How is your newsroom using Google+ Hangouts?
In recent months, I’ve seen some good examples of Google+ use in some Digital First Media newsrooms. I asked my colleagues to explain what they did and how. Their responses are presented below, with minimal editing. (You’ll note that I’ve been hanging onto these examples quite a while. I’ve had more blog-post ideas than blogging time lately. I hope to catch up in the next few weeks.)
From Karen Workman of the Oakland Press:
The Oakland Press and The Macomb Daily made Michigan history Thursday, Dec. 22, by conducting the first editorial board meeting with a governor by using a Google+ hangout.
At each site, a reporter and editor used one computer — cutting down the number of computers helped to cut down lag time. Total computers including the governor equaled three. At The Oakland Press, a third staffer sat off-camera to listen and live Tweet the meeting. The Oakland Press also set up three Flipcams to capture the meeting from a variety of angles.
In the future, we will look to livestream these as the Trentonian did with their election night coverage in place of shooting video. The live Tweet (we used #Snyder) was particularly well received by our followers — we received a lot of responses, commentary and retweets from our followers. Unfortunately, these did not get used in the Storify — another lesson learned for the next time around. In the future, we will also look to promote the live Tweet, including promotion of the hashtag #Snyder, in advance of the meeting.
The good news is that Gov. Rick Snyder was very pleased with the meeting and all parties are looking forward to increasing the amount of meetings and communication we can have using this new technology.
I love the resourcefulness and willingness to experiment shown in this account from Joe D’Aquila of the Trentonian:
The Google+ Hangout feature will eventually be a great tool for conducting interviews with guests in remote locations and panel discussions where several people can participate, and we can even invite the public to join in. The trouble right now is that there is no way to directly embed the video feed into our Web sites, so the only viewers that can watch or participate are on the limited G+ network itself. They are said to be working on a publicly available feature that will generate an embed code for exactly this purpose, and it will have some tie-in with YouTube so the feeds can be recorded. Once this comes out, it really will be a great journalistic feature.
Not wanting to wait for that, we’ve tried a few approaches to work around that problem. Our first try with this was on Election night back in November. We arranged to have candidates come in to the newsroom early in the day to discuss the election, then had a reporter go out to one of the campaign headquarters, where he’d be able to interview guests about some of the more interesting races all from the same place.
I originally was going to try and use the program ManyCam’s screen capture feature to feed the Google hangout screen into Ustream for an embeddable stream to host on our Web site. This would mean having a Google hangout running on a computer screen, ManyCam running to capture the screen, and UStream running, capturing the feed from ManyCam, while streaming it live and generating an embed code we could host on our site.
After trying it though, it seemed like the final version would look too choppy with herky-jerky movement not matching up to the sound correctly.
I don’t know how it came to me but I thought maybe we could just record the screen of one computer with a Web cam hooked up to another. I was still at home and talking to Managing Editor Joey Kulkin and our tech guy Ryan Boyle (using a google hangout no less) and we were going over what kind of equipment set-up we would need. Ryan said he thought it sounded like a horrible idea and that the quality would be very bad. He said he’d try to come up with a different plan while he went to lunch and I headed in to the office. When I got there, he showed me something he had been trying using Livestream, which has ManyCam built in, to stream the feed. This would eliminate the need to run ManyCam and a separate streaming program. It looked better than what I had done but was still fairly choppy.
So Ryan and I head back to the conference room, where I was going to set up my control booth. Ryan starts wiping off the screen of my laptop with a paper towel he finds lying around in the room. I said “wait, that would actually be visible to the viewers?” He said yeah because the camera would pick it up. I said, “Wait, camera? We are going to do that idea? I thought you said that sounded like an awful idea?”
I was still under the impression we were going to try his experiment with Livestream even though it was herky-jerky. But, even though he didn’t think my cam-to-screen idea was the greatest, he did concede it would be better than anything else we had available at that time.
So he wiped down the screen and we rigged up our “studio.”
We found some soda crates in the room and used them to prop up a web cam in front of my laptop’s screen. The camera was hooked to a desktop we lugged into the conference room. I started the Google+ hangout then positioned the camera to grab what I wanted. We used an audio patch cord that I just happened to have (one I use to hook an iPod to a portable boombox) and we used that to feed the audio from the laptop to the desktop-speaker jack-to mic jack. On the desktop we ran Ustream to create the embed code for the Web site.
I then set up a third computer, a notebook, to use as a monitor to watch what viewers on our Web site would see and listened in with a headset.
For the most part it worked pretty well, though the image wasn’t the greatest due to using the camera to film the screen.
The best use of the idea came later in the night with the reporter live from the field, which took some additional rigging to make sure his computer worked the way he needed it to. Again, it wasn’t perfect and we had some technical issues, but the ability to interview guests live in the field as an event was going on, with others back at the office able to join in the interview process was a very effective use of the technology.
This was the only part of the night that we “archived” in any way. Using Ustream I was able to make recordings of several of the interviews from our “control booth.” But the only one that really worked as a standalone piece, without the need for a lot of editing. It was a nice clean, several-minute long interview with a mayor who had just won re-election, really only minutes after he found out officially that he had won.
Since this first experiment we’ve continued to use Google+ Hangouts for interview purposes and we’ve improved our methods some, though it’s still very much a work in progress (one that will all be made moot once Google rolls out the embed option). But we’ve abandoned the filming the screen with a camera idea and gone back to Livestream. I’ve downloaded their “Procaster” desktop application that seems to have improved the picture and makes it much less jerky.
Joey Kulkin of the Trentonian, who may have been the first journalist to use Google+ effectively on a breaking news story, added this brief example of community engagement using a Hangout.
Hangout was crucial for myself and a guy in the community who didn’t like a tweet I posted under the Trentonian account. We went back and forth a bit, then I invited to engage in a conversation via the Hangout. Turns out, he’s a solid guy, a college student and mentor, who was helping an alternative school fill dozens of boxes with Thanksgiving meals for families of his students.
Turned out to be a great Hangout, two sides finding a common ground.
Do you have some other Hangout examples and tips (or other uses of Google+) to share?