I always try to include assignments related to a trend that has come on since the semester started. It’s a way for you to see how quickly digital products move in news, and it’s useful for you to know that you always have to be on the lookout for new tools. I call it my Future of Journalism assignment.

The new craze is livestreaming video. Livestreaming itself isn’t new (UStream has been around a few years and probably is a little ticked off that upstarts are getting all the attention) but it’s long been clunky and the interfaces haven’t been great. Since January 2015 we’ve seen two new apps rise: Meerkat and Periscope; Meerkat has fallen off but Periscope is alive and kicking. Facebook Live launched this year for the masses as well, and media companies are jumping into that one full bore.

Streaming apps allow you to broadcast video to the web instantly. They turn you into a live-on-the-scene reporter similar to what you see on TV. Other news organizations are using it to do Q&A with the audience. In both cases, all these apps post links to your Twitter feed that allow people to join and comment. They’re ridiculously easy to use too. One caution: they really throttle your data plan, so if you can stream on wifi it’s preferred.

Periscope works by opening a live stream and sharing the link to Twitter. That’s it. You can save a livestream to your camera roll when you’re done, but the real experience is watching it live. In the past year I’ve seen journalists use livestreaming to:

  • Show a presidential stump speech (Dave Weigel did this with Rand Paul in mid-March 2015)
  • Cover news about a burning building
  • Chase a tornado in Oklahoma
  • Show behind-the-scenes footage on a TV set (Brian Stelter did this on CNN)
  • Take questions from the audience or do a TV-style interview with a source.

You can see that people are using it to show something in progress, to give behind-the-scenes look at process, cover breaking news, or to capture things that are awe-inspiring. It’s an interesting trend, and one that is rife with all sorts of ethical questions and new kinds of problems along with some of the good you can do.

For this assignment, we’re going to do is play with the concept of streaming video and think through these issues. You will be doing two things in class today with Periscope.

Remember your job is to give the video context in the pitch that goes to Twitter. Tell people what they’re watching. (“Check out my video on Meerkat” is NOT acceptable, in other words). Social media optimized pitches matter here! And pay attention to comments and questions people have, and answer them as you go!

Task 1: Do a Q&A: We will do this as a class with Facebook Live. We’ll gather around the camera and take questions from my Facebook friends about life at Lehigh.

Task 2: Experiment with TV reporter forms: One thing that’s interesting about livestreaming is it turns you into a broadcaster, which is a distinctly different form of journalism than what you’re used to doing. There are two directions you can choose from here.

  • Think of a question about an issue or topic that is big at Lehigh right now, or in the news, and be a reporter. Interview people on the street and ask them what they think. You’re giving viewers a window on how you gather your information.
  • If you can find some activity or event happening as you walk around, document that in real time. Make sure to give people good visual line of sight and sound. Narrate if you have to. It need not be terribly newsy. The unique thing here is you make others eyewitnesses to something that you’re seeing.

Some things to keep in mind:

  • Be professional! People are watching you in action. Speak like you would on TV. Narrate. Don’t giggle. Use appropriate language.
  • Monitor the count of people watching. Keep mental notes. I’m interested in the peak watchers.
  • Monitor your comments. If people are asking questions as you broadcast, answer them as you broadcast! Make it interactive. (warning: creepers are searching Meerkat, so you might get an occasional comment that is inappropriate to say the least).
  • Steady hands. Video quality matters. Also be mindful of the vertical video problem that comes with these apps. We love horizontal video in this class, but that’s a bad experience for web users in this case because your horizontal video is vertical on a web page with Meerkat. Periscope won’t even let you shot horizontally!

When you’re done: Come back and write 400 words for the class blog. What did you do, and how did it go? Did you get any interaction, and if so what was that like? What kinds of reporting assignments could you see yourself using something like Meerkat for? Is it about breaking news? Regular stories? Is it better suited for dramatic events or can it work for mundane things? What can we say about a society where anyone is capable of doing livestream video and distributing it at scale?


Creative Commons License
Class Exercise: Livestreaming Video Assignment by Jeremy Littau is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at http://jeremylittau.com/?page_id=590.

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