Private citizens are using the power of their mobile devices to influence the programming decisions made by commercial news and entertainment outlets. They’re using it to record and break the news themselves, augmenting -- or even circumventing -- the established media. In 2014, 14% of social media users posted their own photos of news events to a social networking site, while 12% had posted videos (see source). The advent of video broadcasting platforms like Periscope and Stringwire that allow anyone with a smartphone to publicly broadcast live video will only boost these numbers. The audience should be viewed as a kind of partner with brands, news outlets, and media producers of all types. This is a complete inversion of the old model and media distributors and marketers are rushing to adjust.
Platforms like Periscope may further do to broadcast news what Twitter started doing years ago: serve as the first-level, go-to source that people run to for breaking information. Twitter makes it possible to keep tabs on distant news as it’s happening often before professional journalists can mobilize to respond. An eyewitness doesn’t need a live satellite van to share news instantly. All they need is a smartphone and a Twitter account. They have the edge in speed and mobility. It’s likely that Periscope or some similar follow-on service will become the video equivalent of Twitter. If an exciting event is happening somewhere, there’s sure to be a bystander on the scene with the Periscope app loaded and streaming. Traditional TV news outlets are now being relegated to secondary responders, sometimes even running original Periscope video after-the-fact as part of their coverage. Some news agencies are actively looking to partner with members of the public who are on-scene, running their stream in real time. This is yet another aspect of the new partnership model.
A benefit to society?
One of the less appreciated elements of professional journalism is the editorial process. Editors decide what to release, when to release it, and whether information should be released at all. Editors are a type of quality assurance check valve. One of the best arguments in favor of this function is increased accuracy in reporting. Traditional media have adhered to some basic level of fact-checking but citizen-driven event coverage dispenses with fact-checking entirely. There’s an old maxim that the first report almost always gets the facts wrong. The citizen journalist isn’t a professional and has made no pledge to accuracy, nor are they accountable to viewers in any way. Viewers who want to see news in near instantaneous real time, have to be mindful of this. The question of benefit comes down to what society expects of its news sources. Do we want the excitement of live, unvarnished coverage, or do we want our news to have a layer of professionalism and accountability wrapped around it?
A personal experience
My sole experience with live news coverage via Periscope was the September 18, 2016 New York City dumpster bombing. I first became aware that something had happened in the Chelsea neighborhood when someone I follow on Twitter posted that he heard a loud noise followed by a pressure wave that rattled his windows. He tweeted that he had started a Periscope feed of the view from his apartment and included a hyperlink to follow along. I opened his Periscope stream and listened to his narration of what he could see from his window: mostly emergency services vehicles with lights flashing. He ran the stream for almost and hour, reporting what he had seen and heard.
In this case, there was little to be seen aside from the distant response vehicles, but the temptation to continue watching was strong. I was getting live narration from someone close to the incident long before the story was picked up by television news outlets. Periscope, in combination with Twitter, had scooped all commercial media. And for the first hour or so following the explosion, it was the only news available. In this example, Periscope didn’t offer much in the way of information, but it did provide the feeling of being “on the ground” near the scene of the incident, something that I’d never experienced before. It’s this feeling of excitement that’s likely to give Periscope and other live streaming platforms staying power. The Chelsea bombing was probably my first glimpse into a whole new media experience. I expect it to become a new news standard in the years to come.