Believe it or not, Twitter has been around for nine years now. Shortly after Twitter launched in March of 2006, The American Journalism Review (AJR) published an article that referred to Twitter as “…the latest in an ever-lengthening list of overhyped technologies and cultural techno-fads stretching back to CB radio.” The industry largely doubted the viability of Twitter as a news platform. They will not repeat this mistake with Periscope and Meerkat, two new live-video apps that enable anyone with a smartphone to broadcast a live-video feed to their Twitter followers. Just as Twitter has become the first broadcast breaking news in text and photo formats, so too will it now bring us live-video coverage of news as it unfolds.
Back to the AJR article for a second – because it provides a great illustration for how news organizations have evolved their approach to new platforms and consumption patterns across their audiences – the author posed the question of whether Twitter was a fad, or if it could actually end up being useful for news distribution, reporting or source-building. It was a wait and see attitude that dominated an industry rooted in traditions and paralyzed by a lack of innovation and willingness to change.
In one of my first blog posts on Journalistics, nearly two years after the launch of Twitter, I shared the results of a survey I conducted with more than 100 professional journalists at the time. I interviewed reporters and producers about the biggest challenges facing them in preparing the news in a rapidly-changing media environment. Not surprisingly, there wasn’t a single mention of “learning how to use Twitter in my reporting.” I’ll say it again, that was two years after the launch of Twitter.
Fast-forward to 2015 and we’re witnessing the next transformation in social media-based reporting with the launch of Meerkat and Periscope. These services launched over the course of the past couple of weeks. Every minute, news organizations, reporters and a bunch of other early adopters are starting to leverage these new platforms to broadcast their live-video feeds to anyone that will watch. If you aren’t yet familiar with how this works, once you click a button to begin the stream, your Twitter followers are notified that you’re broadcasting. They just have to click the link and their preferred device becomes the new window into the world of breaking news (or anything else publishers choose to broadcast).
Simply put, every smartphone is now the camera crew – a crew that is already on-site, ready for you to cut over to their live feed and take you to the scene as the story develops. I doubt we’ll see the same skepticism from the journalism industry that we saw when Twitter came to market.
In summary, here are some powerful observations for why Periscope and Meerkat have become the next Twitter for Reporters, and why it’s going to happen much, much faster than it did back in 2006:
- Rapid Technology Adoption – It took YEARS for news organizations to adopt Twitter. It’s taken DAYS for them to adopt Meerkat and Periscope. News organizations are rising to the challenges issued by their audiences – and by their new competition, everyone with a smartphone. However audiences choose to consume news content, news organizations will deliver. This is a promising sign for the future of the news business.
- Execute, Test and Learn – The New Reporting Model – News organizations are acting more like startups every day – quick to execute, test and learn – and then use those learnings to consistently improve subsequent executions. Gone are the days of over-thinking and over-planning the launch of a new platform. There is no longer a wait and see attitude at news organizations – it’s a be first or risk losing your audience proposition.
- Leverage Existing Platforms – Meerkat and Periscope did something amazing – they tapped an established platform as the backbone, providing more utility for users of Twitter, while giving users of the livestreaming apps an instant audience to broadcast to (their existing Twitter audience). It’s natural for Twitter users to broadcast news to followers – Meerkat and Periscope make this instant access more powerful and visual than ever before. What other yet-to-be-exploited functionality exists across other social platforms will bring similar transformation to how news organizations use these platforms to deliver the news?
- Interactive News Facilitation – Both services integrate live chat functionality, enabling viewers to engage in real-time discussions with reporters broadcasting the news as it happens. This will be quickly integrated into television broadcasts, transforming the way all of us are able to interact with news as it’s happening – at the same lightning-fast speed Twitter is now known for. This is a BIG deal. If you want to integrate live chat on a television broadcast (or even a feed on an app), there are significant technology and investment hurdles to clear – even for integrating a Twitter feed. With Periscope and Meerkat, it’s native functionality. The discussion is taking place whether you want it to or not (note: this is one advantage Periscope has out of the gate, it supports filtering of those chats – something that was probably obvious for the more-mature Twitter, a company that’s been working with news organizations for years now).
- Citizen Journalists Get Upgrade – Professional journalists aren’t the only winners here of course. Citizen journalists have gotten a platform upgrade, now able to not only Tweet the news not only in text and photos, but also high-quality video feeds. Look for citizen journalists to elevate their personal brands, as they become the go-to sources on these emerging platforms. Early adopters of both platforms are already using the service to cover stories.
- It’s happening NOW – at breakfast this morning, I said the first Meerkater to get their “Hudson River” fifteen minutes of fame would forever cement themselves into the journalism history books. Fast forward a few hours, and a horrible four-alarm fire breaks out in New York City. Who is there to cover the story as it happens? A ton of new users trying out Meerkat and Periscope for the first time (see “Apps Meerkat, Periscope in Race for Live-Video Supremacy,” Wall Street Journal from tonight).
- Competition Facilitates Iteration – As the Wall Street Journal article suggests, both platforms are in a head-to-head race for being the app of choice for professional and amateur journalists alike. The lines between the two are blurring, particularly for covering breaking news. Meerkat has the advantage of being first-to-market and the recent darling of SXSW. Periscope has the advantage of being owned by Twitter, currently the platform both rely on for their backbone. Both are well funded and working hard to bring us new features and functionality ahead of the rest of us getting on board.
Whether you’re already referring to yourself as a “Meerkater” or you’ve just gotten your Periscope up, there is no question these new entrants into the social media journalism game will quickly become the standard for reporting on breaking news – particularly outside of major markets, where it might be more cost-prohibitive or otherwise limiting to get a crew to the scene in time to report on the story.
Instant video feeds from any news event, anywhere in the world, as it’s happening. That is one powerful value proposition for the future of journalism.
What do you think? Have you tried Meerkat or Periscope yet? Will you be using it to broadcast your next story? Share your thoughts in the comments below.