New Respect for Traditional Media

Yesterday, I attended a township meeting about what conditions should be put on Toll Brothers in order to permit them to develop Crebilly Farm. It was, in the words of one township planner “the most important meeting in Township history”, which is just about as dramatic as these things get!

I’ve been working on my Facebook Live skills, and I thought this would be a great opportunity to practice. So I put my iPhone 7 Plus in a selfie-stick bracket, screwed the bracket to Kate’s tripod, and pushed the “live” button, with this result:

When you post content via FB Live, Facebook promotes it. HARD. Here, a friend in Minnesota sent me a picture of what happened on his Apple Watch when I went live in my high-school auditorium in West Chester:


Keith Mallory, in Minnesota

I learned a LOT of stuff, which I’ll list in bullet-point format at the end of this post. But here’s what I wanted to say first: my FAVORITE thing about learning new things is the newfound respect it gives me for people that I just took for granted before.

As I was walking in, I saw a Channel 6 Action News van parked outside the auditorium. In my part of the country, when you see the Channel 6 Action News van, you know shit’s gotten real:

Inside the auditorium were a man and woman and a camera in a nylon rain-cover. The camera had interesting-looking whisker antennas sticking out of it in various directions.

The camera had big, well-worn-looking fanny packs. His fanny packs HAD fanny packs.

cameraPreviously, I would not have known anything about the challenges of recording and broadcasting video from a high-school auditorium, but now after two attempts, I knew all about how these auditoriums are like Faraday cages. About how there’s never wifi, and if there is wifi, it’s locked down six ways. And if your’e sitting in the back with a regular-person phone, all the pictures you take are going to look like they were shot from space. That big glass lens on that camera is there for a reason. Those expensive-looking whisker antennas are all there to solve a problem, man.

While I sat and shoved low-resolution video out over a metered cellular connection, I sat and snuck admiring glances at what these professionals were up to.

The on-camera person, swaddled in a giant parka, thumbed business cards into two phones simultaneously. She clearly is also a pro.

two_phonesI left the auditorium as things were winding down. As I left, I walked past the camera, now standing by itself on the tripod, guarded by On-Camera Personality. Back in the parking lot, the Action News van had its dish up, with a big bright floodlight shining on it, and the steady throb of a generator.

Inside, Camera Operator Man was sitting in a swiveling captain’s chair, twiddling joysticks and CONTROLLING THE CAMERA INSIDE, like a Half Life sentry turret.

truckAre you kidding me? This is AMAZING stuff. Previously, I would have thought “Oh, look, a news van!” and “Hey, there’s the camera!”


  • “Hey, that fellow is all the way at the back of the auditorium, but he can zoom in tight for good shots, cool!”
  • “Hey, I bet one of those whisker antennas is for a wireless mic; I bet THAT’S expensive!”
  • “And he’s PULLING FOCUS REMOTELY!” (heavy breathing starts)
  • “And he’s pushing his video out his microwave dish TO SPAAAAAACE!”

So: I’ve been having a great time fooling around with live video, and my favorite part is the newfound respect I have for how completely the problems I now understand have been solved by these folks. My hat is off to you, broadcast journalists!

UPDATE: You can see the finished 6ABC story here

What I’ve Learned

Okay, now for the learnings part, as I gradually try to learn how to do FB Live better than Breitbart did it.

For reference, what I did yesterday was to put an iPhone 7 on a tripod, then tap the “live” button, pushing video to my own personal timeline. I did not use an external microphone or any other gear. I used my phone’s on-board LTE to push the video.

Facebook will promote the HELL out of your broadcast.
In fact, this is the whole point — the longer you are live, the more people Facebook will tell about your video. If your goal was to share the meeting with folks at home, it would make much more sense to simply record the event on a camcorder, edit it, then post it to YouTube (which should also be done!) The point of FB Live is to get out in front of folks that may not have known about your organization or event.

Forty-five minutes of broadcasting consumed 333 megabytes of cellular data.
I was on AT&T, and I had about two bars of service. The first time I tried to go live, the FB app paused because it didn’t have enough bandwidth, but the second time it seemed to go okay. I do not know if I had more service, if FB would have attempted a higher-bandwith connection.

K-12 auditoriums do not have open wifi.
And if the wifi was open, the internet itself is highly restricted. Facebook will almost certainly be blocked, I learned in a conversation with the West Chester Area School District’s network administrator yesterday. So I shouldn’t plan on using the school’s internet connection to send the video live. Or I should plan on a lengthy troubleshooting process, where I ask very nicely for the IT administrators to make a hole in the firewall just for me. But that seems like a very big request.

For the viewers, sound is the most important thing.
A cellphone camera is optimized to pick up sound up to five feet from the camera, and the mic is omnidirectional. “Cellphone on a stick” may be great for arm’s-length “you are there” video of a protest, but for a meeting with a podium, I really should have a remote microphone… of some kind. Or a shotgun mic. I’m tempted to buy the RØDE Video Micro (which can plug into the iPhone 7) and see what happens.

What I’d like to try next is to try a real camera, with a big glass lens, pushing HD video into a dedicated computer via a cable. Then have a real microphone separately pushing audio into the same computer. Smash those two things together and… well, it MIGHT be something you could mistake for something you’d want to watch.

I’ve started to assemble the various connectors, dongles, and pieces of software to give this a try, and I’ve invited a SPECIAL GUEST EXPERT to try an end-to-end project this Friday afternoon. We’ll see how it goes!

Here’s how you can tell I’m getting into a new category of hardware: it costs a lot, and consists of nothing but a grey box made of powder-coated steel with two holes on one end and one hole on the other.  “Is it heavy?” “Yes.” “Then it’s expensive; put it back.”

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