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Citizen Journalism: Tips and Tricks for Capturing and Sharing Video News

by Tom Volotta on September 12, 2012

Citizen Journalism video upload sitesEver had the idea you wanted to be a video news reporter? Got a smartphone with a video camera? Yes? Congratulations, here’s your chance to be a citizen journalist.

For a couple of hundred bucks, you have a compact video recorder and maybe even an editing studio that fits in the palm of your hand. Not only can you shoot high-definition (HD) video and record sound, you can upload and share videos, or stream live video news to people around the globe.

Citizen journalism is a growing force all over the world. It’s even been a factor in dramatic political and social change. The phenomenon has forced the established media outlets to make room for citizen journalism within their organizations. It’s changing the way they report news to better fit the style and audiences of Internet giants like YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter.


There are three basic ingredients of citizen journalism.

1. A level of interest and commitment.

2. Equipment to capture and edit video news.

3. The ability to get the story online at video upload sites.

Is your interest in citizen journalism a casual impulse, or are you more serious? Maybe the random coincidence of unexpectedly finding yourself in the midst of a significant event is enough motivation. If you’re able to capture it on your smartphone and then post that bit of video news online (it might even go viral) you’ve made a contribution. You can still be an important part of citizen journalism. On the other hand, if you have a more dedicated, purposeful motivation behind citizen journalism, there are additional considerations to take into account.

Can you document and tell a story with pictures and sound? Do you know how to present information so people clearly grasp the meaning? Did you vet your video news? If you need to improve any of these skills, there are resources that can help. Nearly all the major, professional news organizations also have citizen journalism programs, with tips from pros on how to develop those skills.

Your personal safety can also be a concern. Many of the most important news stories happen in dangerous situations, from the powerful forces of nature, to human disputes, conflict or even war. If you find yourself in any of these situations your security and wellbeing should be the first priority.


With video becoming the “Lingua Franca” of the Internet, the most essential tool for capturing video news is of course the camera. There are three main categories of video cameras. HD resolution is 1920x1080p and that’s typically the standard.

1. Smartphones: Perfect for the casual user and even for an aspiring citizen journalist. Some have built-in editing features, but inexpensive Apps are available. The beauty is that you can upload and share videos directly from the phone through a Wi-Fi or data connection. A great start for beginners.

Image quality is getting better, but the tiny image sensor and poor quality lenses shackle smartphones. Add-on lens attachments can help. Smartphones can be fragile, but there are many sturdy cases to help protect it from the elements or even being dropped. If you’re adding a lens, be sure the case allows it to fit properly. Cost: Free to a few hundred dollars, depending on cell phone service provider.

2. Pocket cameras: A few years ago, these small, dedicated video cameras were going to take the world by storm (think: Flip video camera). When smartphones made their push into video, the pocket camera nearly disappeared. However, there are exceptions. Some are built to be shockproof and waterproof. These ruggedized features can be the difference between keeping or losing precious video under demanding circumstances.

There’s no way to connect with the Internet like you can with a smartphone. Instead, to load the video, you need to connect the camera to the computer via USB. Pocket cameras are sometimes incorrectly lumped in with camcorders in reviews and comparisons. Cost: $100 – $300.

3. Camcorders: These have been around for years, going back to analog VHS tape. Today’s HD camcorders record to solid-state memory cards. Video quality is considerably better than smartphones or pocket cameras. Camcorders have superior optical lenses so they can cover the action with more flexibility. They often use larger image sensors that capture more light, yielding better quality. Those that have 3-chip sensors (individual red, blue, and green) are typically the best. To transfer the video captured with the camcorder it must be connected directly, or a memory card inserted into a computer to access video upload sites. Cost: $200 – $2,000 for consumer grade.


Regardless of the video camera, basic shooting techniques apply to all devices. If you find yourself capturing something that happens at night with bright lights you can apply many video shooting tips for capturing fireworks. Here are a few tips to keep in mind when capturing video news.

1. Hold it steady: Shaky video is difficult to watch and distracts viewers from the story.

2. Keep the sun at your back: If the situation permits. Video cameras, like your eyes, don’t work well staring into bright sunlight.

3. Resist the urge to ZOOM: Just because your video recoding device has a zoom feature, it doesn’t mean it’s good. Digital zoom results in especially poor quality and this is typically the type of zoom found on smartphones. If you want to use the zoom feature be sure it’s an optical zoom. More importantly, you can miss important action that would have been captured with a wide shot.

4. Record good sound: Easier said than done. It depends on your equipment, distance, crowd noise, wind and so on. External microphones can greatly improve your sound. Many types, each designed for specific acoustic situations are available. For news events, a directional or ‘shotgun’ microphone is a good choice. Mini-versions can even be fitted to smartphones.

Oh, unless it’s critical for the story to provide a real-time description of what you are shooting, please, keep your own voice out of it. Let the event ‘speak’ for itself.

5. Bring extra batteries and memory cards: You really don’t want the camera to die, or run out of storage when “the” big event happens.


This can run the gamut of doing nothing at all to the raw video, to full-blown editing with cutting, effects, sound tracks, etc. Some simple editing can be done on smartphones. If you’re creating a more sophisticated video, you’ll need to transfer the video into a computer and use video editing software.

Keep in mind that most of the video upload sites have online editing features to trim and rearrange clips, add titles, sound and more. Generally, alter the video as little as possible from its original file format and resolution. That maintains quality and will help your video upload easily.


Once the video is ready it’s time to share it. This can be the simplest part, but there are technical requirements the video must meet. Each upload service has it’s own specifications for file formats, codecs, bitrates and resolution. Uploads of files that are up to 600MB or more are allowed on some sites.

Much of this boils down to the math of compression bitrates and image resolution, which all relate directly to quality and resulting running time of the video. YouTube’s guidelines are typical, although some sites use lower bitrates for HD. Coming in 2013, a new compression standard, H.265, or High Efficiency Video Coding (HEVC) will cut the bitrate and storage needs for the same amount of high quality video as H.264 (the most used codec on the Internet) in half.

To upload the video, simply visit the site, log-in, select the file(s), and up it goes. It’s a pretty standard procedure across most video upload sites. Although, some like CNN’s iReport want a headline, a description and even have a place to enter tags and location information.

CNN iReport Your Story


Live streaming is just that – video that’s happening right now, in real-time. While capturing an event, you’re sharing live, raw, unedited video directly online. Live streaming is becoming more accessible to citizen journalists. Established news organizations have long seen the value in someone who is at an event as it is happening, in the moment.

There are some technical differences between video uploaded conventionally and streamed. Using video and audio bitrates as a measure, streaming is roughly half the quality. This doesn’t mean your streaming video will look bad. It just means video uploaded in the usual manner will be better.


With so many smartphones, nearly anyone can now send live video from the scene of a breaking news story. Does that make everyone a citizen journalist?

In a certain sense, yes it does. But for citizen journalism to achieve respectability and acceptance, it must attend to the same ‘Who, What, Why, When, and Where’ questions that are the foundation for professional journalists.

Have you ever used a smartphone or camcorder to capture a real, live news event? Did you share it on the Internet? Do you know citizen journalism when you see it television or online? Let us know in the comments below.

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

1 black hat seo September 18, 2012 at 7:07 pm

You completed a few good points there. I did a search on the matter and found the majority of persons will agree with your blog.

2 Tom Volotta September 19, 2012 at 2:21 pm

Thanks. Always good know that at least a few people out there don’t think I’m a jerk!

CJ is having such an impact, it’s to the point where you almost have to make all your public (and private) comments while reading from a vetted script. Witness the tremendous uproar generated by Romney’s 47% flub yesterday that was caught on a smartphone. The establishment media never would have had the fodder to work with unless that comment had been recorded. The amount of air time spent on showing and re-showing and re-showing the clip, along with all the analysis from every conceivable point of view shows the power technology has given us. Whether that person is a “Citizen Journalist” or someone with a political axe to grind is another story.


3 sanjeev chaudhry September 20, 2012 at 5:51 am

I had a passion for extracting informations,real life actions and reactions,stories from the epicentre of mind space,people bits and pieces of news,snatches of imagination to pen down blanck papers on my desk.I’d been writing freelancely,so as to get a potent platform,and working for it.In the process i acquired a couple of camcorder,and DSLR, to be fully loaded for the task.

4 Tom Volotta September 20, 2012 at 3:02 pm

It’s a big world out there. Sounds like you’ve got the inspirations and some uniques perspectives that could catch the attention of many. With a couple of camcorders and DSLR in your kit, you DO seem ready to capture lots of stuff. Go with what interests you the most. The rest will follow.


5 jordan shoes for cheap September 20, 2012 at 9:35 pm

Nice post, just found your blog on my travels around the Internet. Definitely will come back.

6 Tom Volotta September 29, 2012 at 1:53 pm

Glad you liked it. Definitely DO come back for more. The blog covers a very wide range of subject matter, opinions and the latest in emerging digital media topics that you’ll find interesting and useful.


7 burberry bags September 28, 2012 at 8:54 am

Great work! This is the type of information that are meant to be shared around the internet. Shame on the search engines for now not positioning this publish upper! =)

8 Tom Volotta September 29, 2012 at 1:33 pm

Thank you. There really are many sites that encourage, support and are providing outlets for Citizen Journalism. Some focus on general news, political opinions and specialty topic areas. That’s where the growth will come from. Capturing unique instances of a tornado blowing the roof off a building, a car crash, etc., will always be fodder for today’s insatiable, non-stop news cycle. But the real advances will be made by people covering ongoing stories that effect their own communities. Start with meetings of County Supervisors, open sessions where public issues are discussed and debated, local financial bond proposals that impact people’s taxes, etc.

Get them up, online to inform and stimulate interest, because these are the everyday things that have meaning for people. Doing so will help inform YOU about local issues, provide an important news and information service to the public, plus give you opportunities to continuing honing your journalistic skills to communicate better, perhaps leading you on to larger stories.

Also, don’t just assume a local issue is only meant for your immediate community to access online. Submit them to the major news outlets such as CNN’s iReport or the Huffington Post. ALL of them are constantly in need of content. What may seem like a small-town issue to you and others in the community, may fit into (or Start) a trend or pattern of similar events which the majors can use to bolster their coverage.

Keep at it.


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