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Livestreaming Tips With Reb Z: Be A Better Journalist On Facebook Live & Beyond

Posted in Creative Commons, Journalism, and Occupy Wall Street

Want to be a better livestreamer? I asked indie journalist Jon Ziegler for his top livestreaming tips.

Jon, better known to his fans as Rebelutionary Z is one of the most experienced currently active streamers. He began covering footage of protests and activist events during Occupy Wall Street. Unlike most, he continues to report from liberal and radical left events. He credits the Black Lives Matter protests in Ferguson and St. Louis for bringing him back to the field after Occupy ended. Since then he’s traveled around the continent, including reporting on the Standing Rock protests where he sustained a serious injury from a rubber bullet. He also streamed the nazi attack in Charlottesville that killed Heather Heyer.

When we spoke last month, he told me the introduction of Facebook Live increased the visibility of livestreaming as a whole. “After about just a year and a half of Facebook Live, you go out there and tell people they’re live on the internet and they go like ‘Yeah so, you are too. Look, I’m livestreaming you.'”

It’s also made his work more appear legitimate, because the best streamers rise above the rest. “Now that anybody can do it, the people that actually give you quality content can stand out.”

I asked Jon for his top livestreaming tips. I’ve divided them into two sections, one for newcomers and people who only stream occasionally. He calls these “Johnny On The Spot reporters,” people who were in the right place at the right time to catch a breaking event. In the second section, I’ve included some further tips for more experienced citizen journalists.

One of Reb Z's top livestreaming tips: Always hold your phone in landscape (horizontal) when streaming.
Don’t hold your phone vertically when livestreaming, like this activist at a Black Lives Matter protest. Horizontal or landscape streaming gives a better view of the action. July 7, 2016. (Flickr / Tony Webster, CC-BY-SA license)

I interviewed Jon for my upcoming zine on using Facebook for activism. The contents will be available for free online, but my Gonzo Insiders will get a signed copy in the mail.

Beginner livestreaming tips

  • Hold your camera in landscape mode. The number one tip for anyone recording footage on their phone. “Don’t put it in the portrait position like you’re taking a selfie or talking on snapchat,” Reb Z says. “Hold it horizontally.” This is necessary to give viewers a wider perspective on what’s happening.
  • Hold your camera steady. “Always remember thousands of people could be watching what you’re showing!” Be especially aware of sudden movements, or turning to talk to someone. Always keep the viewers in mind.
  • Narrate what’s happening. When necessary, but …
  • Don’t talk too much or show only your face. ‘If you need to put your face in the shot to give us an update, do it real quick then show us what’s going on!”
  • Consider what not to film. Jon and I will talk in another article about the ethics of livestreaming, but consider turning your camera away from anything that could incriminate activists. Keep your focus on the cops whenever appropriate.

Advanced livestreaming tips

  • Take your work seriously. It has value. It’s fine to give your work away for free to activists and good causes. Consider charging money when the mainstream media or filmmakers want your footage.
  • Diversify your streams. Reb Z streams simultaneously on Facebook Live, YouTube, Twitter and other sites. Even if you focus on just one streaming site, it’s important to have a backup ready.
  • Diversify your income sources. Accept donations in as many forms as possible, on multiple sites. Jon cautions that monetizing your protest footage with ads “might help pay for unseen costs, but don’t look at it as a way to create a sustainable venture out of being an independent journalist.” Also, YouTube likes to “demonetize” political content, so don’t depend on YouTube revenue to keep you streaming.
  • Host a reliable, secure, well-designed homepage. Make sure your viewers and fans can always find you. This will be especially important if trolls manage to take down one of your streaming channels or donation sites.
  • Use donations for self-care. Reb Z says “don’t feel guilty” if you use a donation to recoup your expenses or keep yourself alive. Not every dollar has to fund your next trip.

Livestreaming Tips With Reb Z: Be A Better Journalist On Facebook Live & Beyond by Kit O’Connell is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
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