Local online news video content: What’s working and what’s not

(Editor’s Note: This is the first in a three-part series on local online news video. The first focuses on content. Tomorrow’s part two will explore design and usability and part three will take a look at advertising.)

Though local news sites have expanded their production of content and made great strides in technological advances on their video platforms, they haven’t exactly reached the next threshold or industry standard in online video. In many cases, this “standard” is being set by media giants like CNN and user-generated social media sites like YouTube. In fact, a recent study shows that watching online video is more popular than Facebook or Twitter. The trend is continuing in that direction and the time spent watching online video has increased as well. And with YouTube now getting into the local news business with its News Near You feature that will grab news clips from sources that are 100 miles from your computer’s IP address, local news organizations should worry.

Many of the local news sites are still experimenting and beginning to define the type of video content they would like to produce. Below are lessons learned from a thesis study that examined how 10 local news sites in the Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota, USA market used online video. The conclusions made here, are also gathered through interviews of editors at the respective organizations (Note: Several did not want or could not appear for publication as a result of organizational policies). The full study can be found here (beware it is about 60 pages in length). Below are the sites studied. However, I will also note that the study did not include TheUpTake, which actually provided a lot of online video content for many of the sites below and has had led some great innovations in online video.

Here’s what’s working in content:

  1. Feature news: Evidence points to most local news sites using video to cover feature stories. That is mostly because these types of stories have visual elements that lend themselves well to video footage.
  2. Breaking news: It comes in second place for most produced video and works well. Even if it is raw, most editors agree that breaking news footage can really complement a story and drive a lot of traffic. Videos of the Fargo floods were among the most popular for the Star Tribune, many of them shot as news unfolded. Expanding breaking news video coverage will become less challenging, as more reporters become trained in shooting video. Corey Anderson, online editor at Minnpost.com, said that the veteran reporters at the organization have embraced the possibilities of new media and how video can further enhance their stories. As the technology gets cheaper and economy gets better, Anderson said Minnpost hopes to include video cameras in the journalists reporting “tool kit”.
  3. Local video: Local coverage may be the golden rule. Most of the editors noted that local coverage received a more significant amount of traffic for its local videos. It is what viewers want and expect, said Mike Durkin, senior Web producer for Fox 9.

Content news organizations could do without or needs improvement:

  1. Limited national news: It’s not ideal, but because local news videos are in higher demand, national videos are not. At least not for these local news sites, or not to the extent that the investment is worth the gain. Local news organizations that currently pay for Associated Press content may want to invest that money into funding more local coverage from its reporters.
  2. Talking-head: News organizations should use talking-head video sparingly, if at all. Because users on the Web are easily distracted, this type of video content does not work well.
  3. Engaging, shorter pieces: In general, news organizations that are new to video, such as the Pioneer Press, will need to extensively train their videographers in shooting quality video. Beyond the quality, news organizations need to better adapt their video content to Web users who expect shorter and more engaging content. The attention span threshold that most agree on and studies have shown is roughly 3 minutes, though it is expanding with the trend toward watching online TV shows on Hulu, etc. Chris Clonts, Web editor at the Pioneer Press, said his staff aims for 2-minute videos, but is still working on transitioning to the shorter style. “We need to do a better job of picking our subjects, but that is the goal of the attention span we are going after,” Clonts said. Here is the breakdown of average video length based on the 10 most recent videos:


Average length (minutes)

Star Tribune


Pioneer Press




The Minnesota Daily












MN Sun Newspapers


Content that needs more exploring:

  1. User-generated content: It could build a strong sense of community on a website. Most of the editors expressed interest in expanding or implementing user-generated content. Durkin from Fox 9 said he thinks user-generated video will be the next big development in online video for many news sites. Currently, out of the list of 10 local sites, only four sites (Star Tribune, Pioneer Press, MPR and MN Sun Newspapers) include user-generated videos. However, the question is whether users will continue to use platforms such as YouTube, rather than going to a news site. Regardless of how successful the user-generated content becomes, it is a low-cost way for a news organization to increase content and traffic with almost no cost in staffing.
  2. Live online video: It’s expected to be the next big step in online news video. Some TV stations, like KARE 11 and FOX 9, have done a good job in using live video, but expanding it will be the key in driving traffic through video viewership. Online users expect immediacy, something that online live video will provide. Live video could also increase online competition. For example, newspaper websites may now be able to compete with TV stations in covering live events through a Web stream. Also, live video could be the spark that makes “talking-head” video more interesting and relevant. Live video can bring webcasts, like the Star Tribune’s “News Break”, to life by providing immediacy and an element of surprise to the content.

Tomorrow’s piece will take a look at usability and design and will also include comments from John Daenzer, new media director from WCCO. What’s working for you? Would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

8 thoughts on “Local online news video content: What’s working and what’s not

  1. Karl Pearson-Cater

    Great analysis, and thanks for including MinnPost (my employer) in the mix. We certainly have more to learn about publishing video online, and that study could be a great resource. However, it seems like a mistake to exclude The Uptake from your data and analysis. They covered the RNC, the election, and the Senate recount. Not to include them seems like a missed opportunity to expand on your conclusions.

  2. Mouli Cohen

    I think trending away from the stale, years old format of local news is a benefit for everyone involved, whether on a computer or watching from any other remote location. The perfect example of the trends listed here in action would be the coverage of the political protests in Iran. Because the flow of official information was so slow and so questionable in terms of the facts, live, user generated news was extremely powerful content in getting the message and the truth out.

  3. Lon Koenig

    There was some event a few months back that I wanted to watch in real time. (I don’t have a TV at this time.)
    I found all the local news outlets to be extremely disappointing. In the age of uStream and Stickam, when any high schooler can broadcast a program, I assumed at least the TV stations would have live streams, but there was really nothing.

    Radio turned out to my best “live” coverage, but it was obviously audio-only.

    I find it odd that “local news outlets” – rapidly heading the way of the buggy whip maker – are now looking to user-created content to somehow save the business.
    Either professional journalistic standards and practices matter, or they are irrelevant. You can’t have it both ways.

    Most news outlets seem to be exploring a third option: Journalism matters, but they don’t practice it.
    YouTube videos, Twitter posts, and reprinted AP articles don’t count as either news or journalism. And online “citizen journalists” have no need for local newspapers or stations.

    We’ve been beating the Content is King drum for many years now. Without real, original, and unique content, most news outlets bring very little to the table. Local news outlets really have no business left to save.

  4. Pingback: Local online news video design and usability: What's working, what's not | Online Journalism Blog

  5. Steen Steensen

    Thanks for an interesting post. I find it of special interest that your research material suggests that video are best suited for feature stories online. This made me think: Is adding video really the right way to remediate feature journalism online? I wrote a blogpost addressing that question – inspired by your post. See: http://tinyurl.com/m6jyja

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