6 min read

How to Go Live: 8 Live-Streaming Tips for Video Journalists

News organizations are jumping at the chance to do Facebook Live streams, from protests against the North Dakota Access Pipeline to the US…
How to Go Live: 8 Live-Streaming Tips for Video Journalists
Image from Facebook

News organizations are jumping at the chance to do Facebook Live streams, from protests against the North Dakota Access Pipeline to the US presidential elections. However, Facebook Live is a relatively new way to stream and many companies are still experimenting with the best ways to do it.

Frank G. Runyeon, an experienced live streamer and freelance video journalist, and Ecuador-based videographer, Julia Muldavin, are experienced live streamers, doing broadcasts on protests and events for AJ+ and Fusion. Here are some of their tips for live-streaming in the field:

1. Arrive early to the scene.

According to both Frank and Julia, one of the most crucial parts to producing a successful live stream is to do the same pre-production that you would do for any regular video shoot. This means, you should arrive early to the scene, set up key interviews for when you go live, research your subjects, and have questions prepared in advance. Live-streaming shouldn’t all be improvisation — knowing who to interview and where to go will be integral to the story. Being prepared will also help you conduct effective interviews and react better if things go wrong.

You have to treat it like any other video story in terms of pre-production…You should make an effort to contact people on the ground, even if it’s a protest, before you even get there. And then get there much earlier than you would expect to pre-set up your interviews or at least talk to ten people who might be willing to speak to you and pre-interview them. [Before I go live I’ve] already pinpointed my people and they’ve already agreed to speak. I can ask candid questions and they can answer candidly. It throws people off guard when you put the camera in their face….I did a lot of research beforehand, so I could say statistics, do live translation…you should be able to respond to people’s’ answers with questions about what they’re talking about. — Julia M.

2. Bring a second person to work the camera.

Having a second person to film you as you report live will free up your hands to hold mics, speak easier with interview subjects, and look more professional. Major media companies often have an additional person to follow comments on the live stream as well.

Fusion @ThisIsFusion
While all eyes are on #Rio2016, #artivists take action to defend the arts and culture of Brazil:

Julia M. went live on Periscope — the platform where she first picked up live-streaming. For this Fusion assignment, she brought a friend to hold the camera and film her.

3. Bring battery and audio power.

Frank, who began hosting Facebook Live streams for AJ+ soon after it was first introduced, says that he always carries audio equipment and two fully charged ASUS battery power packs. He also suggests making sure your iPhone has plenty of space in case you need to download files.

[In live-streaming,] there are all the considerations that go along with getting good video. You have to think about your lighting situation, you have to think about audio. The visuals in your live stream are frequently naturally crappy, because you’re going to be getting grainy video sometimes when there’s not a reliable internet connection. So audio has to be to the best of your ability, and you need to get solid audio equipment — Rode makes great audio products.You basically have to build a rig around your phone. At the end of the day it starts to look like a pretty serious piece of equipment. The phone is just inserted in the middle of it. Those are the technical things to get you started. — Frank R.

Beyond having reliable shotgun mics, some freelancers use an iRig and iOgrapher frame to hold their phones steady. You might also want to carry lite panels if you’re going into a situation where there could be low light.

Beastgrip smartphone camera rig.

4. Don’t get distracted by your equipment.

It can be hard to handle that much equipment and report live at the same time, especially if you don’t have a second person to help you out. However, Frank advises that journalists new to live-streaming treat it like any other piece of journalism.

The main point to drive home is don’t get distracted by the equipment or the format. Ultimately what you’re doing (if you’re me) is journalism and you need to be thinking about where you’re pointing your camera, who you’re talking to, and what you’re delivering into people’s hands. That can get lost quickly when you’re juggling this many pieces of equipment and responsibilities. But it’s same old ball game really. — Frank R.
Frank R. live-streamed from a protest outside the Trump Tower for AJ+.

5. Go Live at the right moment.

Starting your Facebook Live five to seven minutes before the main action of the stream will build up your audience before it. If you do this, however, be aware that the first few seconds of a Live video need to be visually interesting or you will see less views after the video airs, as over 60% of watch time happens when the post is no longer live. The first three seconds are the most important to catching your viewers’ attention when it auto plays silently in their newsfeeds.

6. Repeat yourself for new viewers.

During the broadcast, you should reintroduce yourself and what’s happening in the scene every few minutes so that new viewers just tuning in will understand what’s going on and have a reason to continue watching.

Don’t be afraid to repeat yourself in different ways because people are coming on at different times. I would be getting all these different questions, the basics of when/where/why, before I started checking in with my viewers. Be like “For those of you who just entered” … to give people an idea of where you are and what they’re seeing. — Julia M.

7. Answer viewers’ questions.

Even if you don’t have another person to check out the Facebook comments for you, it’s important that you pay attention to them and answer them on camera. Answering audience questions will show that you are listening and engaging with them, which will keep them interested and watching.

Frank R. live-streamed from the New York State Republican Gala for AJ+.

8. Remember you’re there for the story.

Since live streams depend on internet connection, they usually aren’t of the best video quality. However, this isn’t what matters as much to the viewer when they tune in. While a stream should be visually interesting, viewers watch them because they want to know more — they are interested in the content. Besides thinking about the viewers, as a journalist, you need to remember that you are there to report and focus on getting the story.

You get your countdown, then you are it. You’re the whole show, you are the producer, the correspondent, the cameraman, the SAT truck basically. You’ve got to make it interesting for people to watch. A lot of what goes on that people don’t see is waving out others out of the way, setting up interviews to left while pointing your camera to the right. There’s a lot of editorial questions swirling in the midst of the chaos. That’s the real challenge. A lot of the other stuff is necessary homework. The most important element in all of this is the journalistic quality you are delivering. You’re delivering content to an audience of hundreds of thousands of people — 10,000 people at any given time. There’s a lot of responsibility that goes with that. There’s a generation of people that get news entirely from Facebook and Twitter. That’s a serious responsibility. It can get a little frustrating at times with new tech and format in addition to being in the field, but there’s this huge responsibility that makes this exciting. — Frank R.

Watch live streams from around the world on Facebook’s Live Map.

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By D. Simone Kovacs, Storyhunter Content Marketing Specialist