News Outlets Use Facebook Live to Cover Second Presidential Debate

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump took to the stage in a town hall style debate on Sunday, Oct. 9. But, the news coverage started well before the candidate arrived.


Facebook Live was originally released in August of 2015 to VIP Facebook members (celebrities with a verified page). And, in April of 2016, Facebook allowed everyone with an account to try live streaming. Facebook even released a list of things everyone should keep in mind when using Facebook Live, to ensure a successful stream.

Many news outlets are now looking to Facebook Live as a storytelling tool. CNN, The Washington Post, NBC, and ABC were among some of the major players experimenting with Facebook Live before, during, and after the second debate.

The Washington Post began their Facebook Live stream 30 minutes before the debate began. Most of their pre-debate broadcast had two ‘anchors’—who looked similar to sports color commentators—discussing what the viewers should expect to hear from the candidates at the debate, and the significance of the debate for each campaign. They also took specific questions from Facebook comments on the live stream, citing the Facebook user who asked the question, to continue the pre-debate discussion.

The Washington Post’s live stream continued the entire length of the debate, and a short while after, with the number of viewers ranging from 2,500 pre-debate to 25,800 during the debate.

Similarly ABC, also did a Facebook Live stream before, during, and after the debate.

However, some of the other news outlets like NBC held a Facebook Live stream for the first question of the debate, while the candidates discussed tax reform and then began another live stream post-debate in the Spin Room.

CNN also experimented with Facebook Live hours before the debate began by having Washington University’s a capella sing and then give their input about the election and the candidates.

These major news organizations are exploring the positives of Facebook Live as a journalistic tool.

Some of the major pluses are:

  • The sheer volume of the Facebook audience and younger demographic can create new viewers.
  • Users are able to submit live comments which pertain to the video at a certain time, which can allow viewers to feel more engaged.
  • Facebook Live stream usually has a behind the scenes format, giving the viewer the feeling they are getting a special look into the story.
  • The Facebook Live stream was about 30 seconds ahead of the broadcast on television.
  • There is little to no censorship, allowing the viewer to feel like they are getting the whole story.
  • News organizations have the freedom to go Live whenever they choose, and have the flexibility to be less schedule bound, since news rarely follows a schedule.

However, with those pros comes several cons:

  • Throughout the stream there are emojis flying across the screen over the bottom of the video, which can be distracting.
  • Viewers are unable to pause video or go back to the beginning of the stream until it several minutes after the entire stream has concluded.
  • It can be confusing for viewers jumping into the middle of the stream if those on air aren’t constantly providing context.
  • Occasionally the video quality and connection can be poor.

However, despite these few highly critical cons, the possibilities Facebook allows journalists and news organizations to have outweigh all else.


Many people have compared Facebook Live to Meerkat and Periscope. There are a few main reasons when it comes to why people and journalists alike are choosing Facebook Live:

1. Facebook has a huge number of monthly active users.

With 1.71 billion users a month Facebook allows for more potential viewers per each live stream. The total number of Periscope users is about 10 million and Meerkat only has about 156,000 total users.

2. Facebook Live archives videos soon after the live stream concludes.

Meerkat immediately deletes streams once they are finished and Periscope only saves the video for 24 hours (unless it is saved to the user’s camera roll).

3. Facebook is familiar.

Many people are used to the layout of Facebook, and Facebook Live is no different. As soon as someone opens the Facebook app, the option to ‘go live’ is at the top of their screen.

Facebook Live easily surpasses its competitors in the market of this new technology of wide spread live streaming. And with all the benefits and opportunities it offers to journalism, this tool is one that all news outlets should have in their back pocket for years to come.