5G is Revolutionizing the Speed of Crowd-Sourced Content
Innovations in technology are amplifying user-generated journalism capabilities.
On the Happs News Twitter feed, a shaky video of a man in a white shirt blurs and then comes quickly into focus. Pressing his headphones into his ears, the man films himself at arm’s length with his phone, walking through a street in Islamabad, Pakistan, where a 6.5-magnitude earthquake has struck just hours before. Behind him, people mill around, stunned, snapping pictures of broken glass and overturned cars. The man filming, a local correspondent named Ahsan Abbasi, describes to the camera how his family fled into the street within seconds of the earthquake hitting.
The video—comprehensive yet crude—isn't exactly what comes to mind when we think of broadcast journalism, where polished news veterans recite the day's events inside a news studio from behind gleaming, wooden desks. But Happs, a collaborative, locally-sourced news media company founded in 2018 by CEO Mark Goldman, isn't interested in traditional journalism. The goal with Happs, Goldman says, is to “reinvent” journalism completely.
“We believe that there needs to be a completely new paradigm for covering live news and current events,” Goldman says. “This generation is less interested in having authoritative figures tell them what to think about the news—they want to experience what's happening around the world and share it with others.” Where traditional journalism is presented to a passive audience, Happs' goal is to get people involved. To do this, each newscast—all of which are broadcasted live on Twitter—involves at least one local journalist, activists, or citizen who provides live footage of an event, typically from their cell phone. Also, on the live-stream is a Happs-employed producer, stationed in a second, remote location, who can ask questions of the person on the ground and provide context to the audience. The collaboration, says Goldman, is a way to take raw footage and turn it into a “real news product,” adding graphics, maps, and additional footage from traditional news sources to enhance the broadcast.
The story ideas originate in the Happs newsroom—which, like everything else about Happs, is unconventional, hosted by the remote workspace platform, Slack. Each morning over Zoom, the team hosts an editorial meeting to spitball ideas on what stories to cover and how; everyone with an internet connection and a desire to cover live news is invited to participate. The ideas range from walkthroughs of a new art exhibit to the ongoing protests in Hong Kong—anything, as long as it's “experiential,” Goldman says. “We just think it's so important for people to understand about events that impact a community, and be able to actually participate in them,” he says. Once the story ideas are set, producers reach out to freelance journalists, activists, experts, and citizens on the ground for footage. According to Goldman, over 5,000 people in 104 countries are part of the Happs network. “We're quickly getting to the place where we have people on the ground all over, ready to move at a moment's notice,” Goldman says, noting that even remote, rebel-occupied areas in Syria are now staffed with people ready to cover news for Happs. In the Happs model, freelance journalists with experience covering news are paid for their participation while activists and experts are not.
“Another thing we do that's fairly innovative is that we allow viewers to comment and participate during the live-stream,” Goldman says. “The contributors in the field can see the comments and talk to viewers, or change what they're covering based on the questions they're receiving. This way viewers are helping to inform the storytelling.” Although Happs has been undeniably successful—logging almost 80 hours of live broadcasts in August and September from locations like Hong Kong, Brazil, Pakistan, and Mexico—one challenge that the Happs team has come up against repeatedly is signal quality. To combat this, the Happs team has built in monitoring capabilities that can allow them to toggle the resolution of the broadcasts, among other things, so that the live connection isn't lost. Still, as evidenced by the earthquake feed from Islamabad, issues with video quality persist. It's for this reason that 5G capabilities, when they become more universal, will be “a game-changer,” Goldman says.
“It's remarkable that within a few short months we've been able to build our broadcasting time up to 80 hours per month—and when the technology improves, this thing will scale massively,” says Goldman. “We are really trying to empower everyone around the globe to show everyone else what's happening—and with 5G and the tech that's available, it's possible now to create this capability. As we move forward technologically, the speed and the clarity of our storytelling—it's only going to improve.”