Friday, February 25, 2011

Live: From the scene of breaking news

It isn’t just video that The Oakland Press has jumped into during the past year, but live video coverage too.
After all, does it get more “Digital First” than that?
We’ve done live coverage for a variety of different things — elections, large events, press conferences, etc. My favorite use of live coverage is breaking news, though.
House fire on Feb. 23 in Pontiac
Opportunities for live video coverage of breaking news may be scarce — it is, after all, dependent on there being breaking news that’s local and lends itself to video.
Fires provide such an opportunity and twice in recent months we’ve been able to go live from the scene of an active fire.
On Wednesday, we were alerted to a fire in Pontiac by our Executive Assistant, Vicki Arsenault, who happened to drive past a five-unit apartment building in flames on her way back from lunch.

Sidenote: Way to go Vicki!
Check out this video shot by Vicki. Keep in mind that as our Executive Assistant, she takes care of payroll and all sorts of bookkeeping tasks for the newsroom. Creating content has never been a part of her job description, but that didn’t stop her from shooting video on Wednesday.
In fact, after seeing our little Flipcams in action, Vicki was inspired to get one of her own. Her 15-year anniversary at the company came around earlier this year and, from the catalog provided to employees to select an anniversary gift, she chose the RCA version of the Flipcam.
And on Wednesday, she shot breaking news with it. It’s some of the best footage we have of a working fire, I think. She happened to be driving by just as the firefighters were arriving on scene, capturing video of smoke billowing out of the building at an alarming pace while firefighters ran through the snow to get to the house.

After that ...
You can hear Vicki on the phone with the office during the video she shot. Her calls led us to send out livestream specialist Kyle Duda with cops reporter Dave Phillips. They were on the scene for quite a while shooting video. The video you see now is an edited version (shortened) featuring an interview from Battalion Chief Brad Riggs.
Read the full story and check out both videos, Fire damages Pontiac home

How we do it
It’s in these situations that for as fast as technology changes, it’s just not fast enough.
Kyle manages carrying both a laptop and our Sony camera in order to make livestreams like this possible.
“It’s not ideal,” Kyle says of juggling both pieces of equipment.
Could we use the iPhone and have more freedom? Sure. But fires get noisy — think, lots of sirens — and the audio (remember folks, good audio is the single most important thing about video) would not be very good with the iPhone.
By using the Sony camera with a laptop, we can have the reporter carry a microphone that’s connected to the camera. It makes all the difference in the world in terms of capturing good audio.
Our message to the world of technology makers? We want a smartphone that has an input for a microphone, and while you’re at it, put a little spot for a tripod on there too. It’d make our life — and especially Kyle’s — a whole lot easier.

Earlier this year
The thing with shooting breaking news is, you really can’t predict what you’re going to get.
Fire in White Lake Twp. in December
In December, our first foray into covering breaking news turned into one of the most riveting pieces of coverage I’ve ever seen (White Lake man loses home, dog in morning blaze). Most of us in the office were absolutely glued to the coverage, astonished at what we were seeing unfold live on our computers.
It was a call about multiple fires taking place in White Lake Township. Kyle, Reporter Carol Hopkins and Photographer Vaughn Gurganian went out to the scene. When they arrived, the fire turned out to be just one fire ravaging a mobile home.
Firefighters were still working to put the fire out. What happened next, though, was the heartbreaking part — suddenly, Carol is interviewing the man who owns the home. He recounts leaving his house for just a few minutes to run to the store and you can see the shock on his face as he looks back at the smoldering trailer. And then he tells the camera that his dog didn’t make it out of the fire.
You could hear staffers gasp across the newsroom. We were all sad for this man.
Almost 80 people tuned in to watch that coverage while it was happening. I feel pretty confident in saying that in terms of being moved by something, watching that unfold live was more moving than any after-the-fact article or video could have been.

Again with the audio
In my last post, I talked about the importance of audio while shooting video. The December fire provides a case-and-point.
For the first 10 minutes of the livestream, we had no audio. Viewers noticed and complained. We called Kyle and were able to let him know there was an issue, so luckily, we got it fixed and it all worked out. But take note — audio is important!

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