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3:14 am
Mon August 25, 2014

As Ferguson Unraveled, The World Found A New Way Of Watching

Originally published on Mon August 25, 2014 1:42 pm

In Ferguson, Mo., on Monday, Michael Brown, the unarmed 18-year-old shot by a police officer, will be buried. Beyond watching on traditional media outlets, many members of the public may be able to see the event live over the Internet.

Some say Ferguson has been a turning point in the U.S. for live streaming of news events. As the demonstrations unfolded there over the past two weeks, a few million people watched the events in real time.

Among them was Jeanne Anderson, a first-grade teacher living in a suburb of of St. Paul, Minn. She's a big Twitter user. One night she clicked on a link from a friend to a live video stream coming from the streets of Ferguson.

"There was an absolute wall of police, and they were all wearing body armor," she recalls. "They had clear Plexiglass or whatever shields in front of them and helmets. And they are slowly, slowly creeping down the street. Your heart starts pounding, because this isn't a TV show. This is live."

As the evening unfolded online, the confrontation came.

"Then the tear gas canisters start going off, and they're getting hit with rubber bullets," she says. "The cameraman got hit. And I'm watching this live, and of course there's nothing I can do about it."

The cameraman who got hit is Mustafa Hussein, the founder of Argusradio.com. Argus Radio is a four-person volunteer Internet radio station in St. Louis that had purchased some equipment to live-stream local bands. When the protests broke out. Hussein decided to use the equipment to stream the demonstrators.

"We were only getting bits and pieces from the major networks," he says. "And I knew we had ... the ability to share what I could see firsthand since I happen to be right here in St. Louis."

The first night he started live-streaming from the streets of Ferguson, some 1.3 million people watched. Also among them was Jen Sanford, a 30-year-old who lives in Chicago and found a link to the Argus Radio live stream on an Internet page.

"I was actually able to see firsthand the police lining up the protesters," she says. "It was very shocking to me to [see] firsthand what was going on — and to see what I didn't really feel like was being reported in some of the more major news outlets."

Sanford was up until 2 a.m. some nights watching the live stream and was able to see small encounters between police and civilians, exchanges among the protesters — things that can't fit into a shorter story.

Jeanne Anderson had a similar experience.

"What I saw was these were human beings — these are teenagers and grandparents and little children that are walking and trying to make their voices be heard," she says. "And the fact that they come back night after night after night says that, yes, they're protesting the terrible tragedy, but there's a lot more behind it, or they wouldn't keep coming back."

Argus Radio was streaming its feed using the technology of a company called Livestream. Its CEO, Max Haot, says Argus set a record for a news event. "The audience and the rapid spread of the link and the speed at which the audience has built up is unprecedented," he says.

Other people in Ferguson downloaded his company's app and sent their own streams. Livestream's service has averaged 2 million viewers a night for streams from Ferguson.

Haot says that kind of constant media attention also caught moments on tape that might otherwise have been missed — like the night a St. Louis police officer pointed a rifle at Argus' Hussein and another journalist.

That footage found its way to YouTube and major media outlets. Eventually, the cop was suspended indefinitely. "I think it really helps change the world in the way that people have a direct access with a breaking news event and can make their own judgment," Haot says.

But even a live stream may not have caught the face of a police officer seeing a Molotov cocktail thrown at him.

James McQuivey, an analyst at Forrester Research, says even a live stream can be deceptive. "Maybe there's someone who wants some attention who doesn't care about the issue who's going to show up," he says, "and maybe someone who cares about the issue but is more willing to use a devastating tactic, something violent or something obscene."

Live streaming has already taken off for other types of events — video gaming is among the most popular; there have been staged events like Red Bull's streaming of the highest sky dive jump on record.

Outside the U.S., another live streaming company, UStream, says that some 50 million people watched the demonstrations in Kiev, Ukraine.

McQuivey thinks now that the technology is cheap and ubiquitous, we're likely to see more people stream major news events. "Nothing is as fulfilling as being right there and watching it happen," he says.

"You know, the Civil War actually launched with people getting in their carriages and going out to the battlefield and sitting on a hill and having a picnic while they watched the early battles."

Jeanne Anderson, the Minnesota first-grade teacher, says there's been something different about watching a stream from someone in a community.

"Sometimes all you need to see is a look on Mustafa Hussein's face — that says a lot," she says. "At times, he just looked so discouraged, at times bewildered that this is happening in his city."

But in the end, it's not clear whether live streams will really help us all get closer to the true facts around a major news event.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

In Ferguson, Missouri, later today, Michael Brown will be buried. The unarmed 18-year-old was shot and killed by a police officer, sparking large protests. Beyond the bounds of traditional media, if you wish, you can watch this morning's funeral online through a live stream. Some say the crisis in Ferguson has been a real turning point for live streaming news events in the United States, with millions of people watching the demonstrations there unfold in real time, as NPR's Laura Sydell reports.

LAURA SYDELL, BYLINE: Jeanne Anderson, a first grade teacher living in a suburb of St. Paul, Minnesota, is a big Twitter user. One night she clicked on a link from a friend to a live video stream coming from the streets of Ferguson.

JEANNE ANDERSON: The night that there was an absolute wall of police and they were all wearing body armor and they had clear Plexiglass - or whatever - shields in front of them. And they are slowly, slowly creeping down the street - your heart starts pounding because this isn't a TV show - this is live.

(SOUNDBITE OF FERGUSON PROTEST)

ANDERSON: And then the tear gas canisters start going off and they - they're getting hit with rubber bullets. I mean, the cameraman got hit. And I'm watching this live and of course there's nothing I can do about it.

(SOUNDBITE OF FERGUSON PROTEST)

MUSTAFA HUSSEIN: There it comes. They are now firing onto the crowd

Ouch, (bleep).

SYDELL: That was the voice of the cameraman, and here he is again.

HUSSEIN: My name is Mustafa Hussein. I'm the founder of argusradio.com.

SYDELL: Argus Radio is a four-person volunteer Internet radio station in St. Louis that had just purchased some equipment to live stream local bands when the protests broke out.

HUSSEIN: We were only getting bits of pieces from the major networks. And I I knew we had this equipment and I knew we had the ability to share what I could see firsthand since I happen to be right here in Saint Louis.

SYDELL: The first night he streamed live, some 1.3 million people tuned in. Also among them was Jen Sanford, a 30-year-old in Chicago who found a link to the Argus stream on an Internet page.

JEN SANFORD: At that time it was approaching the evening. And I actually - just being able to see firsthand the police lining up the protesters here and it was very shocking to me to see firsthand what was going on and to see what I didn't really feel like was being reported in some of the more major news outlets.

SYDELL: Because Sanford was up until 2:00 a.m. some nights watching the live stream, she was able to catch nuanced exchanges among the protesters and police, the things that can't fit into a shorter story. Jeanne Anderson had a similar experience

ANDERSON: And then what I saw was, you know, these are human beings. These are teenagers and grandparents and little children that are walking and trying to make their voices be heard. And the fact that they come back night after night after night says that they - yes they're protesting the terrible tragedy - but there's a lot more behind it or they wouldn't keep coming back.

SYDELL: Argus Radio was streaming its feed using the technology of a company called Livestream. Its CEO, Max Haot, says Argus set a record for a U.S. news event.

MAX HAOT: The audience in this rapid spread of the link and the speed at which the audiences build up is unprecedented.

SYDELL: Other people in Ferguson downloaded his app too and sent their own streams. The company's services average 2 million viewers a night for streams from the events there. Haot says that kind of constant media attention also caught moments on tape that might otherwise have been missed - like the night that a St. Louis police officer pointed a rifle at Argus' Hussein and another journalist.

(SOUNDBITE OF FERGUSON PROTEST)

HUSSEIN: My hands are up, bro. My hands are up.

SYDELL: That footage found its way to YouTube and major media outlets. Eventually, the cop was suspended indefinitely.

HAOT: So I think it really helps change the world and the way that people have a direct access with a breaking news event and can make their own judgment.

SYDELL: But even a live stream may not have caught the face of a police officer seeing a Molotov cocktail thrown at him. James McQuivey, an analyst at Forrester Research, says even a live stream can be deceptive.

JAMES MCQUIVEY: Maybe there's someone who wants some attention who doesn't care about the issue who's going to show up. It maybe someone who cares about the issue, but is more willing to use a devastating tactic - something violent or something obscene.

SYDELL: Live streaming has already taken off for some other types of events - video gaming is among the most popular. There've been staged events, like Red Bull's streaming of the highest skydive jump on record. Outside the U.S., another live streaming company, UStream, says that some 50 million people watched the demonstrations in Kiev, Ukraine. James McQuivey thinks now that the technology is cheap and ubiquitous, we're likely to see more people stream major news events.

MCQUIVEY: Nothing is as fulfilling as being right there and watching it happen. You know, the Civil War actually launched with people getting in their carriages and going out to the battlefield and sitting on a hill and having a picnic while they watched the early battles.

SYDELL: Jeanne Anderson, the Minnesota first grade teacher, says it's been special to watch a stream from someone in a community.

ANDERSON: Sometimes all you need to see - a look on Mustafa Hussein's face - that says a lot. That at times, he just looks so discouraged, at times bewildered that this is happening in his city.

SYDELL: But in the end, it's not clear if live streams will really help us get closer to the true facts around a major news event. Laura Sydell, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.