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Oct. 2, 2013, 11:04 a.m.

The Texas Tribune wants to stream a little stream, invest in live video of Texas politics

The nonprofit’s Kickstarter aims to raise $60,000 to buy gear, and they promise to share what they learn about effective livestreaming for news outlets.

The Texas Tribune — the politics-and-policy news org in Austin that’s served as the single strongest model for what a regional news nonprofit can become — is running a Kickstarter campaign to raise $60,000. If they reach that goal, the Trib will buy livestreaming equipment that will let them cover the 2014 statewide races through unfiltered live video. Here’s the pitch; it builds off the Tribune’s success livestreaming the Wendy Davis abortion filibuster this summer:

At this writing, the Tribune’s raised about $14,000 of that $60,000, with 20 days left to go. If you’ve got some extra money in your pocket and want to support an innovative news operation, think about giving. (If it reaches 1,000 total donors of any size, the Knight Foundation will kick in $10,000.)

I emailed with Rodney Gibbs, the Trib’s chief innovation officer, to understand a little more about the project. One noteworthy item that’ll be of interest to other news orgs:

If we hit our goals for the Kickstarter campaign, we will lead a public three-part Google Hangout to walk other news organizations through the steps of establishing their own livestreams. Featuring the Trib folks behind our abortion debate livestream, we’re breaking the series into three parts: technical, editorial, and marketing. Our goal is to demystify the livestreaming process and give news orgs the information and confidence they need to launch their own livestreams, whether they have shoestring budgets, guerrilla operations or large, multi-camera operations. Our goal is to share what we’ve learned and help other folks leverage the power of livestreaming in their communities.

Joshua Benton: I used to write about Texas state government. Are you sure it’s interesting enough to be livestreaming all the time? What sort of stories do you want to be broadcasting?
Rodney Gibbs: We’re not planning to livestream everything; rather, we want the capability to livestream anything. There’s a big difference there. True, many stories we cover don’t merit livestreaming; for those, reporting after the fact is fine. But for many things — breaking news, big political announcements, election night coverage, protest rallies, live events with newsmakers, exclusive interviews, the list goes on — livestreaming is an incredible tool to have.

Here are a few examples of stories we’d livestream right now if we had the hardware on hand:

  • This Thursday, Sen. Wendy Davis, who led last summer’s abortion bill filibuster, is making a big announcement in her hometown of Haltom City, Texas. She’s expected to declare her candidacy for governor. We’re sending reporters and a video camera to the event, but we can’t livestream her announcement on our own. Either we have to piggyback on a television station’s feed, which is technically problematic and delegates editorial control to another organization, or we tape Davis’ announcement and upload it later to YouTube and our site. Neither option is optimal, either for us or our audience.
  • During our Tribune Festival last weekend, we hosted a one-on-one interview between Sen. Ted Cruz and Evan Smith, our editor-in-chief. Hot on the heels of his marathon speech in the U.S. Senate, Cruz spoke about his push to defund Obamacare. We posted Cruz’s interview on YouTube after our event, but carrying it live would have engaged more people with this fast-moving national issue.
  • Also during the fest, Texas First Lady Anita Perry seemed to put some space between herself and her husband, Gov. Rick Perry, by saying abortion “could be a woman’s right, just like it’s a man’s right if he wants to have some kind of procedure.” Her comments surprised the audience in the room and made waves on Twitter, resulting in the governor stating today that his wife misspoke. Imagine if it had been streamed live!

Those are three examples of stories we’d livestream this week, and I could name more. Not every story is ripe for livestreaming, of course, but when the right stories come along, you really wish you had the ability to share it with your audience in realtime.

Benton: Sixty thousand bucks seems like a lot of money. I thought we were all supposed to be able to use our iPhones for this sort of thing. Why do you think it’s worth investing in gear like this?
Gibbs: Yes, you can use your iPhones for streaming, and we have done that several times to augment our reporting. However, just as some have created music videos or feature films with iPhones, the video and audio quality captured over a consumer-grade gadget like that is not broadcast quality. We hold ourselves to high journalistic standards, and that includes the caliber of our video production for all of our reporting.

In addition to satisfying our own standards, many of our partners require professionally made, high-definition content. The Trib freely shares all of our content with any outlet — online, print, and broadcast. Many TV stations, in markets large and small, frequently air our content, often because they don’t have the resources in-house to cover the statewide issues and races that we do. We are, in effect, the capitol bureau for many of these broadcasters. Whether livestreamed or taped in a studio, our video content must meet or exceed those stations’ broadcast standards.

The $60,000 we’re raising all goes toward purchasing hardware to make everything we shoot livestream-enabled. The bulk of money (more than $50,000) goes toward two items: a LiveU “satellite backpack” and a TriCaster switcher. The backpack lets us livestream HD over existing cell networks on the go from anywhere. It’s perfect for breaking news like the filibuster and the protests surrounding it; remote shoots like this week’s Davis announcement; and mobile reporting, such as when our reporters cover candidates on the campaign trail. In short, the backpack enables livestreaming on the fly from anywhere.

The other big ticket item, the TriCaster, lets us edit and stream our live events around the state with the same quality you’d see in a TV studio production. We host more than 60 events each year in town halls and college campuses across Texas. These live hot seats with politicians and policymakers are often the only chance local constituents get to see their elected officials in person and ask them questions face-to-face. More than 10,000 people attend our events each year, but let’s face it — not everyone can take time off work or travel around the state to engage with their elected officials in this way. Livestreaming these events with the TriCaster will allow many more people to virtually attend these events in realtime on their computer or mobile device.

The remainder of the Kickstarter fund goes to purchasing a laptop and accessories, like backup hard drives, cables, and cases. The Tribune is swallowing the extra expenses and the personnel costs associated with adopting and learning new systems.

Benton: What’ll it mean to The Texas Tribune as a news organization if people come to think of it as a place for live online video? Does it make you more like a broadcast outlet?
Gibbs: Actually we’re already a broadcaster. We produce hundreds of hours of video each year that we publish on our own site and on our YouTube channel. We may be best known for our written stories and our data applications, but video is a major component of our output. From breaking news to interviews, live events to short-form documentary, we produce a lot of broadcast journalism. Thanks to the success of the abortion filibuster livestream and the proliferation of mobile video, our users increasingly expect us to livestream everything.

As an online news organization, we see the lines separating various forms of content — writing, podcasts, video, data apps, maps — as fuzzy ones. It’s all content to us. If we expand our ability to stream any story that merits live treatment, it increases our reach and gives our audience more immediate access to the issues and people we cover. If that makes us a bit more like a broadcast outlet, we’ll take it.

AP photo of June 25 Wendy Davis filibuster by Eric Gay.

POSTED     Oct. 2, 2013, 11:04 a.m.
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