Digital news video that works online — my top ten

From Hilary Benn’s Iraq speech to AJ+, NowthisNews, John Sweeney’s Snapchat refugee documentary, native advertising and long-form animations — ten examples of digital news and current affairs video.

A couple of months ago I was challenged by my former boss at the BBC, Vin Ray, to come up with a list of my favourite 10 online news videos. It was in response to an article I wrote, on the advances of digital news storytelling.

The premise for the article was — so many of the legacy news organisations have completely failed to understand the medium of online video.

They are failing because they continue to ape the traditional TV news conventions, which simply don’t work in the digital landscape.

Vin set me the task of coming up with 10 examples of compelling digital news video. But most importantly to explain why they work online and wouldn’t on TV.

Great strides have been made in some quarters of the mainstream media. There are pockets of excellent digital storytelling but sadly it is still the exception rather than the rule.

The list is in no particular order of merit. I have tried to come up with a variety of styles that suit different platforms.

Unsurprisingly, the thing that unites them is — they all tell powerful stories. The universal truth still remains — it’s all about the content.

So here we go:

Drowned Syrian Boy Symbolised the Refugee Crisis. The film by AJ+ was one of the first and still one of the very best examples of combining powerful imagery, text and social media.

There is very little audio — just one line, which is also subtitled. It plays to the strengths of social media platforms and especially Facebook, where people are often watching without sound — an important consideration.

Since it was published nearly a year ago the style and techniques have become far more widely used, but few are as good as this.

The Fallen of World War II. This is a wonderful animated film. It may be nearly 20 minutes long, but the use of data, the scripting and the production values make it compelling viewing.

There is no way it would have been shown on TV. It works so well in the far more intimate world of digital.

Hilary Benn’s full speech ahead of the Syria airstrikes vote. At just over 14 minutes long, this would not have been played in full on TV news programmes and bulletins. But it was online, again and again and again. It was hailed as one of the greatest parliamentary performances of a generation. The words of a great orator.

In a traditional TV package, there would have been a couple of short segments, but not the full version. Digital video gives the opportunity to consume both short and long form video and it works very well on all counts. If done well.

The children of Gaza, Channel 4 News. This video has more to do with the ethics of impartiality and objectivity on TV news, than the production techniques and style of video.

Jon Snow gives his views on the children of Gaza, based on his experience. It is more akin to a newspaper columnist than a TV reporter or presenter. It is a passionate and polemic account. It works very well in the context of the digital media. It certainly would not have been allowed on a TV broadcast.

John Sweeney captures the refugee crisis on Snapchat (also cross-posted onto Facebook).

A very interesting experiment, to report of the european refugee crisis for a younger audience, through Snapchat. The techniques used here have now become commonplace — but this was a really revolutionary step.

It took an established BBC brand and personality and told a story in an entirely different way. It was filmed in portrait (vertical) to suit the social platform and the mobile devices most people watched it on.

There continues to be a debate raging about vertical video vs horizontal video. This film illustrates there is room for both, as long as the content is produced and versioned to suit the platform.

It’s clear this would not work on TV, not only for the aspect ratio but the nature of the content.

Tim Peake’s rocket launch in 360 video, BBC News. The moment I finally understood 360 video. Six months ago, when the British astronaut, Tim Peake, set off for the international space station, the BBC produced this 360 video.

The producer simply placed the camera between the crowd and the launch area. The results are superb.

The reaction of the crowd and the sound of the rocket taking off, combine to allow you to fully see what’s happening. There’s no doubt this is best viewed on a mobile device, but is can work on a desktop or very smart TV.

I am a bit worried about 360 video becoming a fad. There is a tendency to produce 360 video for every event — it doesn’t always work. As with any story it needs to be done appropriately.

Jeremy Corbyn: The Outsider, Vice News. Of all the examples, this film, by Ben Ferguson for Vice News, is the one that I think would work best on TV.

He follows the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn for nearly two months, after his surprise victory in the Labour leadership contest and in the run-up to the council elections in May.

The style of shooting and presentation, are more relaxed than most conventional TV, but the storytelling techniques are pretty much the same.

What this does show however, is the rise in power of the digital native news organisation. Vice got incredible access to the Jeremy Corbyn, which he was clearly not going to give to the old guard.

It also shows the appetite for long-form video online.

Pint Sized TMS.

Not a news video, but a very good example of simple animation, to tell amusing stories about cricket, from the Test Match Special team at the BBC.

Sport has a particular problem when it comes to video. The rights to show sporting action are expensive and fiercely guarded.

These short, straightforward animated films, tell a story in an engaging and amusing way — very creative.

Nowthisnews the digital native news organisation.

This example is not one video but a concept of online and digital news production.

Nowthisnews has gone all the way. Not only have they eschewed the broadcast TV platform, they don’t even have a website. They create bespoke video for digital and they are doing so very successfully.

They claim to be getting up to 2 billion video views a month across all platforms. Each video is produced to suit the platform and the audience. There is a lot we can learn all from them.

Momondo, the DNA Journey. I have chosen this final video, because it’s an incredible piece of native advertising.

To produce news, you have to pay for it. There is a crisis in the industry at the moment. The sums don’t add up in the traditional sense and the business model is creaking.

The most commonly used online adverts, pre-rolls don’t work. They alienate the audience and with ad-blocking, are becoming increasingly irrelevant.

So what’s the answer?

“There’s only one answer to this: don’t interrupt the content they’re consuming with ads. Create the content they want to consume.” Philip Trippenbach, Edelman

This film is the best example I have seen. It has been viewed and shared by tens of millions of people.

It’s a great story and it was made to promote a travel company.

I should make it clear that this is about the need for great storytelling on digital platforms.

TV news and journalism is far from dead and in many cases thriving — the rise of Netflix will hopefully drive a renewed interest in long form documentary making and considered powerful journalism that works on TV.

But that does not mean that it automatically works on all digital platforms. They are all different and have different needs and demands.

The rewards are great, if done well you can reach a vast audience with digital video. If done badly it will fail miserably.