How online video is different from television

For this month’s Carnival of Journalism, host Andrew Pergam asked “What is the role of online video in the newsroom of the future?”

Online video has been around for more than a decade but it has taken some time for journalists that video on the web is not the same as video on television.

Best practices of online video are evolving. It is not just about giving all your reporters a Flip cam and asking them to shot some video.

Much as with any other act of journalism, key decisions should be made about the best way to tell a story.  When it comes to video, reporters should consider:

  • the message they’re trying to deliver
  • the kind of story they’re trying to tell
  • the audience they’re trying to reach

The medium affects the content, so it is important to consider what kind of video works best on the web. Here are some suggestions:

Experiential: This is the kind of video that takes you straight into a situation and conveys a sense of being there. It has a feel of immediacy and rawness, but this does not mean that it is shoddily shot.  This video report by CJ Chivers for the New York Times on a firefight in the Helmand province draws the viewer into the action in a visceral manner.

Direct: This refers to the video that shows the action. It may have been captured on a cellphone by someone at the scene or a journalist. The video just shows that one dramatic instance of a story. It is based on the premise that viewers will be familiar with the story and just want to see the dramatic footage they have read about. Clearly, there is a danger that divorced from context, the video may be misleading.

Speak: Here the characters of a story are speaking directly to the viewer. Even though the clip may have been edited by a journalist, there is no reporter in the video. Instead, time is given over to a character to talk to the audience, as my students did in this report on a community garden in Vancouver.

Show: In these instances, video is a powerful tool to literally show viewers what a journalist has written about. Having a piece of video may be more effectively in demonstrating the essence of the story than words alone. Here, the BBC uses a short piece of video to show viewers how a programming tools for children works.

Explain: Video can be a powerful tool to guide viewers through a process and explain the different stages. The video can be mediated by a reporter, as in this video on genetic testing by one of my students, or just involve one of the characters in a story.

For me, one of the best examples of online video was an online video by CBC, where the son of a Canadian victims of the Haiti earthquake pays tribute to his father. The broadcast version is narrated by reporter Nahlah Ayed. The online video just features the son’s recollections and has far more emotional impact than the TV video.


  • Alfred,

    Excellent categorization scheme for what makes for good online video. I appreciate your distinction between online and broadcast video; I landed on a similar idea for my post, but you expanded on the idea far more completely. Thanks for the plethora of examples, too!

    Cheers, Jonathan

  • Great post Alfred! I’m going to use it in my classes. It will go a long way toward helping students when and why to use video online. Too often they think they need video with every story. I think we might have led them down the wrong path by emphasizing video in beginning news writing classes. Showing them the classifications will help them understand. They also make video seems less daunting for someone who hasn’t done it before.

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