The Texas Tribune cranks its livestream up to 11

Journalism / Article

Knight Foundation supports The Texas Tribune to explore new models for sustainable local journalism and to share best practices with other nonprofits. Below, Rodney Gibbs, chief innovation officer for The Texas Tribune, writes about a Kickstarter project the Trib is launching to build capacity for livestreaming news events. A version of this post also appears on the Trib’s website.

The Texas Tribune had a remarkably big night on television on June 25. It was the night Sen. Wendy Davis took to the Senate floor for an 11-hour filibuster of abortion legislation, and close to 200,000 people from 187 countries stayed up past midnight with us to watch Texas politics in action. That’s more than many cable news networks had at the time. Take that, CNN

We want to make that type of attention the norm. That’s why today we’re launching a $60,000 Kickstarter campaign. By investing in additional hardware and software, we can ensure that we always have live, unfiltered video to give you—and to ensure we’re in control of that process.

While we had livestreamed all House and Senate floor proceedings since the start of the 83rd legislative session, it wasn’t until Davis’ filibuster that the world took notice. Before that, a popular day logged about 1,200 viewers. Fortunately, our clever programmers had built our livestreaming system to leverage YouTube’s scalability, just in case we caught any tigers by the tail, which we certainly did that night.

If you watched the filibuster or caught some clips of the debate the next day, you might not realize that the Trib didn’t create any of that video. We only took a feed produced by the Capitol’s audio-visual group and made it YouTube-friendly. Because we didn’t originate or control the source video, we had no say over it. When the Capitol muted microphones on its feed, as they did during parliamentary inquiries, the sound went out on our livestream. Moreover, when the lieutenant governor gaveled out the Senate at midnight that night, our feed was cut, leaving a couple hundred thousand viewers around the world wondering what was going on. Our feed was dead, but the Capitol was erupting in protests and the fate of the bill was up in the air for another three hours. We couldn’t bring live footage of that to you, though, since our official Senate feed had ended with the last gavel strike.

Now, we want to make sure that whenever we cover an event, it’s on our terms, not someone else’s. We also want to be able to livestream anything and everything, be it the next Senate showdown; the interviews, press conferences and reporting we publish day after day; or the dozens of TribLive events we produce around the state each year.

With the money raised through the Kickstarter, we plan to augment our existing HD cameras and editing equipment with several items, but central to this plan is a “satellite backpack,” which will allow us to transmit HD video over multiple cellular networks, and gear to create and stream studio-quality, multi-camera productions from the field.

With the 2014 election cycle gearing up, the eyes of the world are going to be on Texas. That makes this the perfect time for us to livestream the candidates, the campaigns and the decisions that will affect us all for years to come.

Please visit our Kickstarter campaign and make a contribution to this work. We want to be your real-time eyes on the candidates, the races, and the impact the next election will have on Texans and the nation.