Fill your boots?

News journalism and live-streaming on social media: An end-of-year point of view

I’ve read a lot about live-streaming on social media recently. There’s little doubt it will remain a big part of the landscape in 2017 for news journalists. However, as opportunities to ‘go live’ grow by the day are we becoming more creative or just a little lazier?

AJ+ live-streaming from Berlin in the wake of the lorry attack, 19th December 2016

Colleagues of mine at BBC News, who have spent the last year experimenting with Facebook Live, have notched up a number of ‘successes’, on the road, at big news events and behind-the-scenes. On the plus side, Facebook’s algorithm has pushed our live-streams to millions of page fans, tens of thousands have watched them and most of the comments and questions have been positive, thoughtful and on topic.

Page admins have access to more insights on live video (‘though we still don’t know how many are coming and going and those watching with the sound off is still high), we can plug into the page API, use a variety of cameras, pin comments, play with graphics and insert video clips and will soon have the opportunity to live-stream in 360.

Add to all this the chance to broadcast live via YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter (not to mention Periscope) and what’s not to love about live-streaming, I hear you ask?

Well, here’s one word of caution for journalists:

Just because we CAN live-stream on a social media platform doesn’t mean we SHOULD.

Live-streaming feeds off our insatiable curiosity. Mix this with a sense of jeopardy and it’s hard to resist in your news feed. Presuming we have the right to live-stream an unfolding event we still, as journalists, have some responsibility to help the public make sense of the information we’re presenting. I’m not sure it’s quite enough to simply relay live pictures as they are fed to us raw and unfiltered via an agency? Yes, people can make their own judgements and we can respond to questions (as best we can) as they appear in comments. But in the midst of a chaotic breaking news story (such as the attacks in Berlin, Nice or Brussels this year) how can we predict what’s being seen, what’s likely to happen next and how do we make sense of it quickly enough to those posting legitimate questions?

Of course there’ll always be a member of the public live-streaming the same event via their own Facebook profile or broadcasting on YouTube, Periscope/Twitter/Instagram or Snapchat stories but my point is that some of us are journalists. It’s easy enough to fill your boots with whatever you want on the internet. These ‘plug and play’ lives are also an easy way to boost video views and your page engagement metrics. Sometimes they can provide a different kind of access to audiences; at other times they can provide a unique experience.

Inside the Supreme Court — a worthwhile live-streaming experience?

But they can also disrupt and devalue journalism by relaying troubling images devoid of context and insight and hosting comments based on conspiracy theories, prejudice and lies.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big evangelist for live-streaming and the power it has to connect journalists directly to their audiences. I’d just like to be doing it for sound editorial reasons rather than voyeurism.