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The changing ecology of tools for live news reporting

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Broadcast news channels provide fresh, continuously updated coverage of events, in sharp competition with other news channels in the same market. The live moment is a valuable feature, and broadcasters have always relied on teams that can react quickly to breaking news and report live from the scene. Technology plays an important role in the production of live news, and a number of tools are applied by skilled actors in what can be called an ecology of tools for live news reporting. This study explores new video tools for television news, and the tinkering conducted by the reporting teams to adapt to such tools. Six journalists and photographers at broadcaster TV 2 in Norway were interviewed about their everyday work practices out in the field, and we present the findings in an analysis where six aspects of contemporary live news reporting are explored: (1) from heavy to light equipment, (2) more live news at TV 2, (3) the practice of going live, (4) the mobility of live reporters, (5) tinkering to go live, and (6) quicker pace of production. In the concluding remarks we summarize our insights about live news reporting.


Digital technologies continue to disrupt the media industry. The profession of television journalism has adapted to new production equipment like mobile devices, lightweight cameras, drones and streaming technologies running on telecom data networks. The new technologies and available infrastructure present new opportunities for live transmission of news, and as such production technologies are adopted into professional news organizations they change the conditions of live news reporting.

Live broadcasting has proliferated in television journalism since its inception in the 1950s. CNN successfully implemented satellite-based live broadcasts around 1990 and covered the first Gulf war from the front lines with “flyaway dishes” (Zelizer 1992), and this was a great spur to “all news” stations. Live broadcasting has traditionally required specialized infrastructure and equipment – often in the form of “outside broadcasting” (OB) and satellite links to cover live events and upload material to the editorial system. With the emergence of smartphones and internet connections, more or less the same operations can be performed with an application on a mobile phone and a mobile data connection. Better bandwidth and more stable signalling means that lightweight and mobile equipment can replace much of the traditional equipment used in live coverage and can thus have the potential to change the traditional workflow and work practices of television reporters.

For journalists and photographers, much of their work can be seen as a creative process: making news stories according to genres and conventions. It is, however, also a distributed team effort, with frequent communication between the central editorial control room and the teams out in the field. The teams cover events such as accidents, natural disasters, sports events, press conferences, etc. Journalistic work consists of finding stories, doing research, gathering material (interviews, coverage of events, producing video material), editing footage, scheduling, and so on. These activities and tasks are supported by a number of different tools and tie into the infrastructure of the broadcast media

This study reports on the practice of live news reporting at the professional news broadcaster TV 2 in Norway. TV 2 is the largest commercial broadcaster in Norway and offers a number of television channels, including a dedicated news channel, and also has an online presence with extensive news video coverage on TV2.no. It was established in 1993 as the first commercially operated public service television station in Norway (Eckblad and Skaalmo 2012). The public service mandate means that TV 2 has always been a producer of national “hard news” in competition with NRK (Syvertsen 1997). TV 2 airs the news during two nightly installments at 18.30 and 21.00 on the main station, and 24 hours a day at the all-news station TV 2 Nyhetskanalen. Lund (2012) conducted an ethnographic case study of TV 2 Nyhetskanalen. TV 2 generated roughly 18 hours of “live” news coverage a day during the article’s research period from 2007 to 2009. Konow Lund shows that despite the assembly-line mentality required by 24/7 news production, the reporters were encouraged to negotiate a certain autonomy over their work and the routines required to produce it.

At the time of our empirical study, TV 2 was in the process of adopting a video application for smartphones called LiveU. We have interviewed photographers and journalists who produce news on a daily basis in the described work environment. This study aims to explore the technological and material conditions of journalistic practice that occur when a new tool is introduced into an existing ecology of tools. We show the concrete impact that changing video technologies have on the journalists’ practice, and how they modify the use of these technologies to better fulfil the needs of the television station. The perspective taken implies a relational view of infrastructure, technology and practice (Star 1999; Guribye 2015), and thus we explore a technologically mediated practice of live news reporting.

The article begins with a review of relevant research in human–computer interaction (HCI), computer-supported cooperative work (CSCW) and media scholarship oriented to live broadcasting. Then we present our original contribution, based on a qualitative approach. The main analysis describes six aspects of contemporary live news reporting: (1) from heavy to light equipment, (2) live news at TV 2, (3) going live, (4) the mobility of live reporters, (5) tinkering to go live, and (6) the quicker pace of production. In the concluding remarks we summarize our insights about live news reporting.

Background and Approach

Our approach to the study of live news reporting is inter-disciplinary, combining perspectives from HCI and CSCW with media studies concerned with broadcasting and television. A common thread in these fields is the use of ethnographic and interpretive methods, and there is a shared interest in understanding people’s experience with using new technological tools in social and cultural contexts and a focus on actual work practices in which these technologies are an integral part.

There is a growing acknowledgement in interaction design and HCI that the analysis of individual interactive artifacts needs to be considered as part of a larger ecology of artifacts (Bødker and Klokmose 2011). This is accompanied by an understanding that interaction design needs to move its focus beyond the stand-alone product and explore design and configurations of technologies into digital habitats that mediate work practices (Kaptelinin and Bannon 2011). The present study applies the metaphor and perspective of a digital ecology of tools (Bødker and Klokmose 2011; Kjeldskov 2014). Our analysis is oriented to the way new and old tools fit together, exist side by side, hook into and supplement each other, and how they compete for the same territory, are redundant and support more or less the same tasks. A new tool will typically find a niche in the overall work practice and the ecology of tools. This approach to understanding the techno-material arrangements of journalistic practice leads to a holistic view of the relations between tools and practice. With this backdrop, we focus on how new wireless, lightweight, mobile tools fit into the existing ecology of tools among professional television journalists.

Studies have been made of news reporting from the perspective of HCI and CSCW. In their study of email in the newsroom, for example, Hössjer and Eklundh (2009) discuss how electronic mail is used in the newsroom and how it finds its place among other forms of communication, such as the use of telephone and face-to-face conversations (see also Helle 2000). Live video streaming from mobile devices is also an emerging topic of research (e.g., Dougherty 2011). A few studies have been undertaken to explore the potential of mobile devices such as GPS-based positioning and location-based delivery and production of news (Nyre et al. 2012). Väätäjä (2012) studied the use of mobile technologies among professional journalists. She points out the risk of low-quality footage, but argues that in some instances “the authenticity of the material and immediacy of reporting overrides the normally used quality criteria”. Sometimes the journalists and editors are willing to accept lower-quality production in their coverage. More generally, Juhlin et al. (2014) have identified a research agenda within HCI focusing on “video interactions”. This agenda includes a call for understanding “new ways of producing video content” (Juhlin et al. 2014, 685; see also Engström 2012) enabled by new production tools and high bandwidth communication networks, both in amateur and professional settings.

Radio and television have always attracted audiences due to the felt authenticity of their visual and auditory programming (Auslander 1999; Couldry 2004). Live coverage of football matches is a highly prized experience, and when something big happens live breaking news is a good way for the citizen to get updated. The qualities of the “live moment” have been studied by a number of media scholars, notably as “witnessing” (Peters 2001), and as a historically produced element of modern television that requires a big organization, control rooms, etc. (Scannell 2014). Scannell (2004, 582–583) analyses the live coverage of the September 11 events on CNN and the BBC, and describes the documentary authority of live news. “Television coverage on the day established the truth of what was happening and of what was being done. It came up with explanations and anticipated future courses of action that remain unchallenged to this day.” Scannell argues that the ordinary news routines of live broadcasting shore up “on behalf of us all, the meaningful character of existence, even when it appears to be collapsing in ruins before our disbelieving eyes” (Scannell 2004, 582–583; Nyre 2007). In the media industry more broadly, “live production” is considered a separate production category from recorded genres like documentary, television series, etc. (Ellis 2000). There are different genres of live broadcasting and, for example, breaking news reporting is considered a separate category from live studio hosting (Crisell 2012). Nyre (2008) shows that live transmission has been a significant ingredient in broadcasting ever since it was first harnessed as radio in the early twentieth

A final academic approach that should be mentioned is television production studies. It applies ethnographic and hermeneutical methods on the practices of newsrooms, dealing, for example, with hierarchy, specialization, teamwork, etc. (for a recent overview, see Willig 2013). A key finding in this type of research is that practices are determined as much by production conventions as by technical artifacts (see Pavlik 2000; Tuggle and Huffman 2001). In this tradition there have also been extensive debates on how new technologies impact on the ethics of journalism(e.g., Pavlik 2001; Singer and Dorsher 2011). Production studies presume that the roles involved in news production (reporter, photographer, editor) are largely determined by custom, institutional frameworks and ethical norms that everybody is expected to follow (McNair 1998). While this perspective is valid, the perspective we adopt in this article deals with the use of video tools during the live situation. We describe the work related to producing “live on air” news stories that are breaking just now, at any given time. While we share the knowledge interests of production studies, we follow Ellis (2015) who proposes to focus on the skilled use of machinery in television production. This is a process where “an artfully constructed assemblage of hardware is transformed into a productive mechanism. It exists between person and machine, not within either one or the other”, Ellis (2015) argues.


Methodologically, the study is inspired by Star (1999) as a qualitative, interpretive study of infrastructure and the use of technological tools in practice. While we borrow from the perspectives and tools of such an “ethnography of infrastructure”, our empirical material consists of solicited and secondary accounts of the use and impact of technological tools, and in our analysis we approach the stories and accounts told by our informants as such; accounts of their experience and a their perspective on their professional work practice (Button and Sharrock 2009).

In the empirical study we have conducted a total of six in-depth, semi-structured interviews: three with video photographers, two with journalists and one with a midlevel manager in the TV 2 news department in Bergen, Norway. The interviews lasted between 45 and 60 minutes and were transcribed in a semantically oriented prose without annotation of pauses, breathing, repetitions, etc. We got access to the reporters through contacting mid-level management in the department (not the one interviewed), and they helped select relevant and available people to interview, in line with our request. The interviews were conducted in the period from December 2014 to February 2015. Four of the interviewees were men and two were women. The educational background of the informants varied from having completed a bachelor degree in film and television or journalism, to no formal education. Their work experience in the organization varied from 2 to 22 years. The different roles and backgrounds of the informants gave a satisfactory variation in the empirical material. In the interviews the informants were asked to describe their job, what technologies they used on a daily basis, how they used their mobile equipment and challenges (ethical, technical and organizational) related to the use of these tools. We prompted them to give examples of use.

Overall, we consider the material as rich, and their responses to our questions were well articulated and insightful. In the interpretive, qualitative analysis of the empirical data, we have looked for interesting themes and illustrative examples that open up for discussion and analysis the role of technological tools in the practice of our informants. The material lends itself to identifying important issues and to making analytical generalizations to inform the insights presented in this paper.


In the following section, we present our findings regarding the ecology of tools and humans in live news reporting. Six interrelated tendencies emerged from our readings of the transcriptions: (1) from heavy to light equipment, (2) more live news at TV 2, (3) the practice of going live, (4) the mobility of live reporters, (5) tinkering to go live, and (6) quicker pace of production.

The Ecology of Tools at TV 2: From Heavy to Light Equipment
The ecology of tools for live broadcasting includes cameras and other audiovisual recording equipment, technical installations for transmitting video recordings, and tools for communicating with people in-house, laptops, wires and mobile phones, to mention a few. While it is not our intention to provide an exhaustive inventory of the different tools used, a clear trend in the available technologies is the miniaturization of equipment that is taking place at TV 2. This trend of miniaturization of equipment is accompanied with opportunities for wireless transmission directly from camera units and mobile devices.

The live production equipment the media house has available ranges from large OB units to an app on a mobile phone. There is a continuum in the equipment they have available from big and heavy to light and small, where the big equipment generally requires long and meticulous planning whereas the light equipment supports ad hoc and more spontaneous use.

On the heavy end there are the OB vans that are used for big planned events with multi-camera productions and involving many people with specialized competencies. In the mid range of this continuum is equipment that is more portable, but still heavy and requiring specialized competencies on how to operate it, such as the satellite-based equipment SNG [Satellite News Gathering]. This comes in the form of up to four large trunks of heavy equipment. The established heavy technologies place different demands on the organization – in terms of specialized competencies and the size of teams – and have certain qualities that make them hard to replace entirely. The different technologies tap into different infrastructures, and the maturity and reliability of the different infrastructures are key factors in that the established technologies are still being used side by side with the new lightweight technologies.

In the light and small end of the continuum, there is equipment such as the Aviwest and a LiveU backpack for wireless transmission of data over the mobile network. While the big and heavy equipment is rarely used by the journalists and photographers in our case, they regularly use the small and lightweight equipment.

TV 2 has a number of wireless video uplink devices from the vendor Aviwest. These devices (referred to in the analysis as “the Aviwest”) are equipped with eight SIM-cards for wireless transmission over the 3G and 4G mobile telecommunications networks, has Wi-Fi capabilities and also supports transmission over satellite-based infrastructure (such as BGAN) through an Ethernet connection. The device weighs around one kilogram and can be attached to most professional video cameras. Thus, it allows for live streaming of video from the field, wherever a data connection is available.

The mobile application LiveU Smart app is available for iOS and Android smartphones. It allows for using the camera facilities on the smartphone for recordings and live broadcasting. There are functions for switching between front and back cameras, using the flash on the mobile device, and for choosing between live broadcasting and offline recordings. A key non-functional feature, according to LiveU, is the low latency transmission (less than two-second latency). It also keeps track of the journalists’ position by taking advantage of the GPS capabilities in the mobile device.

The role of the LiveU app in this ecology to a certain degree resonates with Väätäjä’s (2012) observation of the smartphone as a makeshift or a backup if no other equipment is available. The interviewees reported that in some instances the use of the LiveU app was the only available tool for live streaming of coverage. They also mentioned trouble with some material aspects such as the poor battery capacity of the smartphone and that the LiveU app drained the battery (see also Väätäjä 2012), and problems with getting good enough mobile network coverage in certain places. Some of the informants even reported that they usually carried an extra phone as a backup when going out into the field:

Out in the field I use it for everything. I also travel with a Mac, but we have also seen that we use it too much, it has too poor battery capacity. Now we have realized that we need to have an extra phone so that we are sure we can make calls. We need to bring a Mac so that we can use it. The more we can relieve the smartphone, the better, because generally I want to use it for everything. I want to use it for email, keep in touch with the editors [redaksjonen], call sources, go live, use it for mix-minus. Given that it has so lousy battery, it doesn’t work. Now we have begun to scale up, so we bring a Mac and we have a brick phone and others.

As we see in this quote, the smartphones carried by journalists and photographers are multi-purpose tools that they use for many different tasks where the most important is to use it as a regular telephone. They even need to “relieve” the use of the phone to save battery for tasks such as making a call. This resonates with how Väätäjä (2012, 2015) describes the role of the mobile phone when reporting on events. As is also evident in the quote above, the journalists and photographers distinguish between two different modes in their work: one where they are at the office doing “regular stuff” and the other when they go out in the field to cover events and follow stories. Our study primarily deals with going out in the field, and focuses on how they use the equipment for producing live news.

More Live News at TV 2
The drive for live coverage is a key element in the news market. There seems to be a permanently strong interest in news, and in Norway there is sharp competition between NRK, TV 2, VGTV and other actors regarding breaking news and getting footage from dramatic events. One informant says: “What we can feel every day is competition. Now everything is measured by whether we went live before VGTV”. This drive for more live coverage also means that reporters get more time on air, and it is more common for the reporters to act as the “anchor’s friend” and “tossing” back to the anchor during live coverage. Notice, however, that they have to deal with issues such as delay in the video streaming, and this places certain restrictions on the talk between anchor and the live reporter.

The interviewees all point to the experienced drive for more live coverage of newsworthy events. As one of our informants put it: “You can never get enough live [coverage]. It is simply, we know this is the official attitude as well. We can never go live often enough. We prefer to be live.” In this quote, the interviewee puts it quite clearly: there is a call for more live coverage. It is also implied in the use of the plural noun “we” that refers to the people working at TV 2, that this is the general opinion and it is also explicitly stated that this is the official attitude of the news organization. It is construed as a common goal for the people involved in news production at TV 2. Another interviewee elaborates on this and identifies the challenge this entails – to produce pictures and footage that can be used for live coverage:

We do work for a news organization that lives by sort of being first, that has a news channel that is on day and night, that sort of screams for pictures all the time, every time there is an event. And that is the big problem, to get the pictures, right.

In this quote the informant also points to this being due to the experienced competition with other new agencies to be the first to cover a given event. A third issue in this quote is that the drive for more live coverage is linked to the kind of outlet – a dedicated news channel – for which they work to provide content. This last issue is made explicit by another interviewee as well:

You have to remember that the news channel has a low threshold. It is a live channel first and foremost, and there you can more or less just pour [Norwegian: pøse på] things out. 18.30 and 21.00 [the regular news broadcast at the mother channel (TV 2) everything needs to be timed and prepared to the second.

As pointed out in this quote, the drive for more live coverage is also influenced by the kind of outlet for which they produce the coverage. The fact that they have a news channel with available time and that it is conceived as a live channel makes the call for live broadcasts even more pertinent.

Going Live
A key moment in the journalists’ and photographers’ work is when the “news breaks”; when they learn about a given event or are given an assignment by the desk. At this moment time is critical and they have to gather their equipment as fast as possible and get to the given location to cover the event. In the analysis of the interviews we identified an “in vivo code” – an idiosyncratic term they use at TV 2 to talk about the process of going out in the field to cover an event:

It is much more fun to talk about when we are “on a raid” [på rykk], when we are out. Then we bring the mobile equipment, Mac, telephone and all sorts. And when there is an event we deliver to all platforms. Mostly it is to deliver “lives” to the news channel, send some lines, and perhaps take some mobile video and pictures to the net [for the Web pages].And to find good angles for stories so that we can edit for the evening [the evening newscast]. It is full throttle until evening.

They use the Norwegian expression på rykk, translating roughly to be on “a raid” or “a run” to a news event. We see the existence of this term as an indicator of the importance that live broadcasting from external locations has in the news culture. They also use the word “live” in many peculiar forms, such as in the above quote where they have made a noun of it “a live”. They also use it in a verb form – which in English would be similar to making a gerund form “to be liveing”. An example is from an account of when the journalist was covering a case of a dead, bloated whale that had been observed in the archipelago outside Bergen: “so we are standing there, all the way out by the sea outside Sotra [an island outside Bergen] liveing, with the whale floating in the background”.

Live transmissions often involve the reporter in dialogue with the news anchor in Bergen. The reporters can put themselves clearly in the picture frame, and be part of the event being reported. One of the most powerful features of live reporting is the “eye-witnessing” effect (Peters 2001). The speaker is present at the scene of some important event, and has a privileged position of information, in the worst case as a victim. When someone witnesses and recounts an event it is in a sense the event itself that speaks. It demands a realistic description of its properties, and the speaker is in what Erving Goffman (1981, 233) calls a “slave relation” to it. However, to witness something and talk about it on television can have a tremendous effect. “Stating one’s experience for the benefit of an audience that was not present at the event and yet must make some kind of judgment about it” (Peters 2001, 709).

Signal transmission is a weak spot when using mobile data traffic. It is important to have high-quality transmission of video to the news station’s line control. There are different workflows in this process: live – store and forward – physical handover (e.g. a SD-drive from camera). The different equipment and set-ups tap into different infrastructures; where the Aviwest and mobile apps use the commercially available mobile telecommunications network, the SNG relies on a satellite-based infrastructure. The live streaming tools have a significant latency or delay, compared to the satellite-based tools. This latency influences the turn-taking between anchor and reporter. The reporters have to adjust to this delay when using the equipment to go live. It can be difficult to have live on-air dialogue with the news anchor in Bergen:

I usually say “no joking when you are using the Aviwest” because you can tell a joke from studio, a pun, but three seconds pass before the person responds to the joke, and then it might seem as if they don’t understand or like this joke.

This quote addresses how they have certain norms and know-how for not only operating the different equipment, but also how the reporters and anchors need to adapt their conversations according to the properties of the equipment.

The Mobility of Live Reporters
A distinction between the mobility of people and the mobility of technology/devices was identified early in HCI research (e.g., Kristoffersen and Ljungberg 1998). Kristoffersen and Ljungberg (1998) further identify three different modes in the mobility of people as: wandering, travelling and visiting. Journalists have always been mobile and moved around, visiting places to witness events and talk to informants – and they have mobile tools to support their work on the move – pen and notepad, cameras and even satellite vans. The mobility of the tools they bring to support these activities have changed over the last few years. In this sense we can distinguish between how the different devices are portable (meaning that they can be brought into the field – transported) and to what degree the photographers are mobile when making recordings and during live coverage (the wireless quality of the Aviwest device is a good example).

There is a sense of urgency and immediacy to the work environment of news stations. Live broadcast environments are busy and stressful for the producers and performers alike (see Herbert 2000, 22ff.). Since they are pressed for time when going into the field, another factor is how long it will take to rig or assemble the equipment.

The local mobility of equipment allows for different kinds of footing and shots, for example inside a house, which is difficult with wired cameras. The following account of the coverage of the Scottish independence referendum from the TV 2 reporters sheds light on what this kind of mobility means for the live coverage:

We were in Edinburgh to cover it [the referendum on Scottish independence]. And it is like one of the first times where we sort of made it work, it worked much better than here in the building [in the TV 2 Bergen headquarters], even better speed, even more stable. And what changed then – when we were there earlier with the foreign news desk, we used to be standing inside the hotel room, or out on a balcony at the hotel room and stand still, static camera, you can’t move because you have, the line is too poor. You don’t get like that feeling of how it is to be for example in Scotland before an independence referendum.

In this quote, the informant is referring to the use of the Aviwest unit that they had equipped with SIM-cards from a telecom provider in Scotland. The informant describes how the new technology enables them to do things differently from before, for example by not only reporting from confined locations like the hotel room. The informant continued the account:

We went so much live during [the coverage of the referendum] – we just went out among rallies, who were there to cheer for an independent Scotland. We went live in a different way and what we told, it [a journalist] told, who loves it, to go around and show and grab stuff and people. It’s not only the technical, how to get live, how easy it is to carry, we could work in a totally different way.

As addressed in the quote, working with such wireless technology in live transmissions also requires the journalist to act in a more ad hoc and spontaneous way – asking people questions on the fly out in the streets, etc. More generally, these quotes illustrate the new ways of working that the mobile equipment supports. The last statement in the quote also points to the fact that this issue goes beyond the mere technical and material aspects of the technologies, but that the potential of the technology is realized in relation to the actual practices and work methods of the team. The mobile and wireless capabilities of the new tools allow the team to do things differently from the typical rigged situation where cameras are connected to the transmission technologies through physical wires.

Tinkering to Go Live
An important part of the work the video photographers and journalists do is to rig equipment, find solutions to technical problems, and prepare everything for recording and live transmissions. Such preparations involve a great deal of tinkering (Badham and Ehn 2000) and problem solving and this can be an overlooked part of the competence of the professional team.

This kind of competence was key in another story told by one of our interviewees about the coverage of a dramatic, large fire in the historical wooden houses in Lærdal, a small, remote village deep in the fjords on the west coast of Norway. The geography of the place with steep mountains makes it particularly challenging with respect to getting coverage with satellite- and microwave-based equipment. This happened in the middle of the night between Saturday and Sunday:

I was the first to arrive in Lærdal in the middle of the night. And the power was out, the mobile network was down since the Telenor [the tele company] building was burnt down. Thus the land-based network, the network that is not wireless, internet in general was down. So it was a black hole, you go in somewhere that just is on fire, it is totally dark because you do not have electricity, you don’t have mobile coverage so you can’t call anyone. And you do not have, we didn’t have the opportunity to send anything over the network at all. Then you feel that you are in a black hole down in the dirt. That shows how dependent we are on these systems.

As retold in this well-constructed narrative, the photographer points to how dependent they have become on the infrastructures that usually support their work. As Star (1999) points out, infrastructure becomes visible on breakdown, and this story provides a relevant example. The technologies and infrastructural arrangements on which they commonly rely, power and mobile networks, are an embedded part of their working practices.

The interviewee goes on to tell us how he managed to get online using a wireless connection to ice.net (a tele and data provider in Norway that specializes in providing coverage in remote places and uses a technological standard other than the more common GSM standard; ice.net uses the NMT standard that relies on low-frequency transmission – 450 Hz). He connected to the internet via this network, and even though his connection had a very limited bandwidth he could get in touch with TV 2 (headquarters) and was ready to transmit pictures. This was early Sunday morning and there was, reportedly, nobody at work at the headquarters of TV 2 to receive the transmission. Later the SNG van arrived and they manage to get the signal connected to the satellite, but they did not have a phone line to call the “line control” so they could not find the right signal from the satellite at line control. But later they found one spot where they had mobile coverage and went there to call line control, then they “synced their watches” and agreed upon a time they would go live, went back to the location and reported live at the agreed time – without knowing if it was aired or not – “totally in the blind”. But everything worked and the report was aired live at the news channel.

In general, the account of this incident exposes the co-operative nature of the journalistic work, and how the work of the photographers requires a great deal of tinkering and competent and flexible use of technology, and how they can quickly adapt to difficult circumstances in the field and find new ways of solving a given problem.

Quicker Pace of Production
The informants pointed to a quality threshold that they sometimes have to go below in their news work. Live transmissions do not necessarily have the same standards regarding quality, precision and preparation as a proper news report. Much of it would not be shown on TV 2’s two daily news shows (at 18.30 and 21.00). There is a lower threshold for the visual quality of pictures and sonic quality of audio for the material that is aired on the all-news channel TV 2 Nyhetskanalen.

Our informants notice several problems with the increasing use of live apps. There is less time for journalistic research, looser ethics regarding exposure of witnesses, low technical quality and over-use as an editorial feature.

Such considerations were also made by our informants, and this also relates to the drive for more live coverage:

One example that is used when we are supposed to show how LiveU can be used is a journalist coming out on the streets in London where there is a riot. And straight over to a lot of people throwing rocks into storefronts and such. What are you doing? That is straight up to them immediately. These are considerations you would do later: should we let these people through, are they trustworthy, are they over 16, do they have a motive? Many considerations that we now just should pour out live. I think that most of my colleagues have such an ethical understanding that it would not be daily transgresses, but I worry that it will happen.

In this extract the journalist retells a story that is used to illustrate the potential of using the mobile app, LiveU, and how you swiftly and effortlessly can provide live coverage. The informant breaks the narrative with a question and a call for reflection, and then gives examples of how this call for going live might give less time for reflection and for doing the proper journalistic and ethical considerations before the station chooses to air the coverage.

The reporter continues to explain how it is to be caught in the moment of dramatic events, and how it might be difficult to get the necessary distance to what is happening to do such ethical considerations.

I think that you can get really taken by what’s happening. We call it blood fog, even though there is no blood. You get taken by the many things that are happening around you and so you just let through events and people that perhaps should have been considered a little better before. Rather than doing the recordings, go home and edit, then everything should happen live, that’s what’s coming now, everything is supposed to happen live. And the coolest thing is to get people that do something live.

The interviewee introduces the concept of blood fog to explain how the journalists might get taken by the event and intensity of what is happening, and then contrasts this with a workflow where they go back to the office to edit the coverage which gives more time for reflection.

Another aspect that can reduce the time for preparing and having the time to produce quality journalism when going live in the field is if the new smartphone app is supposed to be used as a “first-line tool” – to go live while the other equipment is being rigged or even in the car on the way to a site.

It is this time you usually use to gather information to have something to say when you go live. Those without field experience tend to forget that. They think we need to be on [the air], and we do, and they forget that we have to have something to tell when you are on. And you have to get that somewhere. But I agree that LiveU can be the first line, just “smack” and you’re on.

Here the informant addresses how they use available time to actually prepare for what to say and do other journalistic work, and that this time is under pressure by the drive for more live, and the new possibilities of the mobile app, LiveU.

The new mobile technologies have an indirect influence on ethical considerations through playing a part in the drive for more live coverage. With more live coverage there is sometimes less time for reflection and doing ethical considerations. Being pressed for time to reflect might also shift the journalistic considerations further up the line of communication, placing more responsibility on the editors and people at the desk and the line control.

Concluding Remarks

This study has explored the changing ecology of tools for live news reporting. We have shown that the work practices of journalists rely on certain techno-material arrangements that are both the conditions and topic of their work. Further, we have described the introduction of mobile, wireless and lightweight tools into the existing ecology of tools in a professional news practice. These new tools provide opportunities for the journalists and photographers. There is a clear trend towards a miniaturization of tools in the news organization, but this change also comes with new infrastructural arrangements – being dependent on the commercially available mobile communication network. This infrastructure can be vulnerable, especially under the circumstances of a crisis or big event – which are exactly the kinds of events the news stations will want to cover.

The portable and wireless capacity of the new tools allows for new ways of covering events – by moving around in crowds and choosing different angles to the story that they want to report. Making live coverage easy and effortless can also lead the news station to overuse of this kind of coverage. The competition for being first to provide exclusive live coverage can result in a low threshold for quality and relevance of the coverage – as in providing live coverage of a dead, bloated whale floating in the archipelago. At the very least, these new tools help fuel the organizationally sanctioned drive for live transmissions of news.

As with all technologies, there is a need for know-how and articulation work (Gerson and Star 1986) – extra work and specialized competence to actually make the tools work in practice. In our study we have identified a somewhat neglected dimension of the journalists’ and photographers’ work that revolves around rigging equipment and making the technology work in practice: tinkering.

The continuing introduction of new technologies also challenges the ethical dimensions of journalistic practice. Making live coverage easy and effortless might, for example, reduce the time the reporters have to do the necessary ethical considerations. This can contribute to moving the considerations normally done by journalists to other parts of the organization and put more responsibility on editors and line-control. This can over time challenge the autonomy and ethical responsibility of the individual journalist, and the reporting team working together in the field.

This study has explored the practical changes that occur in the ecology of tools at TV 2 in Norway, and changes that occur in the professionals’ ways of reporting. However, we are confident that the issues raised here are relevant for the television news industry as a whole, not just for the company serving as our case study.


We want to thank TV 2 for giving us access to their news organization, journalists and photographers. We also want to thank research assistant Erlend Dybvig Torvund for conducting and transcribing the interviews.

Disclosure statement

No potential conflict of interest was reported by the authors.


The research has been funded by small project funds from the University of Bergen, and the Norwegian Research Council, under the ViSmedia project [grant number 247721].


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