When Diamond Reynolds sat in her car, turned her phone on herself, and streamed to Facebook, she created one of the most compelling — and disturbing — news documents this year.
The stark vision of her confronting police as her boyfriend lay dying in the seat next to her led to debate, protests, and horrible violence. And it was a reminder to journalists the world over that social video has moved far beyond viral hopefuls and Facebook backgrounders.
Capturing the news as it happens — one of the oldest of journalistic skills — is back on the block.
In a sea of cut-and-paste reporting, live video promises to give an edge to the newsrooms that embrace it.
Melbourne’s Herald Sun continues to experiment in this space, testing and learning about what our audience has an appetite for and what best suits our newsroom. In recent months we have broadcast breaking news events, streamed interviews with celebrities, and even turned a camera on our sports team to bring a new dimension to their weekly podcast.
It has been a steep learning curve.
Mostly we have been forced to stop worrying about production quality and expect unforeseen tech difficulties.
Newsrooms must embrace the fact they are not television stations and should not pretend to be one. YouTube has taught us that a person with a webcam and something engaging to say can capture an audience that rivals the biggest of the small screen.
Secondly, we have had to support our journalists as they transition to being in front of a camera. The idea of going live can be daunting, particularly to people used to having their work honed over the course of hours.
We’ve seen a number of benefits, though, from the speed of production to the speed with which our journalists are embracing it.
It is rewarding to see many quickly adapt to this medium, led by our opinion writers who have had exposure to television.
So what does all of this mean for our newsroom? Is this a tipping point for how we tell the news?
Yes and no. Yes, in that live streaming has become a more viable option with more obvious upside. No, in that it’s not our core business nor is it something new.
Twitch started several years ago. There’s Ustream, and Justin TV was around in 2007.
Likewise, big players such as The Wall Street Journal have been in live video for years.
More recently, Periscope was a fun app and we made use of it by training reporters and ensuring it was on as many phones as possible.
But Facebook Live has a few points of difference: a serious audience, ease of use, and knock-on benefits to other content we publish to that platform that results in traffic and subscriptions.
Like all technology, it has taken a while for mainstream adoption of live streaming, but it could be said that Facebook is changing all of that now that anyone anywhere can go live to the biggest platform in the world.
Live streaming takes us another step away from button-down TV hosts and closer to our audience.
Next we need to work out how to make revenue and grow paid audience from it.
But it’s an interesting journey experimenting in this space and finding new ways to bring the news to our audience.