Inthe first moments of Turkey’s attempted coup, Facebook and Periscope’s video maps lit up with dozens of live streams peppered across the country, all happening at once.
Within an hour, those dozens turned into hundreds of concurrent live streams, along with hundreds more nearly-live videos — videos posted moments after they were recorded. Taken together, they provided the most instant and unfiltered view into a breaking story in history.
In the Breaking News newsroom, we were simultaneously immersed in the story and a bit overwhelmed by it all. We witnessed the chaos across multiple screens and countless browser tabs, reporting what we saw with our own eyes from our desks in Seattle — more than 6,000 miles away.
It was like we had teleported there.Social media has had a profound impact on how we cover and consume news. But with the debut of live and nearly-live video, something much bigger is happening. When so many people capture what they see, all at once, it has deep implications that we’re all just beginning to understand.
When you watch someone’s Periscope or Facebook Live stream, you’re not watching a presentation, you’re joining their experience. They see you’re watching, and you can interact with them. In essence you’ve decided to teleport there right next to them.
When they’re unexpectedly in the middle of a breaking story with unpredictable outcomes, the video is not just compelling, it’s visceral. You experience immediate empathy for the person you’ve joined and other people nearby. It could happen to any of us, and it’s happening right now.It’s one thing to watch Michael Bautista’s terrifying Facebook Live video of the Dallas shooting after the fact, and quite another to join him live and experience the tragedy firsthand. He wasn’t sent to the story to cover it; he found himself in the middle of it. He wasn’t trying to look good on camera; he was horrified, just like the rest of us. For those who joined him in those 3 minutes, they lived his story in real time.
As Turkey has taught us, these live streams are multiplying, appearing and disappearing without warning. As William Gibson once said, “The future is already here; it’s just not evenly distributed.”
Or in this case, it’s quickly becoming massively distributed around some of the largest stories of our time, changing the face of breaking news forever.Suddenly the sight of a lone TV reporter standing in front of a story, calmly narrating what she sees behind her, feels strangely detached. Given the choice, many people will rather experience a story than watch someone tell us about it. TV news is no longer the only place to see history in the making.
This doesn’t mean the news media’s role will be replaced — it’s just changing. Journalists are no longer the sole gatekeepers, we’re the sense-makers. There’s a greater need than ever to synthesize the growing avalanche of video and other witness reports into facts and context — not just in the hours after, but at the pace of the story. Even though people can see what’s happening, they may not know what’s really happening.
A day before the attempted coup in Turkey, a truck barreled into a crowd returning from a fireworks show in Nice, France. In the early minutes of the story, it was clear something terrible had happened, but many people in the area didn’t know why everyone was running and sirens filled the air.
Two people in Nice shared tips in the Breaking News app moments after the attack, explaining they heard lots of sirens near the Promenade. That enabled our team to quickly launch several persistent searches on social media, proactively looking for any hint of what’s happening nearby.
Within minutes about a dozen eyewitness reports appeared, including a Twitter video of people fleeing the area and a live Periscope stream that showed several people down along a roadway. Comparing their accounts and the locations they were posted, we posted our first update: “Several witnesses report a truck has crashed into a crowd during Bastille Day celebrations in Nice, France.”
This update appeared before the first French news report, and we sent a push notification to everyone with the Breaking News app in the Nice area, explaining what was happening. Additional videos — including of the attack itself — painted a fuller picture, enabling us to fill in details, dispute rumors and provide context.
We were reporting the story from the other side of the world.
Most breaking stories can’t be covered without reporters on scene, and there’s still no substitute for “boots on the ground.” In fact, many countries — including the largest — still don’t have the luxury of internet access that will support live streaming. Either the internet is too spotty, the government is too restrictive or the people are too poor.
But live video is quickly moving from the exception to the rule. When a story breaks in the U.S., it’s increasingly likely that someone is capturing it on video, either live on Periscope or Facebook or in a nearly-live clip on Snapchat, Instagram or Twitter. And now those videos are multiplying, often bubbling up in news feeds before reporters arrive on scene.
When you teleport into tragedy, it’s a terrible thing to witness. It’s not entertainment, but for some, it will become spectacle. For news organizations, there’s no need to dramatize the stories shared by people caught in tragedy and chaos. Our challenge is to stick to the facts and make sense of it all.
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