When news breaks: Choppers are no match for Periscope

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Jim MacMillan

Independent Journalist at jimmacmillan.com
I am a solutions-oriented independent multimedia journalist, based in Philadelphia.
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Above: @JaleelKing was streaming live on Periscope from the high-rise fire Wednesday in Philadelphia.

I had my windows open to the beautiful breezes in Center City Philadelphia Wednesday night when I heard what struck me as an unusually long run from a fire truck siren, as if it was traveling further than usual.

Being an old newsy, I fired up the 5-0 Radio Pro radio scanner app on my iPhone, discovered that the Philadelphia Fire Department was responding to a major incident and tweeted what I heard:

(I later read that “a rooftop fire sent smoke billowing throughout the building” which housed apartments at 640 North Broad Street, according to phillymag.com.)

Some journalists quarrel with the idea of tweeting scanner reports but — after decades in news photography — I’ve got the knowledge and experience to figure some things out here in Philadelphia. (I also like the “Batavian’s basic rules for scanner reporting” as a place to start.)

Next, I was about to check Twitter for witnesses on the scene when my phone whistled an alert from the Periscope app, indicating that local photographer Jaleel King had gone live with a stream labeled: “Fire at 640 N Broad St.” (That’s where I grabbed the image at the top of this post.)

And there I was at my kitchen table, watching a live report on my phone, perhaps one minute after wondering about the siren outside my window.

Opening my laptop to search for more information with Tweetdeck, I found another scanner reporter and witnesses on the scene, including one resident who posted a little video and this photo:

Exciting night here. Seems like half of the Philly Fire Department is here.

A photo posted by Jake Steinerman (@jasteinerman) on

About 10 minutes after I tweeted and shared King’s Periscope stream, I saw the first social media report from a local newsroom, when @6ABC posted a tweet with this aerial view:

Action News had a full report with dramatic video and interviews with evacuees by the time they went live for the 11 p.m. news show.

But when news breaks, I am now finding live reports from people the scene appearing much faster than traditional newsrooms can match — and I have to wonder if sending a helicopter makes much sense anymore.

Wouldn’t it be a better public service for journalists to find, authenticate, contextualize and re-share what’s being reported before they can possibly arrive? Or else why should we look to them first?

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Choose your view: Periscope users covered all the angles at the Whisky Row fire in Louisville

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Jim MacMillan

Independent Journalist at jimmacmillan.com
I am a solutions-oriented independent multimedia journalist, based in Philadelphia.
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From left above, these images were captured by: Dan Colucci, Kayla Moody and Toni Konz, just a few of the Periscope users covering the #WhiskeyRowFire.

When fire broke out on Louisville’s historic Whiskey Row Monday afternoon, Periscope users were not far behind.

The three-alarm fire burned three buildings over nearly three hours before it was declared under control, but no injuries were reported, according to multiple new sources.

The map inside the app often indicated just one live stream at times, while multiple streams were playing.
The map inside the app often indicated just one live stream at times, while multiple streams were playing.

At least 11 Periscope users streamed at least 26 live video reports, although there are no means to track streams which are not also tweeted when users also have location services turned off.

An explosion and fire in New York City’s East Village produced a similar outbreak of coverage on the day the Periscope app was first released in March, but such close clusters have been rare when news breaks so far from our media epicenters.

Related streams have more often emerged when news breaks out across the country, such as we saw during the #FreddyGray protests or as can happen when series of tornados breaks out.

Matt Coddigton streamed this high view of the fire horizontally.
Matt Coddigton streamed this high view of the Louisville fire horizontally.

Periscope videos are deleted automatically after 24 hours online; so, the streams linked to these tweets will evaporate Tuesday evening. The latest links are the top of the list:

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Updates enhance the Periscope experience

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Jim MacMillan

Independent Journalist at jimmacmillan.com
I am a solutions-oriented independent multimedia journalist, based in Philadelphia.
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Above: @STLFireDept Periscoped firefighters at work in St. Louis today.

It has been almost a week since Periscope enabled web replay viewing, and that improvement came shortly after their mobile app update, but the real advantages emerge when applying both together.

The absence of web replays had been a common complaint among Periscope viewers, according to reports from PC Mag and The Verge.

But you will really feel the difference while broadcasting, knowing now that there are more ways for viewers to consume and share your reports, as I discovered while experimenting over the weekend.

Now, it makes more sense to ask your viewers to retweet your link because everyone can come back and watch for up to 24 hours.

The web replay view also makes it possible for viewers to watch once before deciding if they want to capture a copy, as I often do with Quicktime or apps such as Snapz.

And now that the Periscope app makes it possible for viewers to grab and share a link to the stream, they can very easily repost to Facebook or their blogs, or share via SMS or email. (So, you might want to suggest those possibilities while broadcasting.)

To get the related URL while viewing a live or recorded video inside the Periscope app, users now need only to swipe right, click “Share” and touch “Copy to Clipboard.” Then, they can paste it anywhere.

If the video is live, users will still find the previous options to share the stream directly with their followers inside the app.

A post at Softpedia’s Webscripts Homepage agrees with The Verge that removing the 24-hour limit and enabling embeds are the next critical steps for Periscope, making it possible for users to share live and recorded videos “just like you can with tweets, Facebook posts and Instagram photos.”

There are some workarounds presently possible with applications capable of capturing live video from your laptop screen and and rebroadcasting with embed codes, but the processes are brutally cumbersome and produce horizontal windows with shadowboxing around vertical videos.

For now at least, Twitter Just Made Periscope Better, according to WebProNews, adding: “Though much of our internet use is increasingly taking place on mobile, there is still a great deal of importance left when it comes to the desktop, so this is a significant move for Twitter’s new service.”

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Streaming video headline check

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Jim MacMillan

Independent Journalist at jimmacmillan.com
I am a solutions-oriented independent multimedia journalist, based in Philadelphia.
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Above: Olympic skater @MichelleWKwan was hosting @HillaryClinton‘s Periscope stream last weekend in New York.

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Periscope update adds functionality; illuminates shortcoming

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Jim MacMillan

Independent Journalist at jimmacmillan.com
I am a solutions-oriented independent multimedia journalist, based in Philadelphia.
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Above: The new global map of live streams inside the Periscope app shows more activity in Italy and Turkey than in the US.

The recent update of the Pericope app includes a map view which “lets users browse streams from specific locations around the world, selecting live broadcasts from different areas by zooming in on countries, cities, and towns,” according to the verge.com, explaining that: “Streamers will see their broadcasts appear automatically on the map view if they enable location data sharing in the app.”

But “beware streaming from home,” warns CNET, reporting that the app pinpoints your exact location.

The update “also makes replays available instantly, instead of requiring you to upload them after broadcasting, and will allow you to share the link to broadcast replays to Twitter, according to thenextweb.com, remembering that previously “it was incredibly difficult to find a stream you’d missed if you didn’t have the initial broadcast tweet.”

Other elements of the update “include an option for sharing a link to someone else’s broadcast, and localization in more languages, now up to a total of 29, reports appleinsider. That list includes English, Polish, Spanish, Swedish, French, Dutch, Italian, and Portuguese, according to pcmag.com.

This update is only available for iOS users, but should be available to Android users later this year, techcrunch reported.

Perhaps more importantly, Slate suggests that “the update offers a critical insight into Periscope’s bigger problem: There just aren’t that many people using it.”

Seen at the top of this post, a random sampling of screen grabs I saved late this morning (EDT) showed very little activity along the heavily populated northeast corridor of the US, but more action in places like Italy and Turkey, which is consistent with regional search interest recently indicated by Google Trends, illustrated below.

turkey

Twitter search results show dozens of links attached to streams which came from Apple’s Worldwide Developers’ Conference in San Francisco Monday morning, while only a handful were ever visible on the map.

Alternatively, it is also possible broadcast without tweeting; so, we can’t really be sure of stream count through any means. But we also have no reason to expect that behavior would very across the map.

Upcoming posts will focus on recent upgrades to the Meerkat and Stre.am apps, and will also catch up with another alternative.

What have you been streaming?

Note: Your editor has been posting less while leading recent streaming video workshops for journalists in Philadelphia; last week with the reporting staff at WHYY and then during the Investigative Reporters and Editors Conference, which brought 1,800 journalists to the city over the weekend. Check in for more activity over the coming days and weeks.

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Streaming journalism review

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Jim MacMillan

Independent Journalist at jimmacmillan.com
I am a solutions-oriented independent multimedia journalist, based in Philadelphia.
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Above: Bastiaan Slabbers, Kevin McCorry and Shai Ben-Yaacov of WHYY launch Periscope streams.

Here’s an update from my first six weeks of blogging about live-streaming mobile news video applications for journalists, which I gathered to make a presentation Tuesday at WHYY in Philadelphia. Check the smaller badges below for links to posts with more information:

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Simple test shows Twitter activity related to live mobile video apps

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Jim MacMillan

Independent Journalist at jimmacmillan.com
I am a solutions-oriented independent multimedia journalist, based in Philadelphia.
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Above: I set up several search columns for the test video below.

Does anybody else remember when Twitter was so new that it felt as if you could read almost every tweet?

Well, now you can sometimes catch just about every tweet related to Periscope, which appears to be the most active live streaming mobile video platform on Twitter, based on my casual observations and a little crude testing.

But volume isn’t everything, as many Periscope-related tweets are posted in other languages and thus not equally valuable to English speakers. While I have no simple method to quantify them, it appears as if a lot of the messages are appearing in Arabic and Turkish, perhaps followed by Italian, French and Spanish.

Back to my test: At around 9 a.m. EDT Friday, I created Tweetdeck search columns for “periscope live,” “meerkat live” and “stre.am live,” and captured the activity. The time-lapse video below shows 10 minutes of tweets compressed into 30 seconds.

This crude experiment is consistent with my past observations over time as well, but it may be most important to note that even the busiest stream is not so busy.

Of course, users can also broadcast without tweeting — at lease on Periscope — but I haven’t discovered a method to search or coherently monitor those streams.

You can set up the Periscope app to send push alerts to your phone when a stream appears from someone you follow, but that practice has had limited value for me because I have found that even the most active newsies still stream other activity.

I should note that some tweets with the necessary keywords but no accompanying video link can also creep into these searches, but the volume appears to be quantitatively insignificant.

Finally, here is one place to start searching, albeit crude: This search widget, checks for all tweets including “periscope,” “meerkat” and “stream.am,” but in safe mode, excluding sensitive content and profanity:


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