With the popularity of new live-streaming mobile video applications emerging over just the past few months, I began leading small presentations at journalism conferences and newsrooms here in Philadelphia.
But last week, one of the largest and most esteemed gatherings of our profession came to town for the Investigate Reporters and Editors (IRE) 2015 national conference.
While IRE had no plans to address streaming journalism, they did offer the opportunity during the conference to apply for time to present pop-up panels on emerging topics.
And my effort to lead “Periscope for Journalism” won a place in the program, based on votes from journalists in attendance.
My pitch for the panel began:
The sudden popularity of live-streaming mobile video applications has been creating new possibilities for journalists. But once again, the emerging platforms present a new set of ethical and legal complications.
I promised a quick presentation and demonstration before moving to a “lively conversation about the challenges and responsibilities of real-time mobile broadcasts.”
And I had the great fortune of finding two remarkable colleagues to join me:
Josh Cornfield is the New Jersey News Editor for The Associated Press. He works with a team devoted to finding and telling both breaking news stories and high-level enterprise.
Susan Phillips covers energy and the environment for the multi-media public radio project StateImpact Pennsylvania. She holds duPont and Murrow awards and spent a year at MIT as a Knight Science Journalism Fellow.
Next, I went on a bit of a social media campaign for votes and then attendees, promising more than just fun and games.
A couple of notable examples included reporting from the recent Amtrak derailment in Philadelphia by local photojournalist Joe Kaczmarek, and streams from the Baltimore riots by Paul Lewis, the Washington correspondent for The Guardian.
Josh Cornfield said that he followed Kaczmarek’s live report and called it the “first real reporting anywhere that there were fatalities.”
Cornfield said that — as with all social media reporting — he took that information “as a tip, not as something we’re going to put on the wire,” but that it also prompted him to send an immediate “heads-up” to the AP’s Philadelphia newsroom.
Cornfield said that whenever news is happening there’s a “pretty good chance” you will found something you can use on Periscope. For instance, Cornfield said that he found reporter from a newspaper in York, Pa., streaming live from a press conference after a recent double shooting.
Susan Phillips had not yet produced her own broadcasts but said that as the subject of streaming she found the medium “much more visceral” than tweeting and could imagine additional advantages, such as streaming directly to social media audiences while simultaneously conducting a stand-up report for an anchor back in the newsroom.
Live streaming apps also “brought up a lot of legal questions” for Phillips, who discussed the reasonable expectation of privacy as well as copyright concerns, for example when streaming from concerts.
Meanwhile, Associated Press Philadelphia reporter Mike Sisak streamed our panel on Periscope and then stepped up to the microphone to read questions from his live viewers.
Cornfield took another question on the need to make corrections when a subject on Periscope misinforms your audience, explaining that the correct response would be “a matter of scale” but that you should “let the same audience” know what happened.
More audience members added tips for using Periscope to send your newsroom quick notes from the field, brought up more copyright questions and raised the concern that live-streaming apps could have a chilling effect on public officials — who may become reluctant to share background information at news scenes.
I am predicting only that this won’t be the last journalism conference where these questions emerge.
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:
Above: I covered the Ride of Silence with Periscope earlier this week in Philadelphia.
Above: I dropped in on live performances by The Who in Philadelphia, The Pixies in Cleveland and Hanson in Oklahoma, all within a few minutes Sunday night — thanks to Periscope users.
Not so long ago, you might have been escorted from the arena, or at least had your wrist slapped, had you raised a camera during a concert. But the popularity of smartphones changed everything.
And thanks now to the popularity of live-streaming mobile video applications, many of those smartphone users are streaming those concerts live.
A recent article from myfoxny.com asks “Is mobile streaming theft?” But one expert they cited concedes that trying to shut it down is “like playing Whack-a-Mole.”
And Periscope founder Kayvon Beykpour told local10.com that attention to the pirated streams was overblown, adding that: “Generally, there’s way more media attention than there is a problem”
Singer-songwriter Neil Diamond even welcomed everyone watching on Periscope during a recent show, according to utsandiego.com.
And as I reported in an earlier post, Katy Perry says that when she sees phones: “that is the new applause.”
Want to learn more? The Wall Street Journal just published “Snapchat and Periscope: A Grown-Up’s Guide,” and Fortune has post on “How early adopters are using Meerkat and Periscope.”
How are you using them?
Above: One Periscope user streamed from a shelter, many were streaming while watching TV reports and one faker was rebroadcasting disaster movie footage as tornados swept across Oklahoma Wednesday afternoon.
It’s a new facet on an old question. Some have always wondered how audience response might shape the behavior of those reporting the news.
But now anyone delivering live news video can see the exact number of viewers, read their comments and see other feedback in real time.
So, isn’t it a solid presumption to make that some tornados chasers might get a little closer to the storm — or stay out a little longer before taking cover — when they know there are more viewers online?
And how much risk would they take if there were no viewers?
These questions came to mind as I watched live streaming Pericope reports from a series of tornadoes reported Wednesday afternoon in Oklahoma. At least a dozen homes were destroyed and a dozen people were injured, according to reports from the New York Times and Reuters.
I watched about a dozen storm chasers Wednesday and I captured frame grabs of their reports, but I didn’t learn anything. So, I haven’t included them here.
Taking personal risks also creates the possibility of draining emergency response resources during a crisis. And the expense of rescue and medical care can also become a burden on the public.
The traditional counter-arguments still apply. Americans enjoy freedom of the press and some reporters are defending the public’s right to know what’s happening. Perhaps learning more about tornados could help us learn how to better protect people.
So, I am not suggesting what anybody should do, except that viewers should consider the impact of their participation.
Many of the commenters I saw in the live streams clearly had the best intentions, telling those out in the elements: “Hey be careful!” “Hide!” or “You should take cover.”
Watching people putting themselves at risk left me feeling dirty and I tried to trick one user into a shelter by commenting that it would be more interesting to see the inside, but he didn’t take the bait.
Other commenters reacted more reflexively, with “OMG!,” “Wow!,” “SCREWED” or “That’s crazy!”
And some resorted to gallows humor, asking “Who are the next of kin we should contact?” or promising “$20 if you run around naked in the tornado.”
I have to agree strongly with media write Staci D. Kramer, who tweeted:
— Staci D Kramer (@sdkstl) May 6, 2015
But I think I may have watching the same stream that prompted journalism student Nate Geary to tweet that he was “pretty sure I just witnessed two kids get sucked into a tornado live on periscope.”
I know I saw the signal drop from a car in which two young men seemed much too close to some severe weather.
And I am almost certain that I was watching the same video that led Breaking News founder Cory Bergman to tweet:
Saw the first faked Periscope live stream. Guy shooting TV set of tornado. pic.twitter.com/RBdQKc3Bzx
— Cory Bergman (@corybe) May 7, 2015
I thought at first that the video might be legitimate, and seeing someone so close to a twister made me feel physically ill. But then I discovered a ridiculous user name on the related Twitter account, with very few followers and nothing but a few spam tweets previously in the stream.
So, I continued searching:
I found many users streaming related news and weather reports from TVs in their living rooms. And I found behind-the-scenes studio streams from TV stations, with reporters standing in front of green screens.
I found one stream reportedly coming from inside a shelter at Oklahoma University. It looked legit but I didn’t stop to verify.
More than a few other streams came from what I might call “outposts;” with people pointing their phones out of windows of their homes, offices or hotel rooms.
And it was a tornado aftermath report that prompted me to create this site a few weeks ago.
Finally, I also noticed that a couple of storm chasing streams were featured at the top of the “Global” directory within the Periscope app — but I don’t know if that list is human-curated or driven by viewer counts.
In either case, people were putting those streams in the spotlight — including this viewer, but I don’t think I would do it again.
What do you think?