5 min read

How Editors Can Prepare to Livestream Breaking News

Livestreaming breaking news events, by definition, means you often don’t get much prep time for them. If it’s a more planned shoot, you can…
How Editors Can Prepare to Livestream Breaking News
Photo credit: Andri Koolme

Livestreaming breaking news events, by definition, means you often don’t get much prep time for them. If it’s a more planned shoot, you can prepare by doing research about who and what you’re covering, knowing what other media says, and by making sure your journalist asks intelligent questions in the interviews. You could even plot out the livestream or storyboard it beforehand.

However, with breaking news stories, there still are things you can do as an editor to be prepared. Here are six tips to help you prepare for breaking news livestreams:

1. Create a standard set of guidelines for livestreaming.

Knowing how to engage with viewers and narrate a livestream is important to stream successfully. Whether you’re hiring freelancers or sending staff journalists to cover breaking news live, you should establish a standard set of guidelines on how to broadcast. This is what Storyhunter tells freelancers before sending them into the field to report live on Periscope:

  • Introduce yourself and, every five to ten minutes, repeat the 5W’s: who you are, who your character is, where you are, when the event happened or whether it’s still happening, why you’re filming it, and what you are trying to achieve.
  • Describe the scene viewers are seeing and giving them context to the situation.
  • Don’t give your own opinions on what’s happening, but stick to the facts.
  • Politely walk away from poor, disruptive, or uninteresting interviews.
  • Respond to viewers’ questions and comments when possible.
  • Be careful when addressing comment trolls.
  • End the broadcast with a brief sign-off and summary of what happened.

2. Build your network.

You won’t be able to go live from a breaking news event unless you have a journalist in the area. Here’s what you can do to build a network you trust:

  • Find journalists with livestreaming experience.
  • Pre-screen the livestreamers who live in key locations.
  • Invite them to pitch story ideas to you.
  • Communicate your expectations to them.

3. Ask freelancers to test their gear and try to arrive early.

With freelancers, it’s unrealistic to send them gear, or rent at a moment’s notice. They have to work with what they have. They should test it and be comfortable with it before the news event happens.

It's hard convincing a VJ who shoots on a C100 that it's okay to shoot on his phone. That’s the first bridge you have to cross. People say ‘I’ve never shot on a phone, I don't really know how to do that.’ Just hold the phone and get close to people to capture audio. But if someone said they have a mic for their phone or if they have a lav mic, that would be great.— Japhet Weeks, Executive Producer of News Video at Fusion
Photo credit: CarbonNYC

Getting early to the scene with their gear will also give your journalist or freelancer an opportunity to take a few pictures or videos of what’s happening before they start the stream, which can help you decide when to go live. Fusion’s Japhet Weeks also mentioned that they have a specific workflow for video journalists when they arrive at an event:

They take some photographs, so if it’s a protest, it’s scene-setters, protest lines…We get an idea of where we are with crowd size, energy, and all of that. That’s the first thing that will go on Twitter to plant a flag and mark our presence at an event…If it is a VJ we have worked with less often, we really want to get a feel for what’s happening and what we are going to see. We want Katrine to tell them when to go live. We don’t have people randomly going live. It’s all a coordinated thing. — Japhet Weeks

4. Find out as much about the story as possible and stay updated.

In order to give your freelancer or journalist good directions when reporting in the field, you need to know the story as well as they do — or better. If there is time, ask your journalists to give you updates on what’s happening as soon as they arrive at the scene. As with any news story, you need to know what the story is about, what’s at stake, and whether it’s important to your audience in order to make informed decisions about reporting.

We look at the size of it, and the scope of it. We don’t want to overdue live because you can easily go live all the time. We want to make sure it’s something urgent that the audience cares about. — Geoff Dietrich, the Executive Producer for Newsgathering at AJ+
Storyhunter freelancer Jacob Salzberg films an AJ+ journalist live at a rally in New York City.

5. Know the story’s main character.

Along the same lines as above, you need to know who you want to interview for the story. On a planned stream, you can set up interviews in advance. But with breaking news, you can help your freelancer by telling them to find a certain type of character or participant to interview. For example, if your reporter is streaming a protest, the character that they interview should probably be a protester and/or someone on the opposite side of the issue. Having this figured out for certain types of news beforehand will make the interview search process of smoother.

At a protest or march, I want to see signs, I want to hear chant, I want to see this and this. And the clearer we can be ahead of time, if it’s something that’s planned, the smoother it ends up being. — Katrine Dermody, Director of Social Media at Fusion

6. Make a Plan B.

Possibly the most important part of being prepared for livestreams is having a Plan B for when they fail. Livestreaming is still in it’s early days and there are things that can, and will, go wrong all the time. Sometimes the issue is a lost signal, the signal so weak that the stream is too blurry, or that the audio is poor because it’s a noisy environment.

[At Standing Rock], every time we went live we were just hoping the connection would stay…It would have been a complete game changer if we could have solid service no matter where we went. There could have been hoses being fired or dogs. People are being attacked. Something could turn on a dime. It would have been wonderful if we had some kind of service. We along with most other organizations, do not have that.— Katrine Dermody
Storyhunter journalist Moon Mandel goes live at Standing Rock for Fusion.

Depending on your newsroom’s priorities, there are a few ways to tackle these issues. You can tell your journalist to stop streaming and instead capture images and videos for a later piece. Another option, especially for signal issues, is to ask your journalist to move away from crowded areas as crowds overload the signal. And if they have to stop the stream altogether because of the signal, you might want to ask them to move to a new location at the scene and go live again with a fresh view of what’s happening. But if the stream is still messy, just don’t worry about it. According to Geoff, livestreams don’t have to be high-quality video:

We understand live will never be perfect, so we don’t want to agonize over it. We’d rather people not think about tools. We’d rather make sure it gets done. We’re not trying to do cable news quality. Breaking news shouldn’t be glossy anyway. It should be real. — Geoff Dietrich

Interested in producing livestreams for events and news? Learn how you can hire a mobile journalist or livestream production company on Storyhunter.

By D. Simone Kovacs, Storyhunter Editor