Thought Paper: Facebook Live in Scholastic Journalism

NOTE: This was a paper I wrote for J7700 Participatory Journalism that was supposed to discuss concepts concerning “the sharing of digital journalism.” In the class, this type of paper is called a “Thought Paper.” I’m sharing it here because I want to be transparent about my evolution of thought concerning my work in this master’s degree program and as a high school journalism adviser.


Serving Readers in New Ways:

Possible Facebook Live Applications in a Scholastic Journalism Program

I am not a fan of Facebook. It is a distraction in my world. I had to go the extreme step of deleting the app from my phone to prevent myself from mindlessly scrolling through the banal updates posted by the connections on the social media platform. It was an addiction. Whenever I had a moment of downtime, I would scroll. I hated how I could never seem to see anything from my close friends and family but saw a plethora of uninteresting videos thanks to the social network’s algorithm. However, I continued to scroll in hopes of seeing something real. I found myself focusing on Facebook instead of the other humans I was around, especially my wife. It didn’t seem healthy. I viewed Facebook as a barrier to real, human interaction and engagement, so I jettisoned it from my daily life.

Of late, though, I can sense my stance changing a bit. First, since my wife and I recently found out we will be having our first child this fall, I can see the benefit of becoming more active on the platform again if at least to share photos our forthcoming son or daughter. Second, I think the social network provides untapped potential for my journalism students. Specifically, I believe the Facebook Live capabilities could provide a unique opportunity for my students to do more than just publish our yearbook, news magazine, and news website. The first step, though, is to get over myself and my issues with Facebook in order to provide my students with needed opportunities to experience and practice journalism in the ever-evolving technological space afforded to them. It’s an on-demand world, and, as Holly Gauntt, KDVR VP of news and digital content, said, “People live with phones in their hands. We’ve got to learn to adapt to that audience” (Kuperberg, 2016, p. 28). Facebook Live provides an avenue for that exact type of adaptation.

Tompkins & Mullin (2016) suggest 10 important considerations before going live, which include having a reason to go live, being able to add value to an event, being willing to interact with viewers, target a niche audience, and exercise caution. When it comes to having a reason to go live with my student journalist, an answer that jumps out at me is a sporting event, and research suggests going live for this is the type of event makes the most sense (Morrison, 2016). The school I work at already has a broadcasting group, which is ran by the social studies teacher and pre-dates my employment there, that uses a sports-broadcast service called The Cube. However, the group does not cover junior varsity events. This fact presents itself as both a reason to go live and add value to a target audience in need of reaching, namely the families of the junior varsity players who are unable to attend the various games played throughout the season.

Junior varsity athletics checks a lot of the boxes in terms of making the decision to embark upon Facebook Live or not, but the one chief concern is the call for caution. At a sporting event the concern isn’t inadvertently broadcasting something horrific. It is more about the fact I would have high school students broadcasting live without much a buffer or filter. Also, they would be interacting with viewers as they commented on the stream. As I would want our Facebook Live stream to be more than a shameless attempt to raise interest in the work my students do, I wouldn’t want them to take part in antics derived solely to attract eyeballs (Kulwin, 2016). Therefore, a plan and training would be crucial.

There are other platforms available for live-streaming, such as Periscope or the aforementioned The Cub. However, Facebook stands out because of the sheer number of people on the network and the fact the videos live on in perpetuity via the timeline, allowing for more engagement even after the live event has ended (Samuel, 2016). Mullin (2016) reported on the approach NPR took when the organization started out with Facebook Live, highlighting staffers’ goal of 10-minute long streams in order to gain maximum engagement. That’s a good target for non-sports coverage, but a junior varsity contest can go much longer than that. This necessitates more detail. A perfect starting place for my students and I would be “NPR’s guide to Facebook Live” (Graslie, 2016). The guide shares a few ideas about how to get the best video and audio. This includes finding the right adapter to hook a quality microphone up to whatever device the stream is being broadcast from. It also stresses the importance of making sure wifi or cellular connects are strong to avoid dropping the stream in the middle. One of the most important points it makes, though, stresses the point Batsell (2015) makes in that engagement should be the driving force for this type of initiative. Graslie (2016) said, “This is not TV. We want to avoid talking heads and old-fashioned broadcasts. The Facebook audience needs to feel involved in the production, and we should interact with them.”

A plan, including a general plan of what would and would not be said during a live event, seems manageable. I can handle it. The primary hurdle to overcome, then, is the equipment. I wouldn’t want to do this in a subpar fashion. The video and audio quality needs to be good, or at least decent. Karasiewicz (2016) suggests a lot of tools and methods to ensure a quality production, including a tripod, external light source, external microphone, and the required adapters to use a phone or tablet. One interesting suggestion in the list is a bluetooth remote so a stream could be done entirely solo without any awkward closeups while starting and stopping the video. The tools suggested tend to be a bit pricey, and I’m working at a public school in a state where public education is essentially under attack by the governor. Money is an issue. Petrucci (2016) provides a nice list of options presented in vary combinations of affordability. I particularly like the idea of attachable lenses and a Rode VideoMic for enhancing the capabilities of an iPhone. Furthermore, Petrucci (2016) lays out how live streaming from a laptop might be possible. The options are there, and the cheaper they are, the better chance I have of getting them approved. I’ve already started a shopping list on Amazon.

Facebook Live presents an exciting opportunity. Even if my students and I don’t get a full-blown stream of a junior varsity athletic event up and running before the end of the basketball season, starting to think about it now will yield dividends in the future. Track and softball seasons will be here soon, and they too will provide us the chance to try out this service in a controlled environment. Then, if the streams go according to plan and are well received, we can start dabbling in providing streams of other events. No matter what we do, though, I will have to keep in mind our first attempts won’t be stellar. We will have bugs to work out. I need to keep that in mind and be OK with it being a process. It might be a baby step into the arena of online video, but it is an important step.

References

Batsell, J. (2015). Engaged journalism: connecting with digitally empowered news audiences. New York: Columbia University Press.

Graslie, S. (2016, May 4). NPR’s guide to Facebook Live. National Public Radio. Retrieved February 17, 2017, from http://training.npr.org/social-media/nprs-guide-to-facebook-live/

Karasiewicz, C. (2016, May 27). 10 Facebook Live Video Tools for Better Videos. Social Chefs. Retrieved February 19, 2017, from http://www.socialchefs.com/facebook-live-video-tools/

Kelly, S. M. (2016, July 13). 15 essential tips for mastering Facebook Live. Mashable. Retrieved February 19, 2017, from http://mashable.com/2016/05/05/facebook-live-tips/#CyzuDSXgpsqz

Kulwin, N. (2016, May 12). Facebook Live is turning journalists into bad ‘Jackass’ copycats. Recode. Retrieved February 17, 2017, from http://www.recode.net/2016/5/12/11664682/facebook-live-is-turning-journalists-into-bad-jackass-copycats

Kuperberg, J. (2016). Stations Expand Coverage With Facebook Live. Broadcasting & Cable, 146(10), 28.

Morrison, M. (2016). Can Facebook Live Take On TV?. Advertising Age, 87(8), 0016.

Mullin, B. (2016, April 01). How 4 news organizations are using Facebook Live to reach broader audiences. Poynter. Retrieved February 17, 2017, from http://www.poynter.org/2016/how-4-news-organizations-are-using-facebook-live-to-reach-broader-audiences/404441/

Petrucci, L. (2016, October 10). 4 Ways to Broadcast on Facebook Live That Fit Any Budget. Social Media Examiner. Retrieved February 19, 2017, from http://www.socialmediaexaminer.com/4-ways-to-broadcast-on-facebook-live-that-fit-any-budget/

Samuel, L. (2016, September 07). Facebook Live Video: What Bloggers Need to Know. Become A Blogger. Retrieved February 19, 2017, from http://www.becomeablogger.com/22690/facebook-live-video-bloggers/

Tompkins, A., & Mullin, B. (2016, April 10). So, you want to try Facebook Live? Here are 10 tips for using the livestreaming app. Poynter. Retrieved February 17, 2017, from http://www.poynter.org/2016/so-you-want-to-try-facebook-live-here-are-10-tips-for-using-the-livestreaming-app/405493/