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Live Streaming Services: A New Frontier for Journalism and Reporting

The rise of live streaming services

Today, there are many live streaming services available, with the most notable services such as Twitch.tv, Justin.tv, Ustream, Livestream, and YouTube, all of which have shown incredible growth in recent years.

The release of smartphones on mobile 3G/4G internet also played a large role in the improvement and accessibility of live streaming, not only in the ability to stream from anywhere with a mobile internet connection but also due to the phone’s built-in features such as video recording/editing software and more recently the ability to stream live video straight from the phone without the need for an external computer.

The very first live streaming services were very difficult to use due to the slow internet speeds at the time. Uploading high-definition video was not possible, and as a result, live streaming was often of poor quality and disconnecting was a common issue. However, as internet speeds increased and the growth of Web 2.0, live streaming developed into a much more practical and reliable method of communication.

The act of live streaming has been around for many years, but it was not until the sudden growth in technology around 2005 that live streaming really began to get noticed. At this time, people had the ability to post their own videos and live streams on the internet and be seen by the general public due to the vast amount of social networking sites and other websites opening up to those who wished to share their experiences through video. This is when live streaming and citizen journalism first became a true form of journalism.

Impact on journalism and reporting

There is potential for live streaming to become a way for news organisations to engage directly with their audience and deliver news in an interactive and more personal manner. News organisations can use live video to take their audience behind the scenes or show a side of news events not possible with traditional news broadcasts. This could increase the viewing and sharing of news video content. Live-streamed interviews and news events can be instantly archived as video-on-demand, giving users video content that is available whenever they wish to view it. This could challenge the dominance of television as the primary source of video news. Becoming familiar with live streaming technology now could help prepare journalism students for a media landscape where this technology is standard for news coverage.

With journalists and news organisations now given the ability to live stream video content to their online and mobile audiences, there will be an impact on journalism and reporting. In many ways, this could represent a new frontier for journalism and visual news flow. Mobile devices are increasingly used as a way to receive news content. In a 2011 study, the Pew Research Center discovered that 47% of people got some kind of local news on their mobile device. A 2016 study reported that 72% of people in the US got news on their mobile device. With news organisations already streaming live video content of news events – for example, the terror attacks in Brussels in March 2016 and the US election – users of mobile news might expect live video coverage to become the norm for big news events. If this occurs, mobile news users may wonder why the news event being covered was not important enough to be livestreamed, when other events in the past were.

Advantages of live streaming in journalism

Real-time reporting and immediate access. The ability to feed live footage instantly to newsrooms is rated as the most important aspect of live streaming by 57% of camera personnel. This can solve the problem of sending recorded news packages from distant locations, which can take too long and be too expensive. For example, in 1998, a cameraperson in Africa told me that it would take 3 days for news packages to be sent to his newsroom in the UK. Satellite phones and portable satellite units can also be used in remote locations. Streambox.com has developed a portable live encoding device, which is capable of sending live and recorded footage over varied IP networks from around the world. LiveU offers a similar product which bonds multiple 3G and 4G modems to obtain a single faster and more robust internet connection, with the aim of transmitting higher quality live and recorded videos from any location. The decisive factor can be the ability to stream live footage at press conferences, such as those that followed the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre, the 2011 Japan earthquake, and the more recent Boston bombings. It enables news corporations to air raw unedited footage, which can often be more revealing than select edited highlights. For example, after an unexpected shootout in the lawless U.S.-controlled green zone in the city of Najaf, Iraq; a US marine and freelance cameraman recorded the immediate aftermath including the events of two wounded US soldiers. However, after being held up at gunpoint, his original videotape was seized by the U.S marines and no one outside of Iraq has seen the footage. This kind of scenario would be easily avoidable with live streaming over the internet. Posting live footage on a content delivery network (CDN) can enable better accessibility of material for later news production. Video on CDNs typically has a long lifetime, making it readily accessible and a preferable alternative to videotape archives. Schools and colleges are also using live streaming as an affordable way to submit news stories to local media outlets.

Real-time reporting and immediate access

Overall, live streaming provides the most immediate news access for the public, and it gives journalists many reporting tools for today’s digital media.

Full motion video is not the only media that can be streamed over the internet. Audio-only streams are also a tool for news reporters to provide content to news sites. This form of real-time audio reporting has often been heard by radio news reporters; however, the ability to stream audio content over the internet can now give radio journalists an opportunity to provide news in places beyond traditional radio mediums. Audio streams can give the public immediate news access from various locations. With the use of a mini-disc recorder and a laptop, a journalist can easily record audio content from a news event and upload it to a news site.

By using a laptop computer and a cellular aircard, a journalist can use a small digital camcorder to record video of a news event and then use live streaming technology to provide that video to a news site that can then be accessed by the public. This method of news coverage bypasses traditional delivery methods such as videotape, which would be edited slowly and then delivered to a TV news station. Live streaming gives journalists the most immediate access to their news content.

During the September 11 attacks, many news sites on the internet displayed webcam video of their news anchors and live streamed their coverage of the event over the internet. Although not all events that journalists cover are catastrophic in nature, live streaming does give journalists the ability to provide visual access to news as it happens. In terms of audio, video, and still images, journalists can use a variety of media to give the public access to news events.

Technological advances have altered the way journalism operates. With the advent of internet technology, journalists have started to adopt real-time and immediate reporting methods for their news. Live streaming is the most recent technological tool that provides journalists with an avenue for real-time reporting. The ability to give immediate news to the public is a primary function of live streaming technology, and it is done through the use of the internet. This instant, on-the-fly reporting method provides journalists with a new set of reporting tools.

Enhanced audience engagement

Live streaming enhances audience engagement more effectively than other platforms. Viewers are able to actively participate in live chat with the host and other viewers during the event. Live chats make viewers feel more connected to the event, as their comments may influence the host’s presentation. In a study performed at Ohio State University, it was found that viewers of a live stream were more engaged with the content compared to viewers of a recorded podcast on the same subject. The live stream viewers also scored higher on a memory test of the content, even though both media forms were audio/visual and the podcast had the same speaker discussing the same subject. Viewers of the live stream had an average of 7.34 questions and comments each compared to only 4.05 comments for the podcast viewers in a 15-minute span. This shows that the live stream audience was more engaged since they asked more questions regarding the content. A content analysis of the questions and comments revealed that the podcast viewers asked more questions about the speaker himself, while the live stream viewers asked more questions about the content. Another way live streaming creates a more engaging experience for viewers is through the use of interactive overlays. Overlays are graphics that can be added over the live video feed. They can range from simple text headlines to things like polls and surveys where the viewers can interact and have their opinions counted in real time. In a case study examining the use of interactive overlays in a live stream, live stream viewers engaged in 500% more interaction compared to the same video without overlays. This can influence the content as well, as guided by the audience feedback, the presenter changed his opinions several times resulting in a better rating of the video and more repeat viewers for his future content.

Cost-effective and convenient broadcasting

Aside from the traditional methods of getting live video broadcasts sent back to the studio or station for transmission, live-streaming video has the availability of being saved to a video file on the internet. Clips from live-streaming video can be made and used at a later date for video news reports. This is very efficient compared to sending out camera crews or satellite transmissions to newly edited video records. Recorded video files can be played and paused for further analysis of fast and slow-motion video. It is possible to select specific areas of a video and make it into a new file using video editing software. These areas can be zoomed in and have audio commentary added. Also, an interview can be inserted into the video as a split file with audio commentary, offering an alternate spoken explanation. Recorded video files can be used for future reference, training, PR, advertising, and more. This can all be accomplished at a low cost with no longer the requirement to send out camera and audio crew, saving costs and no need to risk employee safety in hostile environments.

Other advantages of live-streaming video relate to the cost and availability of satellite or microwave signal transmission. Simon Frost, New product development manager at TVNZ, told Adam Gifford that “The quality of transmitted live pictures using a camera crew has not changed in 25 years essentially. It’s still very cost prohibitive for all but the big events. Satellite still costs about $1000/hour, microwave are cheaper and there are some digital microwave services out there, but it’s still very cost prohibitive”. Frost goes on to say that mobile phone coverage has an ever-increasing footprint. As discussed in the section above, this is very true and increasingly rates for 3G network transmissions can outdo satellite transmissions. Frost makes a good point that there are already TVNZ SNG units in a backpack. As mentioned in 2010, he is no doubt referring to the Dejero Live+ 20/20 transmitter units that TVNZ has, which use mobile phone network coverage to send signals. This is very cost-effective in comparison to satellite.

Challenges and considerations in live streaming journalism

The type of technology used in live streaming can also affect the reliability of the broadcast to a wide audience. Many citizen journalists rely on apps such as Qik on their smartphones to live stream events. While these applications are inexpensive and easy to use, they may not always have the best results in terms of video and audio quality. During the Iranian election protests of 2009, many citizen journalists faced difficulty using these types of apps to report what was happening around them due to slow internet or mobile network speeds and crowded network infrastructure from so many people trying to report the same events. Commercial live streaming services may offer the reliability and customer support needed to troubleshoot problems in such instances, though they may be too costly for low-budget journalism.

While live streaming can be a quick and effective tool for live reporting, this method also has its challenges. In a study of live streaming of a charity event and citizen journalism from the location of a disaster, the author found that technical issues present a major challenge to live streaming journalism. While many live streaming platforms are available for free or at a low cost, the technical requirements can be very expensive. They involve having a reliable, high bandwidth internet connection at the location being live streamed from, a smartphone and mic or other camera with a built-in or attached encoding device, and often a portable device such as a laptop and software to serve as a ‘mission control’.

Ensuring accuracy and credibility

Accurate news and journalism is the lifeblood of the industry, yet often difficult to maintain. The issue of accuracy is exacerbated in live reporting where there is less time to consider information and increased pressure from competition. This issue is not exclusive to live streaming journalism, but the speed at which information can be spread and the lack of regulation in the industry means that without careful forethought, the credibility of an entire article or news outlet can be called into question. If live streaming journalism is to become a staple in the industry, it is essential that the practice of accuracy is maintained and regularity is enforced. One measure suggested by Matheson and Pfeffer in their article ‘Method and Madness in the Application of Accuracy and Regularity’ is a public evaluation system put in place by media regulators. This would help to create a culture of accountability in the industry and also allow an easy way for audiences to discern the reliability of a news outlet. An initiative like this, alongside the teaching of responsible journalism to young reporters, can help create and maintain a culture of regularity and accuracy in live streaming journalism.

Ethical implications and privacy concerns

Journalists using live streaming services by social media sites also run the risk of deprioritizing public interest when covering certain kinds of news events in the hopes of gaining more views and reactions. This can be attributed to the ranking and visibility algorithms that are in place on these platforms. An illustrative example of this is a study from the United States of America where researchers found that local TV news broadcasts were often over-promoting sports and entertainment news as these were known to generate higher ratings, despite the fact that viewers said they wanted more coverage of local and international events. This is important for news broadcasters to consider when these platforms are becoming an increasingly large player in the fight for online video ad revenues. KPBS director of news law and policy, Kent Davy, remarks on an incident in 2016 where two broadcast journalists were criminally charged in Phoenix, Arizona for recording an interview with a source in a courthouse that was deemed to be a violation of an arcane state law banning the practice.

Unlike written news or pre-recorded broadcast news, live streaming news is an unedited and unscripted snapshot of a journalist’s current surroundings that can be viewed and heard by anyone, potentially causing misunderstandings, public embarrassment, and legal action. Live streamers do not have the luxury of being able to review and redact their works before they reach air, and there are greater risks of capturing content that is damaging or hurtful to other parties. KPBS director of news law and policy, Kent Davy, remarks on an incident in 2016 where two broadcast journalists were criminally charged in Phoenix, Arizona for recording an interview with a source in a courthouse that was deemed to be a violation of an arcane state law banning the practice.

We have seen from previous research that journalism and reporting have quickly embraced the social media culture in order to share and investigate news stories in an immediate and detailed manner. This pattern continues apace with the rise of live streaming services for smartphones, allowing journalists and reporters to directly share live news content as it happens, wherever they are. This approach is seen as a boost to mobile journalism and an opportunity to engage an audience with authentic and affecting news coverage. But while there are clear advantages to this technology in terms of newsgathering possibilities, there are also ethical and legal considerations that must be made.

Technical issues and infrastructure requirements

In order to stream live video from the field to the newsroom and then to the public, reporters and journalists are required to have a more sophisticated understanding of various technologies than in the past. It is clear from the poor quality of footage that is streamed from live events such as press conferences today that the situation has not improved dramatically since this statement. To use live streaming successfully, reporters require the use of a portable device that captures both video and audio footage. This signals the need for smaller and more portable news gathering technologies. The quality of the streamed footage is often dependent on the camera that is used, while the bandwidth of the internet connection used to broadcast the footage can also significantly impact the end results. Perhaps the weak link in the process of broadcasting footage from the field to the newsroom is the lack of available mobile editing software. It is therefore common for unedited footage to be streamed live to the public.

Future prospects and trends in live streaming journalism

A format of live journalism that can be described as trial and error allows scrutiny and refinement. TV news had over 60 years to develop its language and structure. In just a few years, all of the features – live streaming, interviews, reporter-led chats – have been packaged for products that constantly evolve. Phone notifications, live streaming in social media apps, and always-listening voice assistants give news organizations a way to parachute into stories, rather than hope that readers visit their homepages. Turbo-charged news events such as Brexit and the Trump presidency have generated huge spikes in news consumption. Coming generations will have news pushed at them in all sorts of formats, via all sorts of conduits, by Artificial Intelligence on behalf of nebulous things called brands. As e-commerce and crowdfunding become the lifeblood of digital content, journalists must do more to establish the moral and practical case that good information is worth paying for. This is yet another field in which a delivery mechanism that is still being tested may collide with future expectations. Live news is likely to be captured as much as created, with algorithms sifting a few tildes of understanding from torrents of messy data. The aspiration to tell people something that others do not want them to know has not changed. But the will to do so live may well be the difference between those who merely survive in the crowded media market and those who thrive.

Integration with social media platforms

Other than that, this integration of social media and live streaming could prove to be a very potent tool for citizen journalism. Whenever there is a newsworthy event currently happening, people will want to see live coverage of it. Let’s say someone on Twitter tweets about the event and attaches the link of the live stream to it. People who see the tweet can directly click on the link and it will bring them to the live stream. Similarly, with Facebook integration, a news organization can start a live stream of the event and share it on their Facebook page. This too will attract greater viewership, far better than traditional reporting.

Usage of live streaming in conjunction with other social media platforms will augment the overall user experience. For example, Facebook Live can now be integrated with live streaming on a video game. In doing so, a notification will be sent to all their followers when they start the live stream. This notification will generate greater viewership than if the streamer was not using live streaming. Another example includes Twitch integration with Twitter, where a tweet is automatically composed to all the user’s followers to notify them that the user is currently live on Twitch. This means of advertisement is very powerful and is only possible with the integration of social media and live streaming. With the possibility of such advertisement, Facebook may develop a feature to ‘boost’ the stream, which will reach a wider audience on Facebook.

Virtual reality and immersive experiences

In 2016, The New York Times mailed out Google Cardboard viewers to their print subscribers to help promote their launch of NYT VR. Similarly, The Guardian released a virtual reality app during the same year that took their immersion journalism to the next level. These are just a couple of examples of how news organizations are starting to venture into the world of immersive journalism through the use of virtual and augmented reality experiences. In research on immersive journalism, it was found that news readers who engaged with immersive content reported feeling a higher sense of empathy and were able to recall specific details in comparison to readers of traditional news articles. With such positive feedback, it’s expected that immersive content is something that news organizations will continue to invest in. New cameras that capture 360-degree footage and virtual reality content editing software are becoming increasingly more affordable and easier to use, making it possible for smaller news organizations to also produce their own immersive content. As the technology continues to grow, it’s likely that immersive content will also lead to more reader interaction and possibly even virtual reality press conferences and interviews.

Evolving role of journalists in the digital age

Arguably the most significant change in the role of the journalist as a result of live streaming services is citizen journalism and the ability for private individuals to provide live coverage of newsworthy events. It has not been uncommon for private individuals to capture raw video footage of events and later sell this footage to news and media institutions. With the increased accessibility to “live” functions on various social media platforms and the ability to stream live video from mobile devices, these same individuals can now provide live coverage of news events and deliver it directly to the general public. Additionally, it is now also common for major news and media institutions to use live streaming services to bring news stories to their audience from locations where events are taking place. This immediate on-the-ground coverage of news events can be a very powerful tool for the presentation of news to the public.

In this rapidly changing digital age, the tools and methods of journalism and reporting are constantly evolving. As a result, the role of the journalist is also evolving, as journalists are required to make use of new media and old theories take on new forms. Live streaming services present several changes to journalism and reporting that are both positive and negative. Though the potential for immediate live coverage from any event is a positive advancement, the implications of the shifting control of news production from media institutions to private individuals and the blurring of the line between commentator and consumer are changes that are not all beneficial.

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