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Publishers push the envelope at political conventions

July 21, 2016 | By Mark Glaser, Founder and Publisher – MediaShift @mediatwit

The conventions will be live-streamed. And live-streamed some more.

The 2016 Republican and Democratic national conventions are upon us, and with publishers and broadcasters trying out numerous avenues for coverage and commentary — it’s set to go down in history. Publishers are trying a mix of Facebook Live, Snapchat, bots and even pop-up podcasts to stand apart from the media scrum. And they have even more competition from delegates, attendees and protesters who can use their own smartphones to report from the scene live.

Live Streams Everywhere
Google is the official partner of the RNC, which means that YouTube is live-streaming the convention on a device near you. The live stream includes a 360-degree immersive experience — and it apparently also caused a fleet of angry, hateful commenting on YouTube before YouTube disabled chat on the convention’s live stream. That sort of hate present in Trump’s campaign had already prompted Apple and HP to pull away from offering financial and hardware support during the RNC. When Google and Facebook decided to stay, it showed a split among tech companies.

Twitter, meanwhile, has partnered with CBS News to live stream CBSN’s coverage of both the RNC and the DNC. If Twitter is the fastest way to discover and discuss politics, then it’s natural for the platform to also live stream the political conventions so that users can “experience democracy in action,” Anthony Noto, Twitter’s chief financial officer, explained in a statement.

As Mike Isaac of the New York Time pointed out, the microblogging platform, unlike YouTube, had the foresight to moderate the live stream of tweets at the RNC. But being a partner of CBS means that Twitter — which has come under scrutiny and criticism recently for its lack of product focus — has to acquiesce some control to the news broadcaster. For example, when CBSN interrupted coverage of the RNC to live stream a press conference about recent police shootings in Baton Rouge.

It’s not ideal for Twitter’s end of the partnership, but it does offer a certain amount of authority to CBSN, especially amidst ongoing tension between publishers and platforms regarding who has control over the news. And given the huge deals Facebook has sealed with publishers, some outlets, including C-SPAN, will stream their convention coverage on Facebook Live. Considering recent breaking news events unfolding on Facebook Live, there’s no doubt users are expecting to watch convention antics (and the protests outside) unfold on Facebook as well.

Snapchat Filters and Bots
But live streams aren’t the only alternative to traditional broadcasts this political season. For the first time, the RNC is also on Snapchat, and publishers such as The Daily Show With Trevor Noah and Gawker are also utilizing the mobile platform to give fresh, insider takes to a younger audience. Judging from their alerts on Facebook and Twitter, numerous reporters are doing the same. And Snapchat is ready for it all, offering filters like “Protest Cam” and “My Hot Take” during the conventions.

And if the estimated 1,500 media outlets credentialed for the DNC weren’t enough to cover the convention, BuzzFeed and the Washington Post are adding reporting bots to the mix. BuzzFeed’s BuzzBot is an automated chatbot for Facebook’s Messenger app. Users can interact with the bot and answer multiple-choice questions about this year’s conventions, thereby freeing BuzzFeed’s reporters on the ground to secure more strategic interviews, such as with politicians.

“Man-on-the-street reporting is a notoriously time-consuming and unreliable form of journalism that has been practiced traditionally for many years,” BuzzFeed editor-in-chief Ben Smith told Poynter’s Benjamin Mullin. “And I think you can potentially use [bots] to get a little more scale and get the texture of the event — getting reactions in the way that reporters always do.”

The Post’s bot, on the other hand, is all about allowing owners of Alexa-enabled devices like Amazon Echo and Fire TV to get “real-time election updates” at the command of their voices, according to the Washington Post’s press announcement.

And what about audio? Jumping on the popularity of podcasts, Marketplace is presenting a pop-up, breaking news podcast devoted entirely to this year’s conventions.

The New York Times’ Declan Walsh, formerly based in Pakistan and now in Egypt, is also covering this year’s conventions in a new series called “Abroad in America,” offering a foreign correspondent’s eye to events. Indeed, with the volatility that’s erupted in American politics this year, many journalists who are covering the conventions have trained as if they are headed to combat.

One thing is certain — this year’s conventions will push publishers to try everything they can to differentiate themselves, and reach new audiences.

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