Can Periscope (and live streaming apps) empower journalism?

On: September 26, 2015
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About Afef Abrougui


Twitter’s launch of the live streaming app Periscope last March, was received with much enthusiasm by those who believe that it will empower reporting and citizen journalism.

Live streaming apps are not something new. Few months before Periscope’s launch, Meerkat, another live-streaming app, was released to the market. Bambuser, which allows users to live stream videos from their mobile phones and webcam-equipped computers, has been available since 2007.

But Periscope is a big deal because Twitter launched it. The social networking site numbers 316 million active users per month, which gives it an edge over its competitors. As of 2 August, the number of Periscope subscribers already exceeded 10 million.

Few hours after Periscope’s launch on 27 March, users were live-streaming an explosion which rocked a building in New York City, as firefighters rushed to the scene. Shortly afterwards, opinion pieces on how periscope will change the internet and the news industry were all over the web.

Owen Williams, a reporter at The Next Web, described watching the explosion on Periscope as “more authentic than watching the TV news could ever be”.  The app, he said, “has begun to transform the way that news can be accessed and consumed overnight”.

The fact that today anyone owning a smartphone can have their own broadcasting channel with them wherever they go, seems like a revolutionary step towards the decentralization of media power, concentrated in the hands of very few corporations and governments around the world.

In the global south, where media outlets are usually located in capitals and big cities, residents of rural areas are now able to broadcast their stories to local and international audiences. While under regimes that impose media blackouts, activists and reporters can use the app and similar tools to live-stream protests.

A number of reporters have already tested Periscope to broadcast video reports and stories. BILD reporter Paul Ronzheimer broadcasted the journey of a group of Syrian refugees from the Greek island of Kos to Germany.  In Nepal, BBC journalist Nicholas Garnett live-broadcasted damage in the Nepalese village of Sipaghat after April’s devastating earthquake. In late April, the Guardian’s Paul Lewis live-streamed interviews with Baltimore residents and community members as their city was being ravaged by riots.

Despite the above-mentioned examples of how periscope can allow journalists to easily and cheaply live broadcast compelling stories, skepticism remains as to whether such apps will actually change the news industry.

Technology journalist Mic Wright wrote that “periscope won’t change the world.” “As odd as it may sound, live video of a fire, an explosion or a protest isn’t the story, it’s a catalyst for a story. We need analysis and thought to be introduced before something become news. Just being present is not enough,” she added.

As millions of videos, images, posts, and tweets are produced and distributed on a daily basis, internet users do not need another app or social networking site as much as they need high-quality content that provide context and analysis to news .

“See the world through someone else’s eyes,” is Periscope’s motto.  Like any other social media network, it is up to the user to decide what they are going to do with the app, and what they are going to broadcast to their followers. Most Periscope subscribers have been using the app to share details of their personal lives, what they are having for dinner or videos of their cats doing silly things.

This, however, does not mean that journalists should or could not use the app in their work. After all, apps and social networking sites do not produce (great) content by themselves.

Today, more and more people, particularly youth, access the internet through their smartphones. By 2019 in Africa, internet use on mobile phones is expected to increase 20-fold. According to a 2015 study from the Pew Research Center, 92% of US teens report going online daily, an access facilitated by mobile devices. Nearly three-quarters of them own a smartphone.

Journalists can no longer ignore the possibilities live-streaming applications present not only to produce stories and media reports but also to reach out to large and diverse audiences.

This is why it is important that journalists and bloggers obtain professional training on how to use Periscope and similar tools in the newsroom, and journalism schools need to adapt their curricula to include mobile journalism courses.

For David Cameron, lecturer in communication at Charles Sturt University, “some of the issues to be considered [in mobile journalism curricula] will be the training of students to understand the technical and practical parameters of producing content for mobile delivery, the nature of mobile media audiences, and the development of cross-platform content.”


Twitter. 2015. Twitter Inc. 13 September 2015.

Periscope. “Periscope, by the numbers.”Medium. 2015. 12 September, 2015.

Williams, Owen. “Periscope and live video are changing the internet forever”. The Next Web. 2015. 12 September 2015.

BILD. “Live-Übertragung einer Flucht aus der Hölle.” 2015. 28 August 2015.

Garnett, Nicholas. “Periscope from remote Nepalese village of Sindhupalchok.” Youtube. 30 April 2015. 12 September 2015. .

Lewis, Paul. “The Baltimore riots: the night on Periscope – video.” 2015. The Guardian. 12 September 2015.

Wright, Mic. “Periscope won’t change the world – but it appeals to journalists’ vanity.” 2015. 12 September 2015.

Smith, David. “Internet use on mobile phones in Africa predicted to increase 20-fold.” 2014. The Guardian. 13 September 2015.

Lenhart, Amanda. “Teens, Social Media & Technology Overview 2015.” 2015. Pew Research Center. 13 September 2015.

Cameron, David. “Mobile Journalism: A Snapshot of Current Research and Practice.” The End of Journalism? Technology, Education and Ethics Conference. 17th-18th October 2008. University of Bedfordshire, UK.–files/davidcameron/David%20Cameron.pdf



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