It’s important to begin this post with two acknowledgements;
The first, universal:
Regardless of the event being livestreamed but especially if it is a demonstration in a public space, everyone present always runs some risk of something negative happening to them. In some cases this risk is extremely minimal as was the case in the permitted Millions March in NYC. In other cases this risk is extremely high as was the case during Occupy Wall Street demonstrations.
Risk is always present from or to anyone at a demonstration: protesters, random passersby, police, lawyers, legal observers, journalists (photographers, writers, livestreamers, livetweeters)… even judges (police accosted some during Occupy protests.)
If you do not acknowledge the assumed risk present at every demonstration, stop reading this post now… and for what it’s worth you should probably never attend a demonstration ever again… but that’s another issue.
The second, personal:
I am writing this with a great deal of livestreaming experience but also as a resident of New York City. Protest cultures differ from place to place, city to city, and country to country. Nevertheless, I believe this is a good discussion to set groundwork in the field of livestreaming.
For the past three years I have been a livestreamer covering demonstrations and teach-ins. The issue of how livestreamers interact with protesters is an issue which has risen previously but was never something I responded to. My position always was, and still is, if someone tells you they do not want to be on camera you do your best to keep them off camera. People have their reasons and you must respect that to the best of your ability.
I need to acknowledge how before I started livestreaming I considered myself a protester *not* a reporter, media personnel, or anything else. I was a proud activist present at Occupy Wall Street to learn about issues, and nothing else. I went to the demonstrations as a disgruntled Democrat. Here and there I did film marches but for the most part my function was “participant.” When I was asked to be a livestreamer my feeling was as follows:
“I studied Communications, Mass Media in school. I know how monopolized all the media we watch is. I am fully aware of how much our media lacks in its diversity of perspective. Having spent the time I have at Occupy I have learned a very different narrative (supported by facts) about the world in which I live. With this knowledge, and streaming, I can provide another point-of-view on the issues.” It was not an attempt to manipulate people or create my own narrative, but merely to regurgitate information I’d learned at Occupy Wall Street and from watching Noam Chomsky videos on YouTube (as well as relay personal experiences, ethical and critical thinking.)
So I started livestreaming and fell into a repetitive pattern of doing so for everything because it was very easy and I felt I had more of a function at demos.
Since Occupy Wall Street some have come to talk about livestreaming as a tool to film the police… and nothing else. While livestreaming is an extremely useful tool in filming police, to say that is its only use in activism is to say the only proper form of protest is sleeping on a sidewalk.
The real purpose of livestreaming is to capture events, in real-time, unedited for a very honest perspective of what is taking place. Note, this does not necessarily mean that everything happening will be filmed. Certain situations, while they may occur at a demonstration, really don’t need to be shown. They don’t help anyone to understand what is happening better and can actually hinder the viewer’s understanding of what is taking place, and the issues related to the event.
Two personal instances of these distractions were during the Kimani Gray protests in East Flatbush. I was present to stream the community’s outrage over the death of a 16-year-old black youth. There was a moment in the demonstration when, as the protesters marched along the street two participants began screaming at each other. Immediately, I pointed my camera to ground and continued with the march. I didn’t do this to censor the event but rather because two community members fighting at a demo is nothing more than a distraction from the issue at hand. That issue being, a 16-year-old kid had been killed by police. Also during the march was a moment when some demonstrators knocked over a garbage can. I made a point to not stream this because it was yet again another distraction. I filmed the can on the ground afterward, to show it had been knocked over, but focusing on it would have been a distraction from the issue of a 16-year-old kid being killed.
Another instance was when I streamed a northbound march for Mike Brown on the West Side Highway. Here, members of the community began yelling at each other again. Though I’m sure it ended up being recorded on audio I moved the camera away from them because the point of the march was to call out the injustice of a decision not to indict Darren Wilson. It was not to film community members fighting.
Every community, regardless of their color and race will fight sometimes. Fighting is human. Arguing is human, and quite natural, especially when life is already frustrating to you. There is no need to document it when the demonstration taking place does not have any relevance to their argument whatsoever.
Those were some of the easier instances when I could opt to not stream certain things. The choice is not always so easy though. In these uneasy moments when things are completely unpredictable, dilemmas arise.
There have been times when livestreamers were called “informants” for the authorities. Truth be told, I understand the origin of this concern. As a livestreamer I’m fully aware of the fact that everything I film does get sent to a server. Every person present at a demonstration could at some point pass in front of my camera which means every person filmed is documented on my channel, in real time. This is another reason why I made those choices (explained earlier) during the Kimani Gray and Mike Brown marches. My problem with the piece though is how it absolves the protester of all responsibility for being in protest situations in the first place.
During my broadcasts I have had smaller and larger numbers of viewers watching. I would not be surprised if there were some police officers, on duty, watching the stream (maybe even mirroring and archiving the footage.) Such is the nature of our rapidly changing world of technology and surveillance where there are few laws being enforced/governing the oversight and accountability of data collection.
During any demonstration, unless there is a speaker addressing the crowd it is my general style to walk in the front or back, to try and film banners and signs, to film around, to get an overhead visual, and to walk through or let it march around me. I am trying to give someone a very full impression of what is taking place. Doing so can only help to add to my commentary about the demonstration as the protest is never just about what I am saying as a reporter. I have my point-of-view which I always try to make as representative as possible of the demonstration. The best way to go about this is to film signs and the people present, as well as the number of people present, and the general mood of the demonstration. I never want to film someone doing something which could land them in legal trouble. At the same time, people should think twice before doing certain things when it’s common knowledge, thanks to Edward Snowden, that nothing is private and everything is being watched.
Suppose at the beginning of a demonstration, or other another event, an individual approaches a livestreamer and says “I don’t want to be on camera.” As a matter of respect I would usually do my best to account for this person’s preference. A problem could arise later though if no one else said anything to me before the march. What happens if I am walking through the demonstration and the person who made the request for privacy passes by for a moment. It’s a situation of both myself and the person being in the wrong place at the wrong time. That’s it. I am not trying to disrespect their wishes but people walk around. It’s a public demonstration, in a public space. People end up on camera sometimes. It’s not the fault of the streamer or the person. There is a limit to how much a streamer can avoid or even see that person in a crowd (and vice versa for the person with the request to remain off-camera.)
What happens if 10 people say they do not want to be on camera, and nothing else. Then a livestreamer is near 3 of them when they are being arrested. Logic would dictate that one should stream the people for the sake of legal issues. In most cases one should stream them for legal purposes. What happens though if the person literally meant they do not want to be on camera at all, ever. Should I betray their wishes and livestream their arrest? Should I stop the broadcast entirely during a mass arrest to accommodate for those 10 people amidst 200 others? These may seem like silly questions but in the utmost respect for a person’s wishes, and a streamer’s lack of knowledge of the arrestee’s personal life, you never know.
The easiest thing to tell someone who does not want to be on camera, should they request it, is to advise them to stay towards the perimeter of the demo, and keep a very close eye on where I am. It’s much easier to pick out a livestreamer than it is for a livestreamer to keep knowing the location of individual people in a demonstration. In extreme cases like the Kimani Gray demonstrations, I had been previously instructed to only film the backs of people’s heads and the police unless there was a police-protest confrontation to demand otherwise. I obliged. At panel discussions I usually don’t film the audience because the camera spinning may become annoying to the viewer, but also because it’s easiest to just not ask the audience about their camera presence.
Note: As a matter of principle and to enjoy myself more as I film, I usually avoid streaming discussions when march organizers are deciding where they want to go. For the sake of their planning it’s more respectful that I don’t stream these discussions. For the sake of unpredictability, it’s not fun to know where the demonstration will go.
In Journalism, the only difference between photojournalists, writers, on-scene TV news, videographers, and livestreamers is: livestreamers will film the most of any of the aforementioned parties. Photojournalists, writers, on-scene TV news, and videographers all run the exact same risk of being “informants” at a demo. Writers can quote people or take an audio recording; photojournalists take still frames with clear images of faces; videographers can easily post their edited content to YouTube and expose people too; on-scene TV news is just as unedited as livestream but it captures less. So basically, every person who is reporting on a demo has the risk of being an informant. Truth be told, unless demo organizers want no media exposure whatsoever, they will need to have some “informant” present.
It is certainly the job of the media personnel to ask, when possible, if someone wants to be documented. Before an interview certainly, before a teach-in it’s easy. However, when you attend a demo with 1000 people (some leaving and some joining midway through the event) it’s impossible to ask every person if they are comfortable being on camera. Earlier in the piece I discussed the reality of potential risk to every individual present at a demo. This is one of those risks. In a crowd of 1000 people there are a lot of people who have the intention of taking part in activism; wherever that particular march may take them, and regardless of whatever media entities record their presence.
It is very doubtful the person who stood in front of the tank in Tiananmen Square was asked if that moment was okay to document. There is an image of a Ferguson protester throwing something at police, while holding a bag of chips, and wearing a t-shirt with an American flag. I seriously doubt that photo was staged. It made history though.
The purpose of livestreaming is not to just hold police accountable. Some people may use livestream for this reason which is fine (in which case you need an entirely different article addressing many other concerns to explain how to livestream,) but there are many more valuable uses for it. On the Ferguson livestreams there were times when the community would come out and stand in the middle of the street to defy a curfew. They did nothing besides stand there, and were tear gassed as a result. Had the livestream not been there to document the lack of provocation to warrant tear gas, who knows how those interactions would have been seen by outsiders looking in. The Mainstream Media kept playing up the rioter narrative. If you watched vines, livestreams, YouTube or even just saw photos it was obvious the rioter narrative was false.
If there is a moment when someone does consent to give an interview on a livestream camera and then someone else walks into the background and writes “Hands Up” on a building, is it still the livestreamer’s fault for not asking the other person’s permission first? To show it’s not only livestreamers who run this risk of exposing others… Watch this possible drug deal in the background of a live Fox 25 broadcast.
The purpose of livestreaming is to give a full picture of the event taking place. While filming a person in the background doing graffiti is something I, as a streamer, would prefer not to capture I will not stop an interview just for that. To stop would be disrespectful to the subject who gave consent. Sometimes giving a full picture may capture something unwanted. For the record, that same situation can arise if the person filming is using a non-live video camera as well.
Everyone present at any demonstration always shares some responsibility for their actions in that situation. On a personal note, I happen to love graffiti/”Street Art” and I don’t think any populated setting is complete without it. It’s still illegal though and should someone post graffiti in the background of a livestream, of something completely different (but consensual,) is it still the livestreamer’s fault?
Note: If a livestreamer is with a small group and is told not to film temporarily but does anyway, that’s not cool. The group can also tell the streamer to mute the feed for a more private conversation if needed, and the streamer should oblige. (Btw, if the group tells the streamer to mute the feed and then goes into a bigoted rant, the group are a bunch of cowards.)
Sensitivity is crucial as a livestreamer but responsibility at a demo must be shared by all those present.
Once, in 2012, I streamed a demonstration outside a Presidential Campaign fundraiser in Times Square. The aim of the demo was to call attention to the corrupting influence of Money In Politics. As the march approached the location there was a moment when the police wanted to discuss the march’s path with a pacer. I immediately went to livestream the discussion. As soon as I did the officer said to me “Hey. Come on, man!” My response to this was to address the march pacer and ask “Are you okay?” The pacer responded that the situation did not need to be streamed. As the pacer had taken responsibility for the moment and the interaction, I allowed them their privacy.
Discussions have risen about whether or not livestreamers should narrate the location of a demonstration. The problem though is this narration is always criticized based on the idea that it would tell the police where the march is. It might. At the same time, over the past three years of streaming demonstrations I can only remember one time when the police were not following the march. As such the need for the police to have the streamer “tell them,” where the march is doesn’t exist. There could also be under cover officers in the march who report back to headquarters somehow. They could very easily text-back a location with their phones.
Suppose the march manages to confuse the police and separate from them. While this coordination in itself would be quite an impressive feat for a large march, the police could find the march by using the GPS coordinates of a thousand different phone numbers which happen to be in the same place and moving in the exact same path. We live in the age of NSA surveillance. Building on that argument should the police want to they don’t even need to use the livestreamer to overhear conversations between protesters. If they really cared enough they could just hot-mic every phone on the march and eavesdrop, which basically makes every person who has a smartphone with no removable battery (iPhones) a “snitch.” (Note: I’m pretty confident the authorities have the capability to find your GPS coordinates even if you have turned them off. Generally speaking, all the authorities need is some kind of signal access to your phone and they can hack it if they really want to.)
If they don’t want to use phone hacking techniques the police could very easily just use their knowledge of the area and predict where a march may end up. They could also just ask their surveillance helicopters or they could look up one of their aerial surveillance drones (if they have those.) It’s also possible any officer assigned to monitor the social media accounts of people who do Tweeting and Facebook updates could look at the geotag on the post to determine locations. They could also just watch their street surveillance cameras if the demo is in New York or any other place with security cameras at every corner.
To call a livestreamer a snitch gives us way more credit than we deserve.
Finally, just on a point of general security culture. Don’t organize, comment, make event pages, or RSVP to any events… on Facebook. There is no site with more surveillance on the internet.
A livestreamer’s duty is to document an event while being as respectful as possible to its participants. At the same time, it is very unfair to say the livestreamer bears all the responsibility for another individual’s media presence, and actions at a demo.
Finally, how many Mainstream Media outlets would make a point of filming and praising a demonstration which, in the midst of blocking traffic, suddenly parts like the Red Sea to allow an ambulance to pass through?
A quick… or lengthy… how to…
Livestream is a new and “hip” technology, but not as new as you may think. Livestream has already been used for national broadcasts of the State Of The Union address. CSPAN has been livestreaming for a while. The Concert for New York, after 9/11, was livestreamed. How long has Saturday Night Live been running? Livestreaming in protests is the exciting part. Livestreaming from a smartphone is the innovation.
Livestreaming itself isn’t too complex. You basically just need a smartphone, an external battery, a data plan, and a streaming account.
For an operating system, iOS and Android will usually suffice (I don’t know about other operating systems.) Visual quality usually depends on what app you use and how good the phone lens is. An external battery is crucial as a livestream broadcast can drain the battery within a half hour. I have an EasyACC battery (5 hours charge), and an Energizer XPal (12 hours charge.) The energizer battery itself charges quickly, the EasyACC can take a day (both can be purchased on Amazon.)
The data plan is probably the most expensive part of streaming. Remember though, most people will not stream for more than a few hours at occasional events (this makes data much more affordable.) If streaming collectives can be formed different people can take turns streaming, learn from one another, and prolong the period of broadcast time while saving on overall data costs.
As far as streaming services, I use Ustream primarily. Other services are Bambuser, and Livestream. On all services the account is free and all you need to do is download a streaming app to your phone and sign in. (Other streaming apps and streaming infrastructures are always being developed.)
(Note: While Livestream, Ustream, and Bambuser are the platforms of choice in the US, should you find yourself in Latin America: Twitcasting is the platform of choice there. I believe Livestream works in Latin America too.)
(Also note: Should you use Twitcasting remember to stream holding your phone vertically *not* horizontally as you would with Ustream, Bambuser, and Livestream.)
You can also connect your Facebook and Twitter accounts to your streaming account and then Tweet, or Facebook, when you go live. When you have your account connected to Twitter and Facebook remember to use the important/trending hashtags so that your stream will be more easily found by others. Also remember to include the twitter handles of other media entities in your tweets when you go live so these entities can then tweet about your stream as well. Livestreaming is always about the community, it is never just about the action, or the person streaming. Viewers often enjoy when they can interact with the livestreamer via the chat (IGNORE THE TROLLS, DO NOT RESPOND TO THEM. Select people you trust to moderate the chat and block the trolls.) Viewers can also help disseminate your stream to their followers and friends. Regarding use of social networks, you can post to Facebook but don’t rely on it for circulation. It’s best to just say your stream will be available in the event page and on a few other organizing threads. Use Twitter instead.
It is always a good idea to let the livestream continuue for half a minute or so once you’ve finished a broadcast; just in case you lose footage or something else happens at the event. It’s also important to remember to archive your streams once every 45 minutes to an hour. This makes the archived file play more smoothly. Remember to click “save” at the end of your broadcast just in case.
It is important to download and save your videos after you record them so as to ensure the content is not lost via deletion. Ustream and Livestream delete videos after a certain period of time lapses (30 days usually.) I do not know if Bambuser deletes videos. Open an account there and experiment to find out!
Comparing Ustream to Livestream the biggest difference, to me, is the ability to take photos and post them to your chat in Livestream. I use Ustream primarily, regardless (I also have a backup phone I take photos with.)
When you stream always remember to be respectful of those you are filming. With the acknowledged risk of being at a demo taken into account, it’s still always the best practice to try and accommodate any requests of privacy from those present. Of course, sometimes things happen. You do your best.
Remember, while livestreaming does not only exist to film and make the police look bad it is also not just there to show burning buildings, people breaking windows, anyone doing anything illegal, property destruction, or looting. Someone else will likely show the violence so does the livestreamer really need to as well. If a store is broken into or set on fire the MSM will certainly publicize it. As such does the streamer really need to put out more content of that moment. Maybe just film the building burning after the fact while giving a commentary of what social circumstances led to the building being burnt (people don’t usually set fire to buildings for no reason.) From a completely different perspective it’s probably best to not film someone looting or burning a building anyway. They might not like being on film and might break your camera or steal it. Yet another inherent risk at a protest.
In many places people don’t want violent actions on livestream. In other places I’ve streamed the Black Bloc did not mind an independent streamer showing them smashing a window or throwing rocks at one. Before I knew how the Black Bloc felt I stood on the other side of the street. Something could be seen in the background but barely. Once I saw other media filming it I went a little closer. I was very cautious though to ensure those in the act had their faces covered. While certain things are inevitable to catch on camera, the livestreamer should always do their best to prevent incriminating someone. At the time I faced this decision I was in Brazil so I was even more cautious of their privacy (all things considered) as Brazil was a military dictatorship 30-40 years ago. The police in Brazil make US police look like the antithesis of brutal (they use percussion bombs solely to disperse crowds… of media.)
General filming techniques: Just try to keep the streaming device as steady as possible. Buy a monopod (“selfie stick”) if you can. Try not to turn very quickly or the image will “bleed” (everything becomes a blur on the viewing end.) Be very mindful of how you hold the camera and keep your fingers out of the way of the lens. The viewer doesn’t want to see fingers obscuring the view but also… this way the NSA can’t use its facial recognition software to scan your fingerprints into their database.
Interacting with police
My position always is: Streaming is not there just to film cops hitting people. Nevertheless, some people choose a more confrontational approach than others. Always remember: so long as you are in a public space everyone present at a demo, the police included, are subject to being filmed. No matter what any police officer says, when you are in a public space you are allowed to film your surroundings. Certain buildings, courthouses in NY for instance, have restrictions against filming within them (unless you have proper credentials.) Outside the courthouse, on the street, in public, is fair game though unless publicly searchable legal documents say otherwise.
When interacting with the police, or just documenting them, your phone is your own private property and therefore cannot be taken from you legally. If an arrest is taking place it is always best to remain approximately 15 feet from the arrest procedure. Get creative with your shots to see what is happening (phone held high, film low on the ground, etc.) If an officer tells you to “get back” when an arrest is taking place, do so. The purpose of a stream is to capture the arrest. It is not to piss off a cop and risk your own arrest. For better or for worse they do their job, you do yours. If the arrest is unconstitutional, your footage can help prove that later… in court. Streamers should not get physically involved to dispute an arrest with the arresting officers. (Note: In New York City, at least, merely touching a police officer is grounds for arrest under the charge of “assault.” They can be very particular about this. At the same time, there have been times when I was streaming while walking backward and accidentally bumped into an officer. Nothing happened, I had no interactions with the officer past this momentary contact, I was not arrested and I continued documenting.)
It is very important to remember only one streamer is needed to film an arrest (if possible accompanied by a legal observer.) If there is already a livestreamer documenting an arrest, other streamers should continue with the march. Too often when an arrest takes place the march stops and the demonstrators begin screaming at the police. This makes a situation even more volatile as now the police have justification to arrest more people since pedestrian traffic is blocked by a bunch of demonstrators who don’t realize screaming against an arrest is useless. This is not really something a streamer has control over but as soon as this happens the streamer should look for the nearest possible exit to ensure they are not in the middle of a crowd. Again, you are always allowed to be on the sidewalk, so when the aforementioned situation happens, get out of the crowd, stay with it (and hope the march continues), but make sure you are to the side and can film without obstructing the path of passersby. One is welcome to shout, curse, lecture, chat, make jokes, or explain the purpose of the demo to the officers present. Personally, I never see any point in this though, so I don’t do it. Others may have different styles, there is nothing illegal about it. In some cases, though they don’t respond, if you explain the purpose of the demo they may learn something. You never know how receptive or dismissive an officer may be. They are not all thoughtless robots. Don’t get your hopes up though to see them to drop their badges or switch sides. Mutiny only happens in the movies. A small interaction with one protester or livestreamer won’t give a police officer an epiphany.
The time of day you are streaming also factors into the demo. Police usually adopt a more hands-on approach as the sun goes down. Depending on the location of the demo, and how many people are present to see (bystanders specifically,) the more aggressive officers may be called out. The LRAD was only used once in NY (as as weapon) and it was late at night by Madison Ave and 58th street. Riot cops may be called just to intimidate protesters. When Ray Kelly was NYPD Commissioner police tactics were quite reactionary. Since Commissioner Bill Bratton was reappointed a combination of bad PR and a new, more “leftist” NYC mayor, have led to more relaxed police-protest interactions. (i.e. disorderly conduct arrests for dancing on a sidewalk or laying down/sitting down on a park bench have no longer been carried out at demos.)
Also to keep in mind about police. Most of them do not care about their presence at the protest. They are paid to go to a demo and stand around in case something happens, or they receive orders to do something. They really don’t care about the protests and probably don’t even care about what’s being said. Not in a bad way, they just don’t care about the event usually. Sometimes a conversation is possible with them. One is welcome to ask them questions on stream but don’t expect an answer unless you want their name and badge number (which they still may remain silent about.) Sometimes you get lucky and find an officer who responds. There was one time I filmed a discussion about communism with two officers and some Occupiers in Zuccotti Park (post-eviction.) The conversation lasted about 30 minutes and was really interesting.
(Note: There is a general rule of precaution to just never talk to the police. At the same time, for example in my aforementioned experience, I said a respectful “hello” to those same officers at a later action and they responded the same. I’m certain their behavior and interaction on that stream was considered good PR by the NYPD higher-ups.)
Back to the info to “keep you safe”… blah…
The safest place to stream in general is from the sidewalk. There is the least risk of arrest when livestreaming from here. If arrests are taking place in the street, be careful. There is no guarantee a streamer will be arrested (based on the situation and circumstances) but the risk is always greater for anyone in the street. Again the purpose of streaming is to document, not to get arrested. Do what you can but be mindful of who you are, where you are, and don’t try to show off.
Use your situational awareness in tense situations. Do not be afraid of going to the sidewalk, or the pedestrian area. If you think the march has no idea what it’s doing go to the sidewalk. If there is a tense situation between police and protesters, and you can film from the sidewalk (or a midroad median) do so. There is always a risk of being arrested or attacked on the sidewalk, but at least the sidewalk is where you have legal justification to be.
Again, a quick reminder, I am writing this from the perspective of a New Yorker, and more broadly, a US citizen. I have experience livestreaming under NY State and City laws and the general laws established by the Federal Government. Should you be reading this in a different state of the US, or a different country altogether, read up for a basic understanding of the laws for where you are.
Example: The tactics for repression of protests in Mexico and Brazil are generally far more brutal than anything you might find in the US. For instance, in the US it is legal to curse a police officer. In Brazil, merely insulting a police officer is a felony and makes you subject to arrest.
Always have an understanding of the laws for where you are. Call your local NLG chapter (or do a Google search) to find out what you need to know depending on where you are. Police may harass and intimidate you, they may also lie to you and tell you that you need to give them certain information.
Know your rights!
The only other thing to discuss is what to say while you are livestreaming. When I started streaming I approached it with an attitude of keeping the viewers’ attention. My interest was never in just streaming riot porn and conflict with cops. Truth be told when I did film that stuff it was only out of obligation. Here and there streaming confrontations can be a lot of fun but the viewer doesn’t really learn anything from watching them (it just reinforces a negative opinion of the police.) My interest was to give people another perspective on the content.
The problem though is keeping the viewers’ attention when there is very little happening. You can do an interview here and there but after a while I get tired of interviews. Having watched a lot of TV though and listened to many radio broadcasts I remembered a trademark phrase from the radio: “The loudest sound is silence.” It doesn’t matter how interesting the broadcast commentary is or how catchy the music being played is; if that audio goes silent for even one second everyone takes notice. As such, there needs to be constant stimulus on a livestream. Sometimes that could mean repeating the same things over and over again, or paraphrasing.
We all know how the Mainstream Media will portray things. We all know how they usually view leftist protesters. Sometimes I have been able to relate the protests more than other times. Occupy Wall Street was very easy to explain and relate to. A march for Medicare For All was easy to explain and and relate to. A march against the Democratic/Republican National Conventions were easy to explain and relate to. I cannot discuss what it is like to live as a Black person in the United States. In streaming Black Lives Matter protests my attitude was to give background on what happened and the basic facts of the case. I could also discuss related issues: the Drug War, the Prison Industry, who gets targeted most in the volunteer military recruitment system, the basic statistics of Stop and Frisk, Broken Windows policing, and what I’ve read about basic interactions between the police and Communities of Color. While these things may not seem related to one instance of an 18-year-old black youth being killed in Ferguson, or a man dying from an illegal choke hold in New York, they are things which effect the black community every day.
There were times early on, when I would stream demonstrations and friends would tell me that my commentary was like a “Play-by-Play.” They could walk away from the stream with the sound on and it would be like a radio broadcast. They knew exactly what was happening due to narration. I don’t always do this anymore. Sometimes when you’re in the moment you can just shut up, walk with the march, and there is no commentary needed at all. Some people generally prefer to talk less. It’s very style-based.
Avoid going on tangents if you can. Keep your narrative concise and to the issue of the event. It is a good idea to listen very carefully to the people you interview. Don’t press the subject of an interview if they seem uncomfortable on camera (even after they have given consent to being streamed.) Many people go to events with a lot of passion but limited knowledge of the issue. They might go on tangents and talk about issues that make no sense. Know about the issue you are broadcasting. Be fair to all demonstrators at the event when you decide with whom to prolong an interview, and when to move on.
When the TV news puts people on broadcast they have gone through a lot of different people and are choosing the exact responses they want. Livestreaming doesn’t have that luxury/opportunity to manipulate, so it is the job of the streamer to ensure the people at the event are represented fairly. If the subject of the interview says something you disagree with don’t dispute it outright, let them finish their point. They are the voice of the people at the event and livestreaming is a people’s media. Discussions and heated debates are nice to have, but be sure they have their chance to speak. You are interviewing a cross-section of the public.
Regarding screaming, don’t do it. It creates too much feedback for the viewer. If you do scream, hold the phone far away from your mouth.
One thing you will learn when you’re livestreaming is what kinds of people are watching. This lesson will only come when there is heavy confrontation (riot porn.) The three people are those who want to watch protesters stand up to police, those who want to see police beat up protesters, and those who just want to see things getting smashed or people bleeding and getting hit. Views will usually skyrocket when you stream an arrest or a confrontation or serious traffic blockage. Not all viewers always care about the demo though. Conflict sells (this is also the easiest content you can sell to MSM, should you choose to) but only because it gets a viewer’s adrenaline pumping, not because the viewers are necessarily in agreement with the protest.
Don’t get too carried away in what viewers are saying or what they “suggest” you do as you are streaming. You are in the moment, not them. You have the situational awareness, not them. Don’t get arrested trying to look like a badass streamer to the viewer.
Oh yeah… Be brave and have fun!!
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