Finding Stories for Online Video Journalism

Whatever your interests, you can use online video to cover pretty much whatever you like – whether you want to cover hard news or light entertainment. Here’s a few tips on how to find stories that you could shoot in order to make a video for online:

  • Talk To People:

Are there any local issues affecting you, your friends or your family? Maybe there’s a new parking scheme that is causing a stir in the neighbourhood, or there might be a new shop opening or closing in your street which residents are unhappy about.

Asking people around you what’s going on may throw up an issue or an event that you could make a video about.  Below is an example of a video I made about the student accommodation I live in and the problem of constant fire alarms being set off by students.

  • Use Social Media:

Social media sites are a great way of finding stories –

1) Twitter: Twitter is a great communications and search tool. You can search for tweets that relate to what you’re looking for – for instance, a local area or an event (you could search ‘Islington’). This would bring up search results of various twitter feeds. Some feeds are dedicated to news solely about a certain place which can be very useful if you are covering a ‘patch’. Using hash tags (#) by placing them in front of key words is another good way of finding information. For more detailed information on how to use Twitter to your advantage, see one of our earlier posts by Will Teddy on Twitter and its Role in Video Journalism. Below is a news package Will Teddy and I made after finding the story on Twitter.

2) Facebook: Similarly you can also use Facebook (as well as Twitter) as a communications tool between yourself and people involved with stories you might want to cover. By searching for a person, an event or an organization you may find there is a ‘page’ or ‘group’ dedicated to this subject.

3) Forums/Blogs: Online communities (like this one!) are sites serving localities or online communities usually dedicated to a particular subject or range of subjects. They are very useful for contacting like-minded people and accessing and sharing relevant information. It was on one of these sites that my colleague and I discovered a story about a library under threat of closure.

  • FOI requests: If you wanted information about a public service you can submit a Freedom of Information request. By law, the orgainsation is obliged to give you the information except in cases which may endanger national security. For instance, if you wanted to know how much your local council spends on hospitality or even on its Christmas party you could submit a request online. This can bring new information into the public domain which could be worth covering.
  • Events: Whilst they’re not a scoop, events are worth covering in their own right. For instance, you could cover a protest or a local concert. Below is a video about an event I covered with my colleague Jonross Swaby. We found an advert for a talent show being held by a mental health charity in aid of mental health month in a local newspaper.
  • Travel Blogs: Going on an expedition during your gap year? Going away with the kids this summer? Whatever you have planned, filming what you get up to when you travel can be a great way of getting footage and documenting the experience in the form of a video for online journalism. Below is an example of an informal video I made for online using footage shot by a friend during our time abroad on work placements.
  • Existing media news sites: Whilst any good journalist comes up with original stories, you can often find stories already covered in the press which you may be able to develop or look at from an angle not already covered. For instance, a story may be published about a new scheme where drivers can pay their parking by text – but the story doesn’t say how much the scheme is costing the local council. By finding out the financial implications you have developed the story in an original way and could cover it differently to the previous reporter. The BBC has a great page which gives links to all parts of the UK, as you can see from the screen shot below:

Search for both national and local stories using the BBC's interactive map of the UK

If you click through from the map page onto a particular region, for example, London, you can access a list of external news sites that cover that same area. You can see form the screen shot below that it gives a comprehensive list of online media outlets including newspapers and radio stations.

List of External Online Media Outlets across the UK Provided by the BBC

  • Local Authorities: Whilst we mustn’t forget council’s in the UK are political bodies and often have an axe to grind, they can still be a great source of stories. Press releases are published online, and you can contact press officers to ask about particular stories or for information or for interviews with councillors. You can find an A to Z list of councils across the UK by going to the website.

Good luck story hunting!

Natasha Malcolm-Brown


Twitter and its role in video journalism

Happy Birthday Twitter! It’s five years to the day since the site was born into the cyber world.

Despite having over 200 million users (compared to 400 million for Facebook), many people are still sceptical about the use, relevance and importance of Twitter.

I openly admit that I was a critic until a few months ago but now I find it a very useful journalistic tool.

So, in celebration of our 160-character friend’s fifth birthday, here are five ways in which Twitter can enhance a video journalist’s work…

1. Posting your own videos

Twitvid/Tweetmojo/Twitvideo. There are plenty of sites to choose from for sharing video via Twitter. It’s a quick and easy way to integrate a video into your tweet.

2. Storyfinding

This has perhaps been the most useful one for me so far. Obviously, this is not specific to video journalism, but it certainly offers a direct route to stories that haven’t been tapped into by the print media. Here’s a report that I filmed, having found the story though a twitter feed…

3. Directing web traffic to your site or channel.

Whether it be a personal website, a Vimeo channel or a Youtube account, Twitter is the ultimate tool when it comes to signposting people to your work. I recently set up my own website, put it out on a tweet and immediately got feedback and comments on the videos that I have made.

4. Creating a community.

In a recent interview that I did with David Dunkley-Gyimah, he told me that one of the great advantages of online video journalism is that it offers the chance to build a community around the stories that you produce. Rather than covering a story and then dropping and moving on to the next topic as tends to happen in the traditional broadcasting mould, the internet offers a platform for people to carry on discussing and contributing to a story/theme, long after it has been ‘aired’. And Twitter, is just one of many tools that you can use to harness this community, through the use of hashtags, etc.

There are numerous examples of this. Channel 4 has been doing this recently with great success. Take, for instance, tonight’s Dispatches. The programme was called ‘Train Journeys from Hell’. Whilst it was on air, they flashed up the hashtag ‘TrainPain’ and that got thousands of people involved. The programme aired at 8pm and by 9pm it was the top trending hashtag in the UK.

5. Live streaming

You can use sites such as Twitcam to link to live streams.

This is particularly good if you want to broadcast from a phone, webcam or something portable. If you’re shooting some great actuality or just want to put out an interview live and you want people to see it, this is the best way to get it seen at that very moment. The immediacy of Twitter is unparalleled.

Still not convinced? Then take a look at these Twitter stats from Business Zone

  • A year ago, people sent 50 million tweets a day. The average now is 140 million and on March 11, 2011, the tally was 177 million!
  • 572,000 new accounts were created on March 12, 2011; 460,000 new accounts were created daily, on average, in the past month!
  • Mobile users increased 182% in the past year!
  • 8 people worked at Twitter in January 2008. Today it’s 400!

Will Teddy

At The Scene: Online Video’s Crucial Role in Breaking News

So, there you are in the office writing up your script for the BBC’s News at Ten and at 9.40pm the juiciest news story breaks out all around you! How do you capitalise on this massively visual piece NOW whilst it’s still hot?  What do you do? What can you do? The answer is Nothing. You are forced to sit, wait for 10pm and watch as the pie quickly cools…

GUTTED without Online Video

“What about the BBC News Channel and Sky News? They provide 24 hour rolling news!” Correct, you are right there. But only for people who can afford satellite television, which currently only stands at one THIRD of UK homes. The other 66%, the majority, are left to wait.

Your smug fellow colleagues at BBC who work in the department of BBC News Online, on the other hand, can dig in straight away. They can even burn their tongues by capitalising on news so fast.

It’s not just them stuffing their chops – Sky News Online, CNN, and Twitter constantly dine at the online video buffet for breaking news stories. And when they do, they can be assured it’s always fresh.

When the story of the 7/7 bombings in London broke in July 2005, the BBC went straight online to youTube and Flickr for videos and photos of what had happened. The user generated comments they found there also gave them ideas about the potential casualties they needed to report.
Jo Twist, BBC’s Technology Reporter says:

“Unlike TV cameras, mobile phones only need a functioning network to send back moving images. This can be done at the touch of a couple of buttons.

TV crews often need feed links and complex set-ups to file back their high-quality images.

The grainy quality of the moving mobile images will improve over time, but news organisations say viewers forgive the quality as they understand the circumstances in which such footage is often shot.”

The above video was taken by David Couzins, an un-injured train passenger underground the day of the 7/7 bombings. He says:

“Although not particularly interesting, I did manage to email this video directly to some of the world’s major newsrooms as soon as I got to the surface (something that was reasonably advanced in 2005) and as a result both the BBC and Sky News played this video numerous times throughout the day as the story unfolded. I will never forget that day.”

Amateur videos are becoming extremely popular as time goes on, as the average person becomes more and more adept to shooting their own footage comfortably and sharing it immediately. Their proxomity to the scene of the story cannot be beaten by news organisations, bacause it is from those involved that the organizations are alerted in the first place. Take the disaster in Haiti for instance:

In reporting the earthquake disaster in Haiti in Jan 2010, the BBC posted amateur footage from youtube without properly discovering its source or checking its reliability. But even if you do check the sources, and they all add up, time will not wait for you.

And even if you do provide up-to-the-minute news during broadcast, nothing can be done once transmission has ceased: if a burning story breaks at 10.36pm, there’s no opportunity to broadcast it for another 6 hours on BBC One until 4.35am the following day.

With online news, you can be sure to get that breaking story out and spread it to the world fast. You don’t have to send a reporter to the place of the incident. You don’t have to voxpop for mixed reviews/opinions. You don’t have to reconstruct any action that takes place. You just have to venture online.

Because Online Video will always be first at the scene.