Journalism on the Move: How is live streaming going to change the field?

By Jack Nissen
Reporter | Spartans Innovate

During each news day at WJBK in Southfield, there is a five-hour period where the cameras go dark, the sets remain empty and channel 2 stays quiet. Then, every so often, Laura Moore, the assistant news director of the TV station, takes the station’s iPad, logs into Periscope and brings a reporter to show off the interior of the studio to the rest of the world, with a live camera feed to anyone else watching.

Viewers are treated to the inner workings of Fox 2. They can see where the phone desk operates or behind the set of where the cooking segment takes place. Even that age-old question — “If news anchors are wearing suits, what are their producers wearing?” — is answered. Answer: plaid shirts and jeans.

The first time she used the live-streaming service Periscope, 100 people watched. Then the number climbed. Two hundred people, then 300, until a fateful Friday in Paris.

“The day of the Paris attacks, I grabbed the iPad and ran around the newsroom, showing pictures of different satellite feeds and screens with pictures coming in,” said Moore. “And we had 1,000 people watch. Which was just phenomenal.”

New audiences popped up on the feed as the number of people watching spiked to the highest levels the station had ever seen, even a man waiting on a plane on the runway was using Periscope as his only source of news for learning about what was happening.

WJBK isn’t alone. News outlets across the country are discovering the power of live streaming.

“2016 will be the year of live streaming video for journalism,” according to Ole Reiβman, managing editor for  bento.de, a german news website, and contributor to the Nieman Lab. “Its rise started in 2015 with Meerkat and then Twitter’s Periscope. It was just the right moment for live video: faster mobile networks, better smartphones with great cameras, and easy-to-use apps made all the difference”

This brand of journalism is becoming increasingly popular as the technology required to implement such systems — Periscope, Meerkat and Facebook Mentions – is becoming fast and cheap. Whether it’s the speed at which information can be accessed or the platform by which Periscope can present it’s content, the pieces of the puzzle are finally fitting together. Users of live streaming apps are not changing the information of the news, merely the way the news is conveyed. Publications and TV stations are allocating more of their time bringing the news to the audience at the viewers ease than anything else.

In the “old days,” there were these things called satellite trucks. To put together a minute and a half package that would get aired on the 11:00 o’clock segment, you needed one of these things.

“When it came to feeding live video to an audience, that used to be relegated to only those who had a truck,” said Robert Hernandez, an assistant professor of journalism at The University of Southern California. “They had the expensive equipment, or they had the radio.”

For members of WJBK, if they wanted to stream a court ruling that the rest of the community had been following for months, they would need to send a reporter out with a “backpack.” This had the necessary tools to bring the content as quickly to the viewer as they could. But when resources are delegated for one use, they can’t be used for other reporters. The game of musical chairs (chairs being the symbol for resources) is a constant theme for news directors and producers deciding where to allocate tools.

Now that social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter are the number one vessels for how people get their news, the ‘adapt or die’ mentality has taken over for news mediums. Not just embracing this idea that people click links on social media to get to a homepage rather than type in the web address, but adapting to it and stretching the limitations of what one can do on Facebook. As Ole Reiβman stated in his Nieman lab report, one of those entities stretching that limit are live streaming applications, and the year of 2016 is when it’s going to happen.

For Reiβman, Facebook and Twitter’s integration of this new media is the reason why the age of live streaming is upon us. The platform for where this stuff will live is available. The devices by which the content will be filmed are cheap, easy to use and in the pockets of literally everyone in the developed world. All that’s left is the content to fill up the space.

This is especially crucial for journalists to work with as the patience for news is only getting smaller. If stories can reach audiences as quickly as possible (at this point that means live), then viewership can grow.

“It’s really uncharted waters more than anything else, the idea behind it,” said Jay Dillon, senior digital content manager for Fox 2. “Things like Periscope and where Facebook lies, is you’re putting content where the people are. We’re delivering live video as it’s happening to you. Slap a Fox 2 slide on that and then people will remember you. That’s the end goal for us at the moment.”

All sorts of news outlets have become digital publishers. This isn’t only relevant to TV stations, although it certainly matches up quite nicely. Fox 2 has to find a way to convey the same message five different ways as it sends out information through TV, online, social media, phones and push alerts. Conveying news for a social media audience in a TV way doesn’t fit; only the content remains the same, not how it moves.

It’s the same narrative for newspapers. The New York Times doesn’t only print out a black and white paper that’s read all over anymore. They have an interactive website, with graphics and links. The front page may resemble a newspaper, but you don’t need to go to page A16 to continue reading. To add on to this, the New York Times partnered with Google to distribute Google Cardboard Virtual Reality viewers to subscribers.

Nothing more than a cardboard box, Google Cardboard acts as a headstand for your phone, where you wear it over your eyes and can see the world in another manner, depending on what your phone is showing you. The New York Times Magazine released a new virtual reality film called “The Displaced.” As it’s played through one’s smartphone, mounted on Google Cardboard, viewers can watch the film from a virtual reality perspective.

More than 1.2 million subscribers received a Google Cardboard set. Since Nov. 12, the New York Times has released six more films to the new medium. Quoting the New York Times Magazine: “V.R. is still an emerging medium but there have already been a number of important projects from a variety of creators that indicate the potential of this technology.” There have been roughly 25 million Google Cardboard apps downloaded since mid 2014. However, noted by Adario Strange, a writer for Mashable.com, 10 million of these downloads have occurred between October and December 2015. The interest in VR is beginning to spike.

For Moore and Dillon, gaining a lot of publicity at the cost of only an iPad and time with journalists, the question apart from how to successfully implement live streaming isn’t the only question that needs to be asked. For the overseers, that don’t live in the newsroom, they look beyond just the “cool” factor. At some point, the question about monetization needs to be confronted. It’s a question that hasn’t been answered yet.

“We haven’t quite figured out the formula for making money off this yet,” said Moore. “Because a lot of our money comes from ad revenue, we are still in the process of implementing that. Just like TV, we’re not making guarantees to the sales people about how many viewers we’re going to be getting.”

For news stations, just stating “you are watching Fox 2 on Periscope” doesn’t ensure anything more than a hope people will remember that station in the future. The uncertainty revolving around the viewership will be an instrumental factor to consider in the future. Advertisers will love it when a natural disaster hits and 10,000 people see their ad underneath the stations feed. But during times when it’s slower, and not more than 30 people are watching a court verdict being given, it won’t seem like money well spent.

In the media world, the factor of uncertainty remains at the heart of new media integration. “How do we know it will succeed?” “What if this application is just a fleeting trend?” Digital media pundits may remember the Yo App. The message was simple, send a “Yo” to your followers and receive the same message in return. Although it took off and grew fast, it disappeared just as quickly. With inconsistency being one of the only consistent themes for digital media, basic journalistic pillars still shouldn’t be ignored, even with all the fancy gadgets and flashy whites filling our eyes. Tim Skubick, a reporter for more than 45 years, remains a staunch opponent to all the shock and awe the 6-inch screens bring us.

“I am a dinosaur regarding technology,” said Skubick in an email. “I am not on Facebook, I don’t twitter, and I don’t engage with anyone on the Internet. I’m too busy gathering news for seven different entities and don’t find it worth my time to use my time in that regard.” Skubick isn’t entirely alone as even for Hernandez, someone who spends a lot of time on these sites, still sees the value of basic story telling dynamics remain key over any specified medium of communication.

“What matters most is still good storytelling,” said Hernandez. “Periscope, snapchat, twitter I really don’t care. They’re all just tools in our toolbox. It’s not the point. It’s the stories that we tell and that we can share that are the most important. I have no allegiance to twitter and Facebook, my loyalty is to my community.”

The goal remains to be good at journalism. It’s accepted that the field is always changing, however that doesn’t mean the basic principles of reporting should be ignored. On the contrary, they’re more important now than ever. Stating that virtual reality is the future or that live streaming is happening now doesn’t really answer the question about where we are going. Only that it may pass us by.

““It’s really difficult to tell in such early stages of journalism and an application like Periscope,” said Reiβman. “The truth, is I really don’t know where live streaming will take us, but when have we ever really known.”

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