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The Current State of Online News Live Streams
Live streaming was once considered to be an emerging asset for journalists and newsrooms. Can the same still be said today?
Live streaming has quickly become a lucrative form of entertainment over the past couple of years. While primarily used to interact with online influencers, the fact that the tech is largely available to anyone with the right smartphone or computer means that almost anyone can be a streamer. Sure, live streams sometimes result in bizarre trends, but these are far from the maximum potential this technology has.
Case in point, the proliferation of reputable newsrooms with 24/7 live feeds on their YouTube channels or websites. Entities like ABC News and NBC News have found success in continuously live-streaming reports on the day’s events, usually racking up viewership in the thousands. However, the same cannot be said for other major platforms such as Twitch. There previously was a news boom on Twitch a couple of years ago thanks to big publications like The Washington Post and Rolling Stone, but they have since ceased streaming. Similar things can be said for platforms like Instagram, TikTok, and the various small-scale streaming apps that were once touted as essential for reporters.
So, what has happened? Is the role of live streaming in journalism diminishing, and should smaller newsrooms still utilize it in their reporting? The answer to both of these questions is yes, and the likely solution lies in how often live streaming is used.
How Live Streaming News Might Work for All Journalists
Such technology has been proven to be effective as a way to watch typical news broadcasts, both national and local. It can also be an essential tool for conducting live interviews or documenting ongoing events. For example, citizen journalist RebZ.tv was one of the first to provide documentation of the tragic 2017 hate crime in Charlottesville, Virginia – a white supremacist drove into a crowd of protestors calling for action against a then-recent neo-Nazi rally in the city. Protestors and journalists alike have also effectively streamed protests as on-the-ground reporting, and the practice gained renewed attention during the 2020 protests against the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. CNN reporter Omar Jimenez was even arrested on air for covering one of these protests. As an individual tool, it is clear that live streaming is not only readily available, but can be extremely valuable to showcasing the realities of a societal problem.
How Live Streaming News Might Not Work for Some Journalists
However, what happens when a newsroom tries to shift too rapidly into the practice, allocating thousands of dollars of resources into specialized live streaming services? This is arguably the reason why live streaming has not become the de facto future of news. In the late 2010s, live streaming was heralded as such, and many industry professionals had gone on record to profess their excitement.
“Streaming TV feels like a new frontier where old rules about length, format and expectations are exploding in real time,” The New York Times digital strategist Sam Dolnick told PR Newswire in 2018. “When you’re not locked into 30 minutes with commercial breaks, what other conventions can you throw out?”
The ultimate issue with the live streaming news boom is that it actually didn’t throw away conventions of reporting. Rather, it largely reinforced the very same model that it was meant to disrupt. When reviewing the archived Twitch streams from The Washington Post and Rolling Stone, it’s noticeable that they weren’t too dissimilar from traditional 24/7 cable newscasts, even if the latter was more laidback in tone. Both publications became world-renowned through voices that could only be truly achieved in writing. By trying to go all in on live streaming and largely rejecting those same reporting voices, the investment ultimately failed to retain the readership each publication continues to maintain.
So, What’s Next?
The bottom line is that there is a way to incorporate live streaming elements into journalism. In fact, it can mean the difference between a story being told and a story being buried. However, allocating massive amounts of resources away from written journalism and into live-streamed news broadcasts can spell trouble for many digital-first newsrooms.
Journalists of all abilities and mediums should utilize live streaming as a tool to shine an authentic light on societal and cultural events, and to give a voice and face to the issues of today. Broadcast journalists can utilize live streaming technology to provide moment-by-moment coverage that might not fit on a traditional segment, while written journalists can use it to provide critical context to their stories. No matter how journalists use it, however, the implementation of live streaming can result in some truly great journalism. Just don’t rely solely on it.