A new live-streaming app is empowering student and citizen journalists to capture breaking news events and publish them to social media in a range of new formats.
Happs is a community of voluntary news curators and currently has around 4,000 members and 800 regular users.
It created its own app to allow 'activated' members to send in live user-generated content that has been pre-approved by The Happs video team in a dedicated Slack channel.
A production team then manages the split-screen layout, graphic elements and audio levels, as it is live-streamed onto Happs' Periscope and Twitter accounts.
NOW: #2020election presidential candidate @SenWarren is in Austin, Texas ahead of Thursday's big debate in Houston. Catch up with her, @agenuske & host @1andrewking #2020 #DemocraticPrimary #DemDebate #NetworkOfNow https://t.co/NfUsmt4mgE— Happs (@HappsNews) September 10, 2019
David Neuman, co-founder and chief content officer of Happs, said that the news industry tends to be dominated by its own voice. Instead, giving 'a voice to the voiceless' in this way can be a good prospect for journalism.
"When you have too few people telling you what’s really happening, you can be susceptible to misinformation and skewed perception," he said.
"That would be different if you had literally tens of thousands of people from Iraq and the Middle East or the upper Midwestern United States reporting and telling you what people are really thinking and feeling."
When Happs reported a live-stream from a Brexit-related protest in London, Neuman said he gained a better sense of how people felt in that moment. It is a good example of what they aim to achieve.
"I learnt so much just listening to those voices of Londoners on the street talking about this issue. I felt like I understood it in a way I did not understand it before just by reading the conventional sources," he explained.
The inspiration for the community came about following the bombing of the Manchester Arena in 2017, which killed 23 people.
"Any live report from inside that arena by any of those individuals would have been the most interesting and compelling coverage that anybody could have provided for that incident," Neuman said.
Whilst anyone can become a Happs contributor, the community suits younger reporters and student journalists. It can even be a model of self-regulation and holding fellow contributors to a high standard.
This is a particular concern as the big challenge with user-generated content is the prospect of false images and videos emerging on the platform. Neuman argues live-streaming, in fact, reduces the likelihood of this happening.
"If events were live-streamed, you would have seen everything. You wouldn’t be able to mislead anyone. We can all simply go to the video and look at what happened if it had been documented by any of the hundreds of people who were present there."
Not everyone in the journalism community agrees. Hazel Baker, Reuters News, head of user-generated content news-gathering, said one of the problems with deepfake videos is the difficulty to debunk and stop them before they go viral. And even when they are showed to be fake, our brains may still think “seeing is believing” – and we cannot un-see footage.
This is particularly concerning during breaking news, when first footage from the scene is hardly ever professional in nature.
Happs retains control over what goes out and can always pull the plug, as it can be necessary at times to remove content for being inappropriate or offensive. This is, however, a last resort.
"I don’t think we want to whitewash what’s happening to children and adults in Syria, for instance, but we are sensitive to that. If we were going to see some disturbing imagery, we would simply caution the audience about the fact that there would be disturbing images," he said.
"There are very important, interesting and fascinating stories all over the world that are not getting told, because there is this obsession with continuing the reality show of mainstream news."
Want to know how to use breaking news to grow your audience? Find out how at Newsrewired on 27 November at Reuters, London. Head to newsrewired.com for the full agenda and tickets
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