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How to Use Periscope to Broadcast Live Breaking News Video

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When news breaks, speed is essential. These days there’s no faster way to broadcast video live from the scene of a breaking story than with a mobile device connected to the internet. Using an app like Periscope, journalists can now “go live” anytime and anywhere—as long as they can access a cellular or Wi-Fi signal.

"The ease of use is a big thing," notes meteorologist and storm chaser Mark Robinson of Canada's The Weather Network. He uses Periscope to live stream severe weather from the field, including coverage of the EF-1 tornado that struck Lasalle, Ontario on August 24th.

"I was able to go live with the tornado in seconds and if I'd had to use traditional methods, it would have been long over by the time I was live," he says.

There’s no question Periscope is revolutionizing the way journalists cover breaking news. But like most technology, it can be intimidating the first time you use it, especially if you don’t have a broadcasting background. In this tutorial, you’ll learn how to set up Periscope, plus tips and best practices for using the app to cover breaking news.

What is Periscope?

Periscope is a live streaming app owned by Twitter that allows you to broadcast live video from a smartphone or tablet. It’s quick and easy to use, meaning you can be up and reporting live from a location with just a few taps of the screen. What’s more—and here's the real game changer—viewers can interact with you in real time by leaving hearts (likes) and typing in comments or questions on the screen:

Screen capture of Periscope broadcast
A screen grab from one of Mark Robinson's storm chases in September (Photo by Cindy Burgess).

When you’re finished broadcasting, you can share your video on social media, copy a link to embed it on a web page, or save it to your camera roll for downloading later.

How to Use Periscope

Start by downloading the Periscope app to your iOS or Android device. When you launch the app, you’ll be asked to log in with Twitter or sign in with a phone number. I highly recommend logging in with Twitter (if you don’t have an account already, create one) because the two are designed to work hand-in-hand. 

Here's a short demonstration of the app and how it works:

 

Now let’s take a deeper dive into what happens during an actual “scope” (live broadcast).

Vertical or Horizontal?

By default, Periscope shoots video in a vertical orientation, but once you start broadcasting you can turn your phone sideways. Here’s where the debate begins: which view is best? Most media professionals agree that mobile video should be shot horizontally, because it will then be in the proper 16:9 aspect ratio when it’s shared on social media or viewed on TV or a web page. However, vertical video works better for viewers who are watching on their smartphones—and increasingly, this is how audiences are consuming video. I’m afraid this is a decision you’ll have to make for yourself!

Periscope Best Practices

Once you start broadcasting, verbally welcome everyone to the stream. Tell the audience who you are, where you are, and show them what’s going on around you. If you want to appear on camera, you can toggle between the front- and rear-facing camera on your phone by tapping the screen twice.

Man broadcasts with smartphone in field
The Weather Network's Mark Robinson uses Periscope for live coverage of storms (Photo by Cindy Burgess)

Interact With Viewers

Before long, you’ll start seeing hearts, comments and questions appear on the screen. If someone asks you a question, try to answer it verbally as it comes in. Viewers love it! Periscope’s strength is that it’s social, so interact with your audience whenever possible. Ignore the trolls that will inevitably pop up; acknowledging them in any way just feeds the beast.

Keep it Interesting

There are no hard and fast rules about how long a live broadcast should be, but the longer your live stream is up, the better the chances of getting views. Walk around, interview people, and keep the stream lively and interesting. Keep reminding viewers where you are and what’s happening—remember, new viewers are joining every moment and will have missed your initial greeting.

If you’re going to be Periscoping an event for an extended period of time, consider double-teaming it. One reporter can handle the narrative for a while, then hand it off to a photographer, or the two can discuss what’s going on.

Finally, let people know when you’re going to sign off, and remind them to follow you on Twitter for further updates. That way, they’ll be notified automatically the next time you go live with Periscope. Be sure to share your broadcast on social media with a relevant hashtag to let people know you're on the scene and they that should follow you for the latest information.

Get the Right Gear

You can start live streaming with nothing more than your mobile device, but if you plan to do it regularly you'll need a few accessories to Periscope like a pro. Here are three tools every mobile journalist should have for live streaming: 

1. An External Microphone

Nothing will make a viewer leave your live stream faster than bad audio. The built-in microphone on your smartphone is okay, but for best results you’ll need an external microphone. There are many types available, like these from Rode:

Smartphones with microphones

2. Power Bank

If you think your smartphone’s battery runs out quickly now, wait until you start streaming live video. To avoid running out of juice at a critical moment, carry an external battery pack to recharge on the go.

External battery charger

3. Selfie Stick

Holding a mobile device steady as you record video can be tricky at the best of times. Throw in the adrenaline rush of breaking news and you’re bound to get shaky shots. The much-maligned selfie stick makes your smartphone easier to hold, resulting in smoother video.

Reporter using selfie stick
Photo by Glenn Francis of www.PacificProDigital.com/Wikipedia

As you can see in the photo above, a selfie stick makes it possible to appear in the shot when you're interviewing someone. It also allows you to get high angle shots that could be useful in large crowds at a protest, for example.

Next Steps

Congratulations! You now know how Periscope works and how to use it to broadcast live video to the world. But don’t wait for the next big breaking news story to get started. Try a practice run with something fun, like a community event. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes—you can always delete the video after your broadcast is over. The more you play around with the app, the more comfortable you’ll get—so when breaking news does happen, you’ll be Periscoping like a pro!

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