at some of the most well known online video journalism channels and will give an overview of their style and content.

Will Teddy


The Young Turks – Online Video Journalism the way it should be

The Young Turks (TYT) is a new media talk show that covers news, politics, pop culture and lifestyle. It started as a talk show on Sirus Satellite Radio in the US in 2002 and then with the launch of YouTube in 2005 it soon became a successful webcast with one of the largest and most viewed channels on YouTube.

The host is Cenk Uygur, a regular contributor to MSNBC and the Huffington Post. In an interview with the Guardian last year, he told them that he wants to start a real political revolution in the US. The Young Turks itself is apart of a media revolution that Uygur hopes will replace traditional television. It has on average over 13 million viewers a month, with the majority coming from the US, Canada and the UK.

Uygur conceived TYT because he believes that eventually online TV will overtake regular programming and that American’s have a deficiency of real public service journalism. “We’re looking for journalism in all the wrong places. What’s the last story anyone on television in America broke?”

Uygur decided to turn down a $250,000 radio-only deal and TYT became the first daily streaming online talk show. It earned 30,000 viewers in its first month; by February of last year it had reached more than 200m views on YouTube. “Before if you got on CNN or ABC in America that was huge and that was the best thing, if you were a cable station it was great – they always bragged about ‘Oh, we’re in 72m homes’. Now I think, so what? YouTube is in every home.”

With just six other full-time members of staff and a monthly budget of just $45,000, the success of TYT has been quite remarkable. They make their money through sponsorship, subscriptions and YouTube revenue sharing. It has no advertising budget, the viewers provide the publicity by sharing links and clips on social networking sites. This is like word of mouth to the masses.

TYT keeps up with the US network programming by being able to book a wide variety of guests because of its ever-increasing popularity. As it has no higher up television executives telling them what to do or which guests to give an easy ride, they are able to ask what the public really wants to know. Needless to say this has upset a few people. “I heard from [US Senate majority leader] Harry Reid’s office, after his interview, that we were effectively blacklisted for future interview requests. I didn’t really shed a tear. We’re gonna be all right.”

The TYT has also been recognized by its peers for the sterling work that they do. They beat both the BBC and Rush Limbaugh, the leading talk radio host, to win Best Political Podcast 2009 at the Podcast Awards and Best Political News Site 2009 at the Mashable Awards.

According to Uygur this is just rewards for all the hard work he and his team have put it. “We worked really hard at getting all the details right. Whether it’s the tagging of the video or the thumbnail [image] … What ultimately mattered most was that we were delivering something the American media wasn’t. The American media is delivering nothing but fakeness,”

If all online video journalism could aspire to the standards of TYT then perhaps Uygur is right and traditional television may soon become obsolete.

Yianni Meleagros

Youtube channel subscriptions: a fresh way of accessing news

By H.W.

With the huge amount of video that is broadcast online, it can get a little overwhelming trying to wade through all the different content out there.

Especially with news, I find that YouTube channels are a fantastic way of getting all your favourite video content in one place. If you want to access different types of video, then by subscribing to your favourite video sources, you can have all of the best videos in one place.

When following journalism through YouTube, I like to have a combination of traditional news and citizen journlism video sources. The best YouTube channels for news are the ones which aren’t afraid to put their content out there. Al JAzeera English is particularly good for this. They update their channel throughout the day with new bulletins and highlights from their latest programmes. This approach, which is more open-source than most other large news organisations (e.g. the BBC, which has no dedicated youtube channel) reaps dividends in audience terms. The AlJazeera YouTube channel has over 189,000 subscribers.

If you don’t want to get your news from traditional organisations, then YouTube’s Citizen Journalism channel is a great way of finding the best content that is being uploaded to the net.

Their mission statement explains the unique angle that the channel takes:

CitizenTube is YouTube’s News and Politics Blog. Here you’ll find important breaking news videos from citizens; developing trends in the use of YouTube by news organizations, activists, politicians, and governments; and lots of other YouTube goodness.

Recently they have supplemented this by adding a new section called worldview , where they get world leaders to come on and answer questions posed by the public.

This month, they are interviewing the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Last month it was David Cameron. You don’t have to be a news organisation anymore to attract the big names.

The world of media is changing….

The limitations of video journalism as a tool of revolution:

Protestors in late January 2011 in Tehran, Iran.

Facebook, Twitter and Youtube have been tools of amusement and, more lately, business, for most of the western world. But following events in Egypt and Tunisia we have come to see these new social media and video sharing sites as the lifeblood of revolution.

Online video sharing has become a seemingly unstoppable force as technology-literate young people take advantage of these new arteries of information to share ideas and expose footage of government brutality to a global audience.  An idealistic mood has gripped the world as it seems inevitable that totalitarian regimes are doomed to crumble under the steady erosion of Western ideas and technology.

But is this real? Can these new tools create a de-facto democracy across the globe, or do they only pose a threat to those regimes that, ironically, already permit some social freedoms?

Take Iran. Within hours of the initial protests in Egypt and Tunisia the internet was flooded with amateur footage of citizens demonstrating against the regime followed by more disturbing sights of police brutality.

Please be aware that the following video contains images that some may find distressing.

This video was one of many that exposed the brutality of the Egyptian police and soured any international sympathy for Hosni Mubarak.

But from Iran, a much stricter and more brutal regime than Egypt, only a handful of videos of the recent protests have emerged, mostly shot by professional journalists whose status as foreign nationals offers them some measure of protection. For many ordinary Iranian citizens, identifying themselves as supporters of the protests by uploading footage to the internet is simply too risky and as long as the government controls which sites can be accessed the power of the online world will inevitably be tempered. Iran’s internet censorship laws have tightened in recent years, particularly under the leadership of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The kind of bloggers who were able to spread dissent in Egypt cannot exist in Iran.

Omid Mirsifayi: An Iranian blogger who died in prison under suspicious circumstances in March 2009. He had been written about traditional Persian music and culture, not politics. Apparently this was still enough to attract the attention of the Iranian authorities.

Also, crucially, in Egypt the army refused to fire on protesters. In contrast Iran has the Revolutionary Guard – a 100,000 strong, heavily armed force who are renowned for their fierce nationalism and religious zealotry. It seems unlikely they will be swapping flowers with demonstrators on the streets of Tehran as we saw in Cairo.

This isn’t the first time Iranians have clashed with police. As recently as 2009 anti-government protests were put-down by security forces and opposition leaders were executed. Those protesters had the same online technology available then and it wasn’t enough to overthrow the regime.

The internet itself may be a world without rules; in cyberspace the individual with the right technical skills can raise a banner of defiance against a brutal regime and reach an audience of millions. But a keyboard offers no protection when secret police come banging at that same internet protestor’s door.

Popular opinion is that winds of change are blowing through the middle east – and this may turn out to be true. Perhaps political dissent within Iran will spread as it did in Egypt and the regime will crumble.

But if it does, this victory will owe at least as much to international support and tactical organisation against a heavily armed enemy as it will to video-journalism .

The internet can provide a vital catalyst to rallying public support within a nation and spread word of government oppression to a sympathetic audience in the West. But as long as the state can censor content and has a force of soldiers ready and willing to fire on unarmed civilians citizen video journalism may not be the magic bullet of revolution that we would like to believe it is.

By Alan O’Doherty

How online video journalism has become a celebrated medium

Go back just six years and online video journalism was an obscure technical specialism, its fruits accessible to few. In 2005 YouTube was launched, sparking a revolution in online video creation and consumption and the engagement of internet users worldwide. The recognition it brought coincided with the creation of a number of awards for online video journalists. These awards are increasingly prestigious as more and more news organisations and journalists tap into online video technology and the market becomes ever more competitive.

The Concentra Award aims to inspire independent video journalism and focuses solely on the medium. It also aims to promote healthy competition between the various makers of television news items. The winner of this annual award receives 10,000 Euros in prize money. Adam Ellick of the New York Times took the prize in 2010 with this film about Pakistan’s slums;

The Online News Association was founded in 1999 and is composed largely of journalists whose main work involves gathering or producing news for digital presentation. Their annual Online Journalism Awards have three categories for professional video journalism based on website traffic (Small: Up to 999,999 monthly unique visitors, Medium: 1 million-4,999,999 monthly unique visitors, Large: 5 million or more monthly unique visitors). There 2010 awards were presented at a banquet in Washing DC and recognised the following films;

Toronto Star (Large):

The Las Vegas Sun and the Greenspun Media Group (Medium):

Yale Environment 360 (Small):

The Association of Online Publishers holds an award ceremony each year to recognise excellence in digital media. It praised The Guardian in 2010 with its award for Use of Video, stating;

The Guardian has shown innovation and creativity in both the form and content of its video output in the judging year. A small dedicated team produce the core video, while photographers and reporters are also trained to shoot video, which has meant that video output is not a mere copy of the broadcasters’ but something aesthetically unique, combining economy and creativity.

The Guardian’s use of amateur footage of the death of Ian Tomlinson [see post Two stories that pioneered the power of online video] was noted.

Laura Heighton-Ginns

Kevin Sites’ odyssey in online video journalism and revealing the atrocities of war

Kevin Sites in Nepal, South East Asia

Image sourced from unitedweblog.files.wordpress.com

Kevin Sites helped innovate online video journalism. He is known as the ‘grandaddy’ of backpack journalists. He was one of the first to pave the way for independent, intrepid reporters carrying portable technology on their backs to single-handedly shoot, write, edit and transmit multimedia reports from some of the world’s most dangerous places.

Sites began his career as a reporter/producer for various American news outlets including ABC, NBC and CNN. Sites’ work provoked controversy in 2004 when he filmed a US marine shooting a wounded Iraqi insurgent in the head in a Falluja mosque. Whilst some were critical of Sites’ decision to film the shooting, he was praised by journalists for exposing the true realities of war through online video journalism.

Below is YouTube footage of Sites’ video on the Faluja mosque shooting. Warning – graphic content, viewer discretion advised.

In 2005, Sites left the TV networks and switched to online journalism. He was hired by Yahoo! as its first Yahoo! News correspondent and embarked on a year-long journey, travelling to all the major war zones around the world, reporting for his website ‘Kevin Sites in the Hot Zone’. According to his website his mission was “to cover every armed conflict in the world within one year, and in doing so to provide a clear idea of the combatants, victims, causes, and costs of each of these struggles – and their global impact.” This mission was all the more impressive given Sites worked alone. Although this was only six years ago, Sites’ expedition epitomises the trend away from well-resourced camera and production crews, and instead towards multi-skilled one-man-bands in the world of news and current affairs. His project was unique in the way it presented stories through mixed media including photographs, videos and written reports.

Sites’ ‘Hot Zone’ project saw him visit nearly every region of the world including the Middle East, Africa, South East Asia, Central Asia, South America and Eastern Europe. His reports helped galvanise the notion of the modern media correspondent without a crew to support them. The real essence of Sites’ work was his focus on the reality of war zones and the stories undiscovered by mainstream media. During his trip, he spent time with Maoist rebels in Nepal during its long-running civil war – which finally resulted in a revolution and the installation of a democratically elected government, and a new constitution in 2006.

Sites photographing a Maoist guerrilla in Kailali, Western Nepal. The anti-government protestors – largely made up of the People’s Liberation Army – had many women enlisted, and were thought of by their male colleagues as some of the fiercest fighters.

Image sourced from asiamedia.ucla.edu

Below is a YouTube clip of Sites’ video made in Nepal and Kashmir. Warning – graphic content, viewer discretion advised.

Whilst his videos can be gruesome and saddening, he is widely recognised as a brave journalist willing to reveal the true atrocities of war. Sites’ contribution to online video journalism and to the exposure of the realities of war was recognised widely within the profession. In 2005 he won the Payne Award for Ethics in Journalism and was nominated for an Emmy. In 2006 the LA Press Club awarded him with the esteemed Daniel Pearl Award for Courage and Integrity in Journalism, and in 2007 Forbes Magazine listed him as one of the ‘Web Celeb 25’, calling him one of  “the biggest, brightest and most influential people on the web.” The same year, he won the Webby Award for coverage of the Israeli-Hezbollah conflict.

Sites grew up in Ohio and currently lives in California. He continues to work as a solo-journalist or ‘SoJo’.

Natasha Malcolm-Brown

How YouTube transformed Lauren Luke into an online video sensation

Lauren Luke shot to fame with her inspiringly primitive home-made video tutorials designed to teach others how to recreate celebrity inspired ‘looks’.

Luke’s story is unusual. A single mum at sixteen from South Shields near Newcastle, she had already dropped out of school to look after him. She worked briefly as a taxi dispatcher, but then started selling makeup on eBay. Viewers began to ask how she achieved the looks she created with the makeup she was selling. She responded to the requests by replacing her videos made to sell make-up, with videos showing how to apply it, cleverly capitalising on the Western world’s fascination and even obsession with celebrity and appearance. Since she uploaded her first video in 2007 to her YouTube channel – Panacea81 – she has had over 88 million views and over 400,000 subscribers. In the world of online video, she is a huge success.

Luke’s online video hits were so impressive, she was promptly snapped up by the Guardian for whom she regularly writes a beauty column and also posts videos (Luke’s Guardian column). She’s now got her own range of make-up and has published a book called Lauren Luke, Look Like a Star, which she launched on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour and Channel 4’s The Paul O’Grady Show. She’s been featured in several documentaries including the BBC’s Inside Out (Luke on Inside OutNatalie Cassidy’s Real Britain(Luke on Natalie Cassidy). There is even a Nintendo DS game about her.

It wasn’t just Luke’s tenacity that got her where she is today. Her ‘soft skills’ often noted as crucial in the professional world are impeccable – her chatty, friendly demeanour means she is likeable and this, combined with the service she provides have helped catapult her to the dizzying heights of the cosmetics world and online video.

Luke shows that just about anyone can make a name for themselves by harnessing their ingenuity and using technology to communicate her ideas to the world.  YouTube and other video sharing sites are the catalyst through which these communications are achieved. If you can get the big hits on your channel, you too can make big bucks along with Luke and other well-known characters made famous on YouTube such as the toddler Charlie who’s parents are pulling in thousands after they captured a perfectly simply yet hilarious conversation between their son and his toddler brother.

Check out Luke in action below…


Natasha Malcolm-Brown