Anatomy of a Next-Generation Police Press Conference

The future is now. Police departments now livestreaming their own news conferences.

A decade ago, news coverage of a typical police press conference worked much differently than it does today. Both from a behind-the-scenes perspective and how the critical public safety information reaches the community.

In case you missed it over the weekend, there was a somewhat unusual shooting investigation in Aurora, Colorado following an incident in which three people were shot, allegedly while attempting to rob a group of men moving into a condominium building.

Just hours into the police investigation, as events were still being pieced together and the local community was learning about what had occurred, Aurora Police Department officials decided to hold a news conference. Nothing extraordinary so far.

That is until something very curious popped up on my Twitter timeline.

Aurora Police opted to share the recently-announced news conference via livestreaming mobile app Periscope. Smart idea. And just the latest example of digital media disruption within the news media landscape.

It was a warm Saturday afternoon in May. Many area residents are likely out and about enjoying their day — not within easy reach of a television or computer, and more than likely to be toting their smartphones.

Streaming public safety information from police gives all of those mobile-connected local citizens (as well as those not in the area) immediate access into the very latest from authorities — without waiting for the 5 p.m. local newscast, trekking to their favorite news website or scouring social media.

Livestreaming apps like Periscope and Meerkat also present an opportunity for audiences to engage with content providers by way of messaging. Imagine a local resident asking authorities for further clarification on evacuations, road closures, etc. via the app’s chat interface.

Now critics might suggest this active content distribution role by government officials — something traditionally managed by independent new organizations — may lead to a very slippery slope. And rightly so.

Who’s to say authorities will continue to include all appropriate and independent journalists when scheduling upcoming press conferences?

What if certain news outlets are on the “outs” with a government agency, which can happen from time to time? What is being done to ensure journalists are free to exert editorial independence while pursuing news stories, including holding officials accountable when necessary?

How do we know all of the production and distribution of livestreams are being managed properly? If the transmission cuts out just as the police chief or mayor is getting hammered by a reporter, should the public worry about more than bad Wi-Fi at the worst possible time?

All legitimate concerns that should be considered as we see more and more non-news organizations producing news content — especially government agencies and politicians.

By all accounts, Aurora PD handled everything on Saturday with superb professionalism.

Not only were reporters from local news organizations on hand to gather their own material with the expected independence to follow up, produce and report under their own accord, but the police department-provided Periscope stream made sure to include the Q&A period from reporters providing important follow up questions and clarifications.

Later the video from the press conference was posted to YouTube — presumably because Periscope streams expire after one day whereas YouTube videos remain available indefinitely.

Forward-facing digital savvy approaches to informing the public isn’t exactly a new trend by local and federal government agencies. Two years ago Boston Police adeptly utilized Twitter during the Boston Marathon terror suspect manhunt to first-alert the public and media about fresh developments as they were unraveling in real-time.

Government agencies should continue to look for new and effective means for informing the very public they serve. A majority of those emerging opportunities will be of the digital type, and likely mobile.

A very similar tune to news orgs and their longterm goals.

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