Practical guide for the production and distribution of online video for journalists

This article is part of the book, "Innovative Journalism in Latin America," published by the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas, with the help of Open Society Foundations' Program on Independent Journalism.

By Jorge Villalpando Castro, videojournalist and multimedia producer

The development of "new technologies" provides an immense opportunity for journalists to report truthfully and in a timely manner in different formats. Right now, we can publish a text, a photograph, a video or transmit live from the scene. In this case we will specifically talk about the production and distribution of video over the internet and the various platforms that exist – commonly called "social networks."

The internet offers us the opportunity to compete with large consortiums of communication and especially with television. Due to this growth and the opportunities of the web, journalists have become jacks of all trades who can publish any type of information in the different channels we have at hand: a live transmission through Facebook Live or Periscope, a post on Twitter, a photo on Instagram or a video on YouTube. These are the most common forms used by the media today.

This small guide covers required tools, basic production tips, distribution platforms and monetization. It is just a starting point, but is designed to provide your team with basic steps toward greater incorporation of video in your reporting.

Our needs

What tools do we need to produce videos?

In the market, we have hundreds of video camera options (amateur, semi-professional and professional). Virtually all "smartphones" have cameras to be able to record with a good resolution. Cameras that have the option to record video are also used. There are also specialized waterproof cameras, with image stabilizers or drones. So, the options are broad.

It is important to define with the company what tools we can use to carry out our work. Therefore, we must answer:

  • What kind of format are we going to use?
  • What will be the environment we record in? (studio, outdoors, etc.)
  • How long will we record?
  • Where are we going to store what we recorded? (Memory cards, external hard drives, etc.)
  • How much money do we plan to invest in equipment?

Once these points are defined, we must consider the following regarding video recording equipment:

  • External microphone input
  • Image stabilizer
  • Good system for autofocus and tracking for video recording
  • Recording in Full HD (my personal opinion is that it is unnecessary, for the moment, to have equipment that records in 4K)
  • Video camera or photo camera with video functions? A video camera is designed to record video, but the majority do not offer high quality; on the other hand, semi-professional/profesional video cameras have functions that improve the quality of the image but are very expensive. Some SLR and EVIL cameras (with interchangeable lenses) can offer quality images and a range of artistic resources on the level of advanced video cameras, although they do not have the ergonomics and amenities offered by video cameras.
  • Flip-down screen (or the possibility of connecting a mobile device to the camera via WiFi to view the frame and control the recording).
  • ISO manipulation to improve the image in low-light situations.

Subject arrangement/production

Once we know what equipment we have, we enter the planning and implementation of our subject. Here we must ask ourselves:

  • What is our subject?
  • Is our media appropriate to broadcast our subject with efficiency and clarity?
  • What is our main message in making this video?
  • Do we have context for our subject? How are we going to present it?

Once we have decided on a topic, we have done our storytelling and we have solved what we are going to tell, it is important to ask about our needs to be able to carry out our work (transfers, per diem, security, how we are going to move around, etc).

Different video formats are used in journalism:

  • News video: Duration varies, although it can be short (30 seconds or more). It addresses a current, novel, real and interesting event for the public.
  • Video report: This is an in-depth investigation that is made about a person, event or subject. It may be current or not. It combines research with personal observations. The news video is much more concise than the video report, which is free and does not have such a rigid structure.
  • Interview: A genre that allows a narrower approach to some interesting, relevant, famous or special subject
  • Mini documentary/documentary: An audiovisual product that distinguishes itself by being a record of reality and having a high degree of objectivity or product of the truth.

Things to remember

Regarding video production, it is important to note that although we may not be "specialists" in the technical aspects, we do have to consider:

  • Good framing of the image
  • Maintaining stability in our video: making sure our shot does not come out shaky, that our image shows what we want and avoiding things that could distract the viewer’s attention
  • Microphones or an alternate audio recorder will help to capture the sound well. Also make sure to have a battery lamp (no matter the size) and a monopod or tripod
  • In the case of using mobile devices, it is always better to record horizontally. The vertical video "cuts" a lot of the information that we can offer to those who will see our video.
  • When recording testimonies, the most important thing is that we obtain decent audio quality so that our viewers can understand it.
  • In dimly lit spaces, try to find a way to get a better picture with light so we can show what we want.

Being behind the news does not mean that we forget to protect our physical integrity. This is the most important point. We are NOT "superheroes" and any news is not more important than our life.

Publication: Where and how?

We already have our story recorded, edited and ready to publish. So, what can we do now?

We have different audiences to inform instantaneously through social networks: Twitter is for a very different public than that of Facebook or Instagram. YouTube gives us a different outcome from Periscope or Facebook Live.

Therefore, it is important to define which audience we want to reach.

Generally, we have two options:

  • Hosting
  • Streaming

There are free and paid platforms referred to as "hosting." The best known, and most used, is YouTube, which allows us to easily publish our videos and can be shared through a link or can be "inserted" into a story (with the 'embed' code). The disadvantage is constant advertising before or during playback.

There is also Vimeo, which offers a "professional" payment category where videos can be posted. Unlike YouTube, this platform is more accepted by professionals or artists. Detailed stats and custom players are available here. There is no advertising and it is also a very simple and useful tool.

And what is streaming? They are platforms that allow live transmission. Here the images are broadcast "raw" and there is no prior editing. The most popular are Facebook Live and Periscope, although there are also Ustream or LiveStream, which are also free, but offer a “professional” option for a fee.

How to measure success

The hosting platforms offer statistical data on how our videos are viewed: they allow us to know how many views our materials have garnered, and a very general segmentation can be made by sex, age range, and location.

The platforms that offer live video also give us statistical data on the materials we are publishing.

Specifically, Facebook generates a report for each video on how many users consume our videos, how long they watch and other useful statistics.

How to generate income

The platforms that exist do not offer many options for generating income. On YouTube, if your videos are seen frequently, the same platform monitors you, “studies” your channel and could eventually invite you to be a “partner,” which means your videos could be monetized. But that’s YouTube’s decisión.

There is no option to monetize your videos on streaming platforms (Periscope or Facebook Live).

Other guides in the series include:

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.