Will Live Video Democratise Journalism? Probably Not.

It seems that the concept of ‘anyone can be a journalist’ is an ever-recurring trend as we grow our social media capabilities and comfort with sharing online. But a year on from the launch of Facebook Live, is 2016 really the year that broadcasting to the world became an option for all?

This was the question posed by Andy Dangerfield, Social Media Editor of Buzzfeed UK, at Social Media Week London. Dangerfield spoke about the four ‘buckets’ of most successful live content:

1) Simple, original, engaged – an example being ‘Drummond Puddle Watch where people from all over the world tuned in to watch people in Newcastle cross a puddle.

2) An element of absurdity – such as the now infamous Chewbacca Mom laughing hysterically with her mask purchase.

3) Extraordinary scenes – including the coverage of the Orlando vigils or the aftermath of the Brussels attack.

4) A sense of jeopardy – an example being the man climbing up Trump Tower.

Listening to his presentation, it would seem that indeed anyone could find success in live video if they could produce the right kind of content.


But by hosting a panel with the BBC, Facebook and The Economist to chat about ‘Social News and the Power of Live Video’, you could argue that the conversation was less about ‘power to the people’ and rather ‘more views for the few’.

Chewbacca Mom was heavily featured in the panel – Dangerfield even brought along a replica mask – as an example of how livestreaming is taking the world by storm and allowing everyone to reach an audience when their content is right. But Chewbacca Mom didn’t have millions of viewers when she was live – she gained views by posting the video on her feed once the broadcast was over and, like many viral videos, achieving true popularity over the course of a few days. Fast growth for sure – but it had nothing to do with the fact it was live.

You could argue the same about the aftermath coverage of big events – surely the beauty of live video is that it’s happening right now – not a day later. There are of course examples of this – such as the man climbing Trump Tower – but again, this was promoted not just through one person’s channel, it was picked up by the media and spread. In fact, some of the most popular live coverage was by CNN, Fox News and BuzzFeed.

So it begs the question – does the power of live video lie in the ability for large media organisations to create a variety of content pieces to widen their audience and tell different types of stories; or does it lie in the media outlets keeping better tabs on what’s being broadcast live, and then giving life to it under their name?

It seems that in 2016, while audiences are being fed the content they subscribe to, the large majority of us are unlikely to see something of real value happen live. The time it takes to filter through the ‘share machine’ is most likely longer than the event itself, after all. So maybe the answer lies in better algorithms to point audiences in the direction of other regular people broadcasting ‘need-to-see’ content, as opposed to content from accounts with already large followings. Until then, the winners will still be the 0.001% of ordinary content that goes viral in the usual ways, or the big media players playing with different formats to attract even larger viewership.

But 2017 is a new year, and the prediction trends begin again in a few months — so maybe it’ll be the year of democratised journalism. But probably not.

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