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Guerrilla Journalism: Livestreaming the News

SNA (Tokyo) — In Episode 4 of Guerrilla Journalism, we speak to Charli James, a journalist based on Paris, France, with considerable experience livestreaming news events.


Michael Penn: Welcome to Episode 4 of Guerrilla Journalism, the show which takes you to the frontiers of the news media industry. You know, news video has been around for a long time, but livestreaming of the news through the internet is something that’s rather new and it presents new challenges in terms of techniques, equipment, and audience-building strategies. Our guest today is Charli James. She is based in Paris, France, but was previously in New York City working for ABC News. She has quite a bit of experience in livestreaming of the news. Here are some excerpts of our interview with her. For what kinds of events is news livestreaming most appropriate?

Charli James: For me, I think livestreaming works best when you are in a situation that really demands be live. In an interview with a celebrity, yes, you can get, sometimes, some moments you wouldn’t when it’s taped, but you are not getting that sense of urgency the way you are if you’re live from a protest or you’re live from outside a terrorist attack where it demands on-the-ground, instant coverage. That’s also what people really want to watch.

Michael Penn: Will there be scheduled news shows in livestreaming format or is this something that will only happen along with breaking news events?

Charli James: I think that there are some people already doing that, but I also think that, as TV and internet merge and become more of one platform, we are going to see more appointment viewing. Still, I think that’s going to be built around personalities the same way you see primetime cable news shows are really built around the cult of personality of the host. I think that’s what draws people in at a certain time when there isn’t a huge news event going on. They want to hear that person’s take on the news. I think it’s still going to revolve around the personality of whoever is hosting the livestream.

Michael Penn: How are the news agencies going to actually get busy people to stop and watch these livestreamed news events?

Charli James: I think what every company right now is trying to figure out is audience building and audience development with live video. That’s why Facebook works so well. The audience is already captive there and Facebook acts as a promotion tool too. It will let your followers know when you go live so you don’t have to tell people, “tune in at this specific time,” or have people randomly try to find you. Even if you promoted on, say, Twitter, it takes time for an audience to build, whereas with Facebook, people are automatically getting an alert saying “come and watch this.” That really has proved to be the easiest way to get a large audience. Now, because it’s on Facebook, you can’t, at this time, monetize the content. It’s not on your platform, so you’re limited on what you can do with it—if you can make money off of it specifically. So that’s a big issue for companies right now.

Michael Penn: Does livestreaming as opposed to recorded video change the actual content of the news?

Charli James: When you’re looking at a news package that’s been put together hours later, you’re really getting a view of what the producers and the reporters and everyone have decided is the most important or touching moment or what you need to know. When you’re seeing it for yourself, there’s a little more control for the viewer. Of course there’s a journalist bringing you this video, but when you’re given a more raw view, I think there’s a little more control for the audience as to how they want to feel about it and decide. There’s something about getting people’s immediate reactions in realtime that I think is really strong.

Michael Penn: Well, if the audience is now in more control, what becomes the role for the professional journalist in this new world?

Charli James: I think, with livestreaming, it’s just as with any media online. Anybody can go up and write an article and put it up online, whether they’re a trained journalist or writer or not. It’s a quality issue and a trust issue if you’re not with a major organization. I think that that’s a lot for the users to decide as well. There are some great people out there doing livestreaming that aren’t associated with news organizations. I don’t think they need to be discounted just because they’re not with a major news group. I see my role more as a guide instead of this journalist from on high trying to tell everyone what exactly they need to know. You need to trust the person that’s guiding the live stream to keep you informed. I would try to do updates periodically every five minutes or so if I were doing a very long livestream because you have to remember a lot of people haven’t been watching from the beginning and need context—need to know what’s going on.

Michael Penn: What kind of news live-streaming do you recommend that people should be watching at this point?

Charli James: When you have access to everything, it’s really up to the viewer to make that decision on what’s most important to them and who they think is doing the best job guiding them. I wish that I had an answer that was more clearcut, but I think that it’s just going to continue to grow–the amount of content out there. The viewer is going to have to be the one to say “this is salacious, but is it accurate? Am I seeing the full picture here? Can I trust this person?” That’s something that they’re going to have to decide for themselves—the same that everyone does on their internet news diet.

Michael Penn: Livestreaming the news is clearly going to be playing a larger and larger role in the news media industry in the years going forward. So, of course, this is a good opportunity for us to begin to educate ourselves about these new technologies.

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