Going live

We work to update the recordnet.com website constantly with new stories, videos, photos and interactive projects. It’s not uncommon for us to be working on more than one project at a time. The website demands it.

But we are usually tied to our desk computers. We don’t have a fancy news microwave truck to transmit back to home base. We make the trek back to the office to edit video. Sometimes we have people call in items from different locations for web posts.

If you’ve noticed some of our high school football coverage, though, and the recent State of the City address from the Port of Stockton, you know that we do take the show on the road sometimes.

Football is fairly easy for a live chat feed. The Record has Verizon MiFi devices that help us pull an Internet signal from nearly anywhere.

It’s basically a little black box that picks up a signal, usually a strong one. We’ve done broadcasts from the football fields at Lincoln, Edison, Stagg and St. Mary’s high schools using it.

We knew the technology would work for State of the City. We knew because we’ve done it before. This event would be the third of such we’ve done a live broadcast from.

Last year was the first we used the MiFi at.

Katie Combs, former Record reporter Daniel Thigpen and I live chatted from the event.

This year, though, we decided we wanted to add a video component to the mix.

For an online editor, this sort of thinking can go two ways. It can work as executed and be brilliant in bringing our readers something “more” online. It can also fail miserably.

Call me a glass half empty person, but I always have a backup plan for the failure scenario. The Internet can go down. The video camera could malfunction. We could lose connection on the camera. So many ways for it to go bad.

So many ways.

So we tried it, first, at The Record. That’s how we found out my HP laptop was easy to adapt to the Canon XHA1s camera we have. We also downloaded a version of UStream Producer.

Then we ventured out to the Port.

Katie and I spent about an hour testing the live stream. Record Managing Editor Don Blount watched at the newspaper’s downtown Stockton office for us. (We were live, but only gave out links to Record staffers in the building.)

He helped us determine how much lag time we had and what the stream looked like coming through the MiFi device. We even did a little performing. (Apparently, we aren’t good performers.) I also appear short on camera.

What we took with us for our experiment:

1 tripod

1 Mac laptop

1 HP laptop

1 Sennheiser wireless mic set

1 XLR 50-foot cable

1 XHA1s Canon video camera

1 Firewire cable

2 MiFi devices

What we realized we also needed:

1 TV tray (a classy one, made out of wood)

1 50-foot extension cord

1 power strip

Turns out broadcasting live requires power. We needed the extra power from an outlet.

The next day we loaded up my car and headed back out with all that, and a little more. Record Editor Mike Klocke captured the set up, and a look of concern on my face, as we were getting going.

We took two MiFi devices so if one failed (again, class half empty), we had the other one.

Turns out that didn’t work too well.

In UStream producer, we queued up the feed and then started recording when the speeches started happening. Less than halfway through Stockton Mayor Ann Johnston’s speech, we lost the connection. We actually lost both connections.

I tried to remain calm. Katie was still linked into the live chat. She told readers we were having difficulties. Don reassured those watching as well.

Ninety seconds later we were back. (For our readers, it was more like 2 minutes and 30 seconds as the system caught up.)

We were prepared for this kind of problem, though. I shot tape back up.

Which is where our full video comes from:

We also had full audio within an hour or so of getting back. And, of course, the live chat transcript.

This sort of setup isn’t hard (thanks to UStream, which is a free service, but one that also uses ads to pay for that price). But it does take time and testing.

We’re always interested to know, though, what our readers would like to see us use this technology for? Katie mentioned earlier maybe broadcasting some debates leading into the November general election. What do you want to see live on recordnet.com?



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