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Citizen journalism

September 2016 

If you have a smartphone, one with a camera and a touch screen, then you can be a television station, all on your own. What used to take millions of pounds and a licence is now open to us all at tiny cost.

This is because it is now possible for you to film what’s going on around you and broadcast it live over the internet. Uploading film is old hat, but live broadcasting is new, only just a year old, using systems like Periscope (owned by Twitter) and Facebook Live (launched this April); both are free to use.

Most of what is broadcast this way (“streamed”) is of no interest to anyone, but there is a growing trend of citizen journalism; this is anyone with a phone who finds themselves caught up in a significant event and then shows the world what is going on.  The dreadful events in Nice on Bastille Day are a case in point; the internet was awash with live streaming as the horrible story developed.    

This changes the way that we can hear the news. In the olden days, we would have to wait until the reporters arrived and sent dispatches which were published if an editor liked them; now, the citizen reporters are already on the spot and happy to transmit, without any constraints.

This lends an astonishing immediacy to newsgathering; put simply, we are now seeing things, as they happen, that before we would never have seen at all, even after the event.  It used to be a rare fluke if a journalist happened to be in the right place at the right time when something newsworthy took place; now it happens all the time.

As well as encouraging the traditional media to be more willing to show disturbing material (if it’s all out there for us to see anyway, why be squeamish?) it is also coinciding with a fascinating shift in the attitude of the broadcast platforms which the citizen journalists use.

Until now, the likes of Facebook and Twitter have always maintained that they will take down offensive stuff if they spot it, but it is not their fault that it is there in the first place.  They have claimed to be simply conduits, not publishers, and no more responsible for what is showing on their site than BT is responsible for what is said over a telephone line.  Obviously this is especially true of a live video feed.

However, we are seeing a perceptible shift in this approach, which might well prove to be at odds with allowing live steaming.  Some are beginning to move gently towards admitting they are publishers, sort of; presumably we might therefore expect to see them being held responsible for what we see on their platforms, live or recorded, whether they like it or not.

Newsfeed Values” which define what they will and won’t show you on your Facebook page.  The distinguished editor of The Oldie strives to ensure that the articles he publishes are of interest to the readers; Facebook is pruning what it shows you to try and achieve the same.  Like it or not, that is editing.  It may be done by robots, but it is still editing, and if they are editing, they must, even if only tacitly, be acknowledging that they know what’s there, and so must take some responsibility for it.

Likewise, Periscope says it will not tolerate unpleasant matter but “reserves the right to allow sensitive content when it is … newsworthy.”    That’s editing.

The Facebook youngsters, bless them, recognise that they are new to the job; rather humbly they say “We view our work as only one percent finished.”  Maybe they should hire some grey haired editors.

How to become a citizen journalist

So you want to broadcast to the world?  Be careful wjhat you wish for; you are planning to let people see what you are dioing, and once it's out there, it stays there.

This isn’t the place for a detailed tutorial, and anyway, these things are often best learned, to some extent, by trial and error.  On top of that, the software changes from time to time, but here's an overview.

Above all: don't say or show anything that you would not be happy saying or showing from a platform to a full Trafalgar Square.   You can limit the viewers, but you never know what they'll do with it!


Facebook Live


This is very easy to set up and use - although you have to have a Facebook account, because that's where your videos will appear.

At present you can only use it through you phone - your desktop or laptop can't be used as a broadcast camera. Assuming you have loaded the Facebook App onto your phone, it's free.  Remember Apple phones and Android phones  (Samsung and many more) need different versions.  My experience is with Android.

Once logged in, click on the Status (pen) symbol, as if you were going to post a message.

Once there, look for the "Go Live" symbol - a red person in a circle and click it.  Click that, give your item a title and press the Go Live button (bottom right).

You are now live on Facebook, and anyone of your friends can watch what you are up to.  Just who sees you will depend on the settings of your account; you can chose everyone, your friends or only you (useful while you are getting the hang of it).  You can also delete the video at any time if you want to.

That's all there is to it - very easy, really.  




Periscope is Twitter’s live broadcasting app, which allows users to either watch or create videos on their phones which can be watched at the same time by others.  It's very like Facebook live, except that the videos are broadcats on Twitter.   What you broadcast is only for 24 hours before being deleted, unless you change the settings.

I found it much more difficult to set up and get going than Facebook Live.

Viewers can interact with the broadcaster using on screen messages.

By default, broadcasts are public and viewable to anyone. If you create a private broadcast, only people who you invite will be able to see it.

First, go to and have a look around; there is an opening video that gives you a good idea what’s possible.  You don’t need a Twitter account, but it’s probably easier if you do.

Download the App onto your phone. Installation is not hard.  Inevitably you’ll have to agree to a load of permissions that you may not fully understand; this is mainly because it needs to be able to get at your camera, microphone, and location for the service. It’s all fairly normal.

Then touch the Log in with Twitter button to get started, then either your existing Twitter account details or create a new account.

Once in, you’ll see a selection of videos you can watch. Select one and you’ll be taken to whichever video is currently being broadcast live.

All that may be enough for you, but if you want to be a Citizen Journalist, press the red button on the main screen (bottom right on mine), and follow instructions.  It's not as obvious as it should be, and I can recommend some help posted by PC Advisor here with pictures, as well as the Help pages that Periscope themselves publish here