The Stream

The Stream is broadcast on Al Jazeera English with a pre- and post-show online

A year ago today Al Jazeera English was due to broadcast the first episode of a new social media TV show called The Stream.

Producers and presenters had a show topic lined up and a social media community was an audience in waiting after a soft launch as an online-only programme the previous month.

And then on the morning of 2 May 2011 reports came through that Osama Bin Laden had been killed in Pakistan.

The team behind The Stream set to work and its first broadcast on TV included a Skype interview with Sohaib Athar, the IT consultant who live-tweeted the US raid in Abbottabad which killed the world's most wanted terrorist.

Since then The Stream has been broadcast live on Al Jazeera English for 30 minutes four days a week, with a pre- and post-show online and was last night named as winner of a Webby Award, which honour the "best of the web".

They won a People's Choice Award under "news and politics: series" in the online film and video category, as well as a Royal Television Society Award for "innovative news".

'A social media community with a daily TV show'

The Stream defines itself as "a social media community with a daily TV show".

And that social media community consists of a 35,000-strong @AJStream Twitter following, 20,000 Facebook likes and 23,000 on Google+ connections.

We see our role as discovering and telling untold storiesMalika Bilal, co-host
The team behind the show embraces social media and online tools to connect with various online communities.

They curate a Storify round-up of social media posts to introduce the show's topic before each programme, and include videos flagged by the YouTube community.

A growing Pinterest following is recognised in a board that rewards pinners, Skype is used to bring in experts as interviewees, an area of the website accepts user-generated audio, and the show has started to regularly feature Google+ Hangouts for video interviews, adding comment from voices in every continent.

Although The Stream has been going just one year, the changes in social media in this time are mirrored as the team is quick to experiment.

"The tools are ever changing but they continually help make our jobs easier and a lot more interactive," Malika Bilal, digital producer and co-host of The Stream told Journalism.co.uk via Skype from her base in Washington DC.

Bilal's role is on air. She is positioned on the orange studio sofa, from which she monitors reaction from the social media community, curates the conversation and interacts with those "who power our show".

The Stream Malika Bilal
Co-host Malika Bilal with a screen showing a Google+ Hangout behind. The show is broadcast on Al Jazeera English and online, with the website including additional Twitter and Facebook comments

When social media sets the news agenda

The social media following not only comments on the story but also sets the news agenda.

"We try not to do stories that are covered by other mainstream media organisations, including from Al Jazeera's news team. We try to do stories you haven't heard about before," she says.

And journalists behind the scenes keep a careful eye on what is being discussed.

In March the team devoted to "discovering and telling these untold stories" noticed that #RIPAmina was trending on Twitter.

Amina was a Moroccan girl who committed suicide after being forced to marry her rapist.

Bilal mentioned on air that they were following the hashtag during a segment of the show called The Lead, which details topics of interest and invites the social media community to contribute.

The Stream then created a web exclusive, a regular feature which sees the team collating the Twitter responses and online reaction in a Storify.

"There was so much response from our community and on the net in general we turned that into a full show with a guest on the sofa speaking on women's rights in Morocco, someone on Skype from Morocco and a Google+ Hangout with people talking about the situation there."

"That's an example of something that wouldn't have turned into a story and wouldn't have been covered that much in the news if it hadn't been broken on social media."

What The Stream does best is it gives you a different angle, one you might not have thought aboutMalika Bilal, co-host
Other topics covered by the programme are equally as weighty. Monday discussed drone attacks on Pakistan, last week it tackled the subject of peace and before that debt in Africa.

The programme aims to cover the topics in an original way, opting for the angle less reported.

A recent example of how the show goes for the different angle is how The Stream reported #CakeGate. The team picked up on a story that Sweden's culture minister was being accused of being racist after being photographed laughing when eating a cake that was an art installation in the shape of a naked black women.

"One of our very intrepid reporters her got hold of the person who made the cake, the artist behind it," Bilal explained. "This is something you wouldn't have seen anywhere else as no one else was talking to him."

The Stream interviewed the artist via Skype and posted it online.

"It was this behind-the-scenes look at this controversy. This is what he thinks, this is why he says it was not a racist act," Bilal added.

"What The Stream does best is it gives you a different angle, one you might not have thought about."

Behind the orange couch

The Stream is assisted by Al Jazeera's news teams around the world, colleagues in the Doha headquarters and bureaus in Africa, Asia and the Middle East,  which provide story ideas based on "things happening in their backyard".

The show is broadcast live from the Newseum, an interactive museum about news in Washington DC, airing at 7:30pm GMT (8:30pm BST), or 3:30pm DC time.

But despite its US home, Al Jazeera English is not widely available in America.

Bilal explained the channel can now can be accessed in cities including Washington DC, Vermont and New York, but although not accessible in most parts of the US, the social media buzz is helping the show build up a large following.

"They turn to their computers," Bilal added, explaining that the audience is watching online as they contribute and feed back into the show.

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