In a constantly evolving newsroom, journalists are looking out for interesting ways to enrich their audience's experience using unique and distinctive formats. Live video, for example, offers the public real-time coverage of live events and can take viewers into the heart of a story as never before.
As part of a panel at Journalism.co.uk's newsrewired event on 7 March, Peter Stewart, author of The Live-Streaming Handbook, shared some of the lessons he has learned throughout his career as a BBC broadcaster. From getting viewers to watch a 30-minute live stream of people lying on a beach to avoiding the ethical issues that come hand-in-hand with real-time reporting, his advice is useful to anyone who wants to produce engaging live videos.
Know why you are livestreaming that particular experience
Stewart suggests asking yourself a few vital questions before starting a live stream. Why are you about to start streaming? What is the advantage of going live? What are you actually trying to get out of it?
"Look for the sweet spot between news and context," he said. "Make sure there’s a point and continue to check with yourself that there still is a point to going live. We want explanation, context, rather than sheer voyeurism."
Have a conversation
One of the main strengths of live video is communication and the conversational aspects of it. You should get people to ask you questions and you should ask them questions too. Do they want to see inside a building? Do they want to get another perspective on it or get a little bit closer?
Richard Evans, strategic partnerships manager at Facebook, joined Stewart on the panel. He noted that live videos on Facebook get six times more interactions on average than regular videos. They also generate 10 times more comments than regular videos. Live videos are "a fantastic way to build community and harness conversation," he said.
Show something that’s happening now
Stewart recommends showing "something never to be repeated and not available elsewhere, stuff people will be able to watch as a community, all experiencing that situation together." Long, rambling, open-ended, ill-prepared videos should be avoided.
Reuters’ senior project manager for video Tessa Kaday shared some of the newswire's most popular live streams. These included coverage of Hurricane Irma, where reporters drove around livestreaming the aftermath of the catastrophe from the window of a car; and the solar eclipse.
Show something that’s moving, or move yourself
"I’m not a great fan of people who sit in their own home, or office studio, just sitting there talking to the camera," said Stewart. "That’s dull. It’s boring. It’s not moving."
He is a big advocate of going out to the heart of the scene and getting right in the middle of the action. He believes if something isn’t moving you should go out yourself and show the different perspectives available.
Great visuals increase engagement
Start off with a fantastic picture to grab your audience’s attention. Stewart recommends you "keep looking for that visual engagement and entertainment as you go through."
Stream 'clean' for the edit and don’t forget your angles
Think about the editing process – the best bits may be cut out later so you must ensure you’re holding your shots.
While you’re filming, don’t forget about your angles. Avoid simply holding your phone at eye level for the duration of the stream, remember your rule of thirds and try different angles. Get up close, bend your knees, walk towards something or try getting a higher perspective.
Think about the kit
"People want to see the story, they don’t actually want to see the storyteller," he says.
Often Stewart uses a gimbal or a tripod and he is usually walking around. He very rarely shows himself during a live stream. He also uses a clip-on mic, which he can unclip to use as a handheld mic if he needs to interview someone. He keeps additional small microphones in his pocket which can be used immediately.
"When I’m at the factory fire and the fire officer says okay I can talk to you live but I’ve got to do it now and I can only give you one minute, you can just plug that in and you don’t have to start messing around with clip mics and so on."
You often run out of hands while broadcasting live, so he also recommends carrying a map holder bag to keep notes at hand.
Does it need to be live?
"Most live streams are crap, there is a very low bar," says Stewart.
Live streams are easy to do, but they’re also easy to do badly. Facebook lives are given priority distribution so if your live stream goes badly, there’s a very high chance a lot of people will notice. Ask yourself the question: Does it need to be live?
"Most stories, scenes or situations are better done recorded, edited, and subtitled, rather than as long, unfocused, boring, repetitive, sixteen-minute live streams.
"What’s your priority? Live streams are fun but your priority of course is to your main platform. If you’re working for a radio or TV station, then obviously what you’ve been asked to do for them takes priority over you holding up a phone."
When do you start a broadcast, and when do you stop? You never know what’s going to happen. Try and give reassurance in your commentary that due to factors in your environment, you may need to cut the live stream short.
You may be livestreaming an event that could have traumatic consequences. Families of victims may be watching or you might be in a potentially risky situation that could endanger you. Stay safe.
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