Experience the aftermath of tornados through reporters using 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: @montano33, @robmarciano and @KOCOFast10v were among reporters streaming from the tornado scenes.

Tornados struck several states Sunday evening. On Monday, reporters were streaming live as officials led them in to see the damage that was done.

I didn’t look for any storm chasers Sunday night on Periscope — due to the discomfort I discussed last week — but I aggressively followed aftermath reports throughout Monday, although new warnings were already being reported.

Television reporter Andrea Martinez was following reports of lost puppies in East Texas before the sun came up. In Oklahoma, photographer Brian Dickson showed us a tornado shelter that was partially torn from the earth.

Reporter Jill Callison filed several reports from South Dakota, including an interview with a public safety official. And ABC News Senior Meteorologist Rob Marciano took us on a helicopter tour of the destruction in Texas.

Also in Texas, NBC cameraman Dwaine Scott showed us the ruins of a school that was destroyed, photographer Rudy Montano showed us a truck crushed by a tree and Dallas news anchor Doug Dunbar fielded some questions while touring the devastation.

Here’s a brief video compilation from their Periscope reports:


Tornados kill. Are streaming video viewers responsible for risks taken by live storm chasers?

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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: 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:

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:

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?


How I got the bug for live streaming news

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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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Latest posts by Jim MacMillan (see all)

If you have ever been any sort of live news addict, you have to check out what’s been happening lately on Periscope and other live streaming video platforms.

I got the bug last week. While on a bus from Philadelphia to New York, I started surfing and found Chicago TV reporter Stacey Bacca covering the aftermath of the tornados in Rochelle, Illinois.

I felt like I was there.

(I grabbed the screenshots above by simultaneously clicking the home button and power button on my iPhone. They land in your “Camera Roll” folder.)

So far, I haven’t figured out a simple system to save and share links, but I’m working on it.

During the same trip, I watched a Mashable reporter trace the last steps of Walter Scott, the South Carolina man killed in a recent police shooting.

In fact, I surfed through so many news reports that I can’t remember them all. And Unfortunately, there’s no system to easily track your history.

Then, yesterday, the experience got even crazier. Reporter Brad Phenow was reporting on a house fire for his newspaper in Fairbault, Minnesota.

I was asking questions and he was answering — which is how it all works — but then I asked him to pinch his screen and zoom in on the scene.

And it happened! Wow.

You can watch the report here, but only on your phone. The link leaves you at a dead end on the desktop, simply telling you where to get the app.

In another post soon, I will address more problems with bookmarking, saving and sharing videos via Periscope and other apps.

And I am working on some partial solutions which I will also share soon.

Future reports will address additional complications, including authority, ethics, rights and more.

I’m also wondering if I should just deliver these reports on live video, if only to save the time I spend typing and proofing.

What do you think so far?