Live video app Periscope is already changing the way journalists cover breaking news. It offers a more intimate and interactive experience with the potential to disrupt traditional broadcasting, journalists using the technology say, although ethical questions remain around some aspects of its use.
Purchased by Twitter early this year for a reported US$100 million and launched in March, Periscope allows users to broadcast video on their smartphone directly to other followers. In its first 10 days, it attracted more than one million users.
The true potential of the app emerged during the Baltimore riots last month, with thousands viewing powerful footage taken on the streets as the chaos unfolded. Washington correspondent for The Guardian, Paul Lewis, was one of the most prolific journalists using Periscope on the ground and says it allows journalists to give audiences a more intimate, personal insight into news events.
“Periscope is about providing a lens into things that people don’t normally see,” Mr Lewis told The Newspaper Works. It also gives journalists from any discipline an edge on traditional broadcast media, he said.
“There’s an intimacy that I don’t think you get with a network TV camera. People seem a lot more trusting and open – they feel like what they tell you is less of a performance than it might if they were being interviewed with a big camera, a satellite truck nearby, a crew and a sound guy.”
It also allows journalists to be more efficient. “With Periscope, you don’t have to broadcast if nothing interesting is happening. If something interesting does happen, you can start broadcasting very quickly.”
Australian publishers have their periscopes up on the app which holds potential for news organisations, according to News Corp Australia head of innovation Mark Drasutis.
“It provides an instant on-the-spot view and verification that … they’re at the event,” he said. “As the story builds, they can provide an update live.”
Using the example of Herald Sun AFL writer Mark Robinson, Mr Drasutis said columnists and media figures could use Periscope to add value to their commentary.
“Mark Robinson has nearly 90,000 followers on Twitter, so for him, it’s perfect during the weekend to provide an update using video, instead of tweets and images, to create a different engagement around his user base.”
However, there is the potential for abuse of the app through piracy and, because it is live, of offensive scenes or acts to be streamed to followers that normally would be removed in an editing process. Piracy was flagged as an issue when thousands watched the feted Mayweather-Pacquiao fight not on their own televisions, but others’, streamed live on Periscope.
However, the app’s nimbleness proved itself in situations such as when Mr Lewis came across two soldiers who were filming in Baltimore for the publicity department of the National Guard.
“They were in a position to be far more talkative than any of the other thousands of soldiers that had been deployed at Baltimore, who’d been told not to talk to journalists,” he said. “So here was an opportunity to talk to two people in uniform, talk about what it’s like to be deployed on the streets. I could very quickly get my phone out and begin Periscoping.
“In TV, you might get lucky like that once a day, but you’ve got to think about the other 24 hours. With Periscope you don’t have to worry about that. It offers small, snappy vignettes that you think your viewers will find interesting.”
Periscope also holds the potential for journalists to act more quickly and access “more interesting places”, Mr Lewis says, although the freedom augmented by the portability of a smart phone has already got some journalists into trouble.
US golf reporter Stephanie Wei was hauled aside by PGA officials earlier this month and had her media accreditation revoked because she shot footage on Periscope of Australian golfer Matt Jones on a practice round, violating the golf tour’s media regulations. She admitted in a reflection she wrote for sports site The Cauldron that she had indeed breached the contract she had signed – but was emphatic about the potential for the app’s merits at popular sporting events.
“As Jones got ready to tee off on the first hole, I readied myself to capture the drive on Periscope. Everything just felt so natural, almost as if not live-streaming would be missing an opportunity to do my job in a more informative way,” she wrote. She then walked alongside him and asked him questions requested by the audience in comments on her live stream.
“Fans loved it. I received extremely positive feedback. I remember one person saying, ‘This is exactly what Periscope was invented for,’ and another asking for ‘more stuff like this!'”
Paul Lewis said the app offered a level of audience interaction that benefited journalists. “When I was in Baltimore talking to people, comments were popping up and people had their own questions, their own thoughts, their own feedback. Sometimes people have really good ideas.
“You could never imagine asking your television set to pan slightly to the right, but people are requesting that I show different aspects of a scene, or suggesting questions for my interview subjects.”
The have been criticisms of the app because of a lack of tools for moderation, including one public remonstration by UTS journalism lecturer Jenna Price in The Canberra Times, but Periscope has since acted on such complaints. It has updated the app to enable users to allow only people they follow to comment on their broadcasts, and to more easily block specific users – but this still poses risks for media outlets with a wide audience.
However, Mr Lewis says publishers should not ignore the app’s huge potential for news, and this would ensure its future.
“On the whole I think it’s quite a disruptive technology and it’s going to be transformative to the way breaking news stories are told,” he says.
“In the future it won’t just be journalists, it will be citizens [using it] and I can imagine that in a year or two, you’ll be able to open up a series of Periscope streams at once on your computer or your phone, and have a kaleidoscopic view of a scene from different angles – like the FBI would have cameras in the streets, you as a civilian could have something similar.
“Where in the past at a breaking news event, someone might have the instinct to Tweet it or Snapchat it, instinctively they will open up a Periscope broadcast.”
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