There’s no getting around it: Journalists everywhere must become more comfortable in front of the camera.
The rise of livestreaming apps like Meerkat and Periscope last year empowered journalists to instantly reach their followers directly. And when Facebook made its livestreaming feature widely available earlier this year, the trend toward on-the-spot video only accelerated.
But many news organizations, even those that produce daily newscasts, aren’t accustomed to livestreaming video on a regular basis. And many print newspapers don’t have a culture that’s conducive to producing video.
So what’s a newsroom manager to do? I asked Al Tompkins, Poynter’s senior faculty member for broadcast and online journalism, for some best-practices for using livestreaming tools. Here’s what he had to say:
- Ask yourself: Why are you livestreaming?
When you livestream, there has to be a reason why people should watch. What are you showing me that I would want to witness live rather than seeing in a delayed but less time-consuming way?
- Add value.
If this is a behind-the-scenes look at something, are you really giving me a unique view that surprises or benefits me?
Invite questions and comments. The best streams demonstrate they’re not all about the news organization but about how they’re serving the audience. Remind audiences every 10 minutes that their questions are welcome. When you are answering questions or reacting to posts, call the person by name so they know you are watching the feed comments. Ask people where they are; this can help build communities.
- Honor the user’s time
Once the special nature of the live event is over, end the feed.
- Tell people why you’re live.
When you begin the feed, explain why you’re livestreaming and what you expect to provide for the audience. As people join the feed, recap and re-promise. As a general rule of thumb, restart and recap every 10 minutes or so. If the feed audiences changes significantly because a big website or Twitter user pumped in a new audience, acknowledge that.
- Stick to the facts.
Keep asking yourself: What do we know, how do we know it and what do we need to know? Live reporting is a skill that requires you to stay focused — not speculate, pontificate or editorialize.
- Put a little effort into the aesthetics.
Dress like a pro, comb your hair and pay attention to lighting and backgrounds. Use a headset or external microphone. Your audience wants to see you at your best. You’re asking people for their time, so don’t make this a half-hearted effort.
- Poynter asked NPR, BuzzFeed, The Verge and a local TV station how they’re using the app.
- Target niche audiences.
Live can be especially useful when the stream serves niche audiences that legacy formats cannot because they cater to a broader audience. Live weather coverage on TV has to serve a broad regional audience. But on Facebook, you can serve your audience content focused on special interests, such as fishing and golf, and by region. Coastal areas often have different concerns from inland areas served by the same news outlet. A live Facebook feed can allow you to speak to individual audiences.
- Showcase your expertise.
Columnists, anchors and beat reporters only have so much space and time to share their expertise and insight in print or on the air, but a live feed allows you to teach. Edward R. Murrow learned this with “See It Now.” It allowed him to break out of the confines of a newscast where he was scripted and spread his wings in live interviews where he was spectacular because of his deep knowledge of world affairs. The more you know about a subject, the more attractive a live Facebook feed can be.
- Be cautious.
Are you willing to stream the worst possible thing that could happen while you’re live? This is especially true in breaking news where you cannot anticipate what will unfold. If you are not willing to show the worst possible outcome, do not go live. Livestreaming is especially dangerous in breaking news such as hostage situations. Assume the “bad guy” is watching. Don’t show anything that will endanger law enforcement or make the situation worse.