How to use youtube-dl to grab an online video

Are you journalist that needs to snag a copy of a video for reporting, for use “on air” or for use in a digital video piece?

Youtube-dl is a popular tool for downloading videos from most of the common sites that has been around for a long time. Despite its name, it works not only with YouTube, but with Twitter, Facebook, and a host of other services. It is regularly updated to keep up with changes made by social media and video platforms.

Even better, while it has a lot of command-line options, it’s wickedly simple to use.

It’s another tool that can be used effectively even on a Chromebook, a computer not generally noted as a great tool for video work. (See my posts on creating video slideshows and using Google Earth Studio.)

There is a Windows version of the program, too.

The RIAA, the major trade association of the recording industry, recently issued a takedown notice for youtube-dl on the code hosting service GitHub. It argues the youtube-dl should be removed because it allows the copying of copyrighted material. However, downloads are still available and updates are still happening. (There was an update as recently as this week).

The RIAA’s legal action has been attacked as an abuse of copyright law, but youtube-dl is a free, open-source project so it’s a David vs Goliath battle.

It has been noted that it is a popular tool of journalists. I used it to download videos we had permission to use, including user-generated content, or from government video meetings in the age of COVID-19 Zoom meetings that end up archived on YouTube or Facebook.

Here’s how to use youtube-dl on a Chromebook to download a single video.

Install it from the Linux command line. (Instructions at download page.)

Here is the most command I used:

youtube-dl -f best 'URL-TO-VIDEO' 

This command attempts to grab the best version of the (-f best) and saves it with the filename of your choosing (-o ‘LOCAL-NAME-OF-VIDEO.%(ext)s’).

That’s it. That’s the most common use case. For YouTube videos, that typically results in a 1280×720 mp4 file.

If you want to check what formats are available:

youtube-dl -F URL-To-VIDEO

You will get a series of available files with a code number in the first column that you could use with the -f option.

Youtube-dl format list.

You may be able to get a “1080 version” (1920×1080) by using:

youtube-dl -f bestvideo+bestaudio 'URL-TO-VIDEO' 
-o 'LOCAL-NAME-OF-VIDEO.%(ext)s'

My tests resulted in a “mkv” file.

Even with the legal action, youtube-dl will currently still update with this command:

youtube-dl -U

To see what version you are using, do:

youtube-dl --version

Full help is available with:

youtube-dl -h

The official documentation has been removed by the takedown notice, but here is a copy of it, which shows all options.

I hope that helps you get started with this powerful and fast tool.

Here’s a take on the RIAA action:

Please respect the rights of content creators and only use youtube-dl for legal purposes.

ETSPJ Uncategorized

Poynter’s Al Tompkins coming to Knoxville

If you’re a journalist in East Tennessee, this is a “can’t miss” event, a chance to attend a workshop led by Al Tompkins for free! (Make sure to RSVP.)

There is also a community event featuring Tompkins on Friday evening, Nov. 8. This will be another great event.

Al Tompkins in Knoxville on Nov. 8 and 9.
Online Media

Free Facebook Journalism Project Workshop

The Facebook Journalism Project

The East Tennessee Society of Professional Journalists is bringing the Facebook Journalism Project to Knoxville.

Join us Sunday from 2 to 4 p.m. at the Knoxville News Sentinel, 2332 News Sentinel Drive. You must register in advance

The workshop will cover tools journalists can use to help create and share incredible stories as well as offer advice on how to engage the public in stories about their community.

Lynn Walsh,  a project manager at Trusting News Project and a past president of the Society of Professional Journalists, will host the training. She is a former investigative executive producer at KNSD-NBC in San Diego.

More details at ETSPJ website.

Online Media Uncategorized

Google Tools training for journalists coming to Knoxville

SPJ Training Program in association with Google News Initiative

Don’t miss an upcoming free training opportunity in Knoxville for journalists.

The East Tennessee chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists is bringing SPJ’s Google Tools training to town on Saturday, June 2.

The four-hour session begins at 10 a.m. at the Scripps Lab, 1345 Circle Park Drive, on the University of Tennessee campus.

While free, registration is required. Sign up here:

Participants need to bring a laptop and phone to the session.

SPJ Trainer Mike Reilley, founder of SPJ’s Journalists Toolbox.

The instructor will be Mike Reilley, founder of SPJ’s Journalists Toolbox, a treasure-trove of journalism resources.

Reilley (@journtoolbox) is a visiting professor in data journalism and digital journalism at the University of Illinois-Chicago and is a consultant to national media organizations on digital innovation.

This innovative training is made possible by the Google News Initiative and the Society of Professional Journalists.

The Google News Initiative partnered with SPJ in 2015 to teach Google digital tools for news and storytelling at conferences, workshops and newsrooms across the country. Google and SPJ are committed to training as many journalists as possible.

This intensive course will help make you be a better digital journalist, teaching you how to take advantage of Internet sources for researching court cases, public data and news archives, among other sources. It is designed to improve the efficiency and efficacy of your in-depth research.

Here is an outline for the course.

10 a.m. to 10:55 a.m.: Google basics, Google Trends, Google Reverse Image Search and verification tools, Google Scholar. Fun with Google and what else is coming in AI with Google Lens.

11 a.m. to 12:20 p.m.: Deep Dive Google MyMaps. Data scraping with Google Sheets, scraping .PDFs with Tabula. Google Public Data Explorer

12:30 p.m. to 1 p.m.: Lunch and learn: Mobile reporting tools, including Google Cardboard Camera and Google Streetview app.

1 p.m. to 2 p.m.: Google Earth Pro, Earth Engine Timelapse tool, Street View.

Have questions? Email me at