Contributor Tips, Education

How To Shoot & Use Citizen Journalism Content


User-generated content is more in-demand than ever these days. Everyone from news organizations to YouTubers to movie studios are looking for citizen journalism videos to use for their productions, since viewers find it more authentic for telling a story.

And since our mobile devices are now equipped with high-quality cameras, it’s easier than ever for anyone to capture citizen journalism footage of events as they unfold. In addition to the immediacy of citizens capturing content, data shows that viewers trust and like eyewitness accounts of newsworthy events more than footage produced by standard news crews. That’s why it’s important to know how and why to create and use citizen journalism content in your productions.

What is Citizen Journalism?

Content captured by citizen journalists can provide an up-close-and-personal viewing experience, as well as provide a more realistic look and feel to the story. It’s a part of the story; it’s slightly less produced and a little rough around the edges, but it’s incredibly valuable, and important for telling a complete story.

This type of user-generated content involves gathering, circulating, and/or analyzing news and information by public citizens, especially through the internet. This can be done through interviews, press conferences, and or general video coverage of news events, or it can be something more spur-of-the-moment. Oil spills, protests, floods, fires, and parades are all events that can be documented by citizen journalists.

What Are the Benefits of Citizen Journalism Content?

This type of footage can also be a powerful tool when it comes to invoking an emotional response from viewers. Dramatic visuals of a wildfire or the raw, unfiltered energy of a riotous crowd can instantly draw in eyeballs and keep viewers captivated.

Citizen journalism can also take dramatically less money to produce, since it’s typically shot on smaller cameras in a more run-and-gun style by small teams or individuals, as opposed to an entire crew.

The last thing about CJ footage to note is that since it can be done on a smartphone, it has the ability to be streamed live or uploaded immediately after it’s shot, giving instant access to everyone in the world at the press of a button. This ability to be consumed instantly (or almost instantly) is possibly its most amazing feature!

Women’s March Washington Peaceful Protest California 4K Stock Video Footage by fuzzfocus

How Do You Shoot Citizen Journalism?

In general, when you’re planning to start capturing (planned) events, you should first get up to date with current news topics. You should also be conscious of what time of the year it is, so you can start researching upcoming stories that you want to cover.

Photographer Girl – Cu by DCPmedia

Once you find an event to cover, the first thing to ask yourself is if the event is actually newsworthy. Search for video of the event, news segments, or documentaries that cover the topic and see if there’s a need for it. Figure out who would be using this content, and who your intended audience is. This should also help you when it comes to capturing the footage, because you’ll know where to focus your attention and what interesting angles are.

When you get to actually documenting the event, use the standard best practices for shooting high quality video, meaning make sure your lighting, composition, and sound are all solid. Hold your camera/phone as steadily as possible to keep the footage usable, and consider bringing a lightweight tripod or gimbal along to help capture smooth, stable shots.

Another way to make sure you get more usable shots is to film them horizontally. Horizontal footage is more versatile, and can work better for larger news outlets or clients who may want to license your footage. Keep in mind that horizontal footage can always be cropped to a vertical aspect ratio if necessary.

Person Record A Video Of Fire Disaster In Background by Video_StockOrg

After you’ve captured the footage, the next step is to make sure that you’re tagging it appropriately when putting it online. Detailed and accurate metadata is crucial to include with Editorial content. Make sure to mention the date, location, and event information in your title and description. Relevant keywords are extremely important to include as well, and whether you’re selling it in the Pond5 Editorial Collection or posting it on social media, metadata helps people find it.

Lastly, and most importantly, be safe. Maintain a safe distance and be respectful to everyone around you. If you’re ever uncomfortable in a situation, leave immediately or find shelter until it’s over. Getting an incredible shot means nothing if you get injured or damage your camera beyond repair and lose the footage.

Acquiring Citizen Journalism Content

Current event and natural disaster footage will always be in demand, and possibly even more so now in the age of social media. Since it’s not always something that everyone can produce, it’s something that will have to be licensed. The great part is, there are sites like Pond5 where footage can be licensed quickly and easily for a fair price, and usually a price that’s cheaper and safer than doing it yourself.

Historical Notre Dame Fire by BlackBoxGuild

You have the ability to filter the content you’re looking for by searching the news & archival collection specifically, or you can sort by clips based on their editorial usage. In the case of citizen journalism, it will likely be marked for editorial usage. And as always, Pond5 is happy to customize licenses for you. Contact a Pond5 Creative Partner by emailing to discuss customizable options like indemnity or clearances.

Whether it’s a press conference, a protest, a tornado, or a red carpet interview, citizen journalism has its place in the world of video production. It can be a great tool for filmmakers and news organizations to use in their projects, and it can be an inspiration for creating social change. When you’re out in the action documenting a rare or newsworthy event, or you’re telling a captivating story with citizen journalism footage, powerful and authentic visuals can give a lasting impact and affect viewers on a level that regular footage can’t.