facebook live
Credit: Image by P.Chinnapong on Shutterstock

Since Facebook made its livestreaming feature widely available earlier this year, publishers have been experimenting with on-the-spot video in a variety of ways.

Although some media organisations are benefiting from a partnership with the social network, others are still enticed to try their hand at Facebook Lives by the increased reach the feature can provide.

To explore how publishers are using this format, we are starting a series of in-depth articles chronicling their experiments, from the training journalists need before getting started, to the technology required to pull off a good quality stream.

In the first instalment of the series, we spoke to International Business Times UK (IBTimes UK), who has been working on three different live video formats: Q&As with columnists and reporters, panel discussions with guests, and rough-and-ready, on-the-ground videos where journalists capture the action around them.

Marc Vargas, social media editor at IBTimes UK, explained that his team has seen success with Facebook Live, as it has allowed the journalists to build a stronger rapport with their audience and drive further engagement with their stories.

"Live TV has been invented before, but the scope you have on Facebook is just unbelievable – you might have 20,000 fans on the Facebook page, but if people start sharing and liking it, then the audience is potentially unlimited," said Vargas.

"It also allows us to personally interact with our audience and approach stories from different angles."

The publisher, which often re-uses live streams by embedding them into its articles, has found social audiences respond well to raw, unpredictable footage where there is a lot of action going on.

"Our live panel discussion on the future of the Democratic Republic of Congo had the most reach, but our unplanned stream, when our reporter Paul Wright was amidst England [football] fans being shot at with tear gas, worked better in terms of video performance with more live viewers," he said.

Editorial responsibility

Going live encourages journalists to get closer to the action, but filming dangerous scenarios poses ethical dilemmas for reporters and news organisations, who may accidentally stream inappropriate footage to their audience, or inadvertently put themselves in danger.

John Crowley, editor-in-chief, IBTimes UK, told Journalism.co.uk that Wright's experiences amongst a rowdy crowd highlight that news organisations need to "think strategy" before simply grabbing their phones and filming the action live.

"It's easy to get carried away when you have a smartphone and get yourself into situations you wouldn't normally find yourself in as a text journalist," said Crowley.

"Our news editor and I had lots of conversations with Paul before and during his trip on how he should conduct himself – from the clothes he wore as to not draw attention to himself, to how he interacted with police and fans.

It's easy to get carried away when you have a smartphone and get yourself into situations you wouldn't normally find yourself in as a text journalistJohn Crowley, editor-in-chief, IBTimes UK

"Particularly when a journalist is trying a new way of reporting, which is what Facebook Live is, newsrooms should have established ground rules."

Keeping it professional

IBTimes UK has set guidelines for Facebook Live streams too, ensuring that journalists are comfortable with speaking in a live scenario and have a basic outline of how the stream is going to work in order to make the process as stress-free as possible.

Alfred Joyner, head of video, IBTimes UK, explained that along with Facebook's guidelines for going live, which include writing a compelling video description and saying hello to commenters by name, the journalists are coached before going on camera.

"For some of these reporters, it is something they are completely unfamiliar with. It takes a lot of work to train for because you are effectively asking them to become TV news anchors, which takes experience," said Joyner.

"We just give the reporters important points to note, such as giving the camera eye contact, being engaging and clear, making sure they are reminding viewers exactly why they should continue to watch, whilst continuing to explain what the video is about so people who tune in half way through know what is going on."

By only getting reporters and interviewees who are comfortable on camera to live stream, IBTimes is aiming to minimise the chances of anything going wrong on air.

"We've used people who have some degree of media training or experience so we know they can handle themselves in a live environment where they don't have full control," said Joyner.

"Things can take different turns, and they need to be able to adapt to that environment – it is early days and we're not confident enough to just throw people in there that wouldn't be ready for it.

"It is too much of a gamble to have someone go into it ad hoc."

Getting the right equipment

Indeed, although the publisher is still experimenting, IBTimes UK is trying to produce the most professional video it can, and has also taken careful consideration when buying equipment for each stream.

"I think there is a degree of rough and readiness that people accept with Facebook Live videos, because they understand you are capturing the moment and it's not meant to be as slick as television news, but at the same time it does need to have a degree of professionalism," said Joyner.

"We are trying to do this in the most affordable way, where it doesn't take too much time and money, so although the equipment hasn't been expensive, it has made a big difference to the quality of our productions," he said.

When you are relying on technology, even at the best of times, technology can fail you and you need to be ready for thatAlfred Joyner, head of video, IBTimes UK

Having had challenges with lost internet connection in the field and poor sound, the IBTimes team has iPhones specifically for Facebook Live, kitted out with external microphones, lighting attachments, tripods, as well as a wi-fi hotspot.

"When you are relying on technology, even at the best of times, technology can fail you and you need to be ready for that," he said.

"It has been a case of watching and learning, and making sure you are well prepared. We do go through a stage of practising all the videos at least half an hour before, checking the connection and sound is working and that everyone is comfortable with what is going ahead."

"The biggest learning curve we've had so far is learning how to use equipment effectively. People who have been making the videos for the most part have been members of our video production team, who are used to much more high-end equipment, so it can be a challenge for them when using a phone to make it seem professional."

But viewers' reactions to the Facebook Live streams have been positive across the board, as they appreciate the direct contact they are able to have with the reporters.

"It is gratifying to see comments where an audience member is thanking the journalist for giving them the answers to their questions, and seeing a dialogue established between them – it has been really great," said Joyner.

  • Don’t miss out on our Facebook livestreaming workshop at newsrewired on 20 July, where you can find out how to produce engaging live streams and reach a wider audience. Tickets are available here.

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