This Q&A has been edited for space and clarity.
T.J. Ortenzi is the Facebook Live editor at The Washington Post and part of a four-person team that leads the newspaper’s video streaming efforts on Facebook.
The platform allows staff to stream breaking news like protests right to their Facebook audience. It has also helped them connect and engage with audiences in real time in various ways, from asking for help during a chess game to taking people’s questions during an interview.
“Facebook Live offers an instant connection that email and reader comments just don’t provide,” says Ortenzi. “One columnist changed his idea for an entire column after he saw how interested readers were in another topic that would have been a sidebar.”
What are your job responsibilities as Facebook Live editor?
My job is to be a live video editor. That means I need to be aware of news as it’s happening and try to find a way, if it makes sense, for us to serve up interesting and important video journalism. I have a daily meeting with the video department at 9 a.m. and I help keep an eye out for interesting opportunities that might work on Facebook Live. My team and I are surrounded by journalists with a deep knowledge of the topics that they cover. So, when there’s a big story, we try to tap into that knowledge and offer context.
I do a lot of training to help reporters launch Facebook Live videos from their phones and I do a lot of planning and pre-production work to make sure that our Facebook Live videos go off without a hitch.
A big part of my job is experimentation, so every day is an opportunity to do something different and maximize engagement with our audience.
Why do you need a team of four?
Facebook Live works like any other department in the newsroom — covering stories and events as they happen. We juggle multiple roles and moving parts daily, arranging shoots, preparing for on-camera interviews, technical troubleshooting and setting up equipment. We often use a control room and multiple cameras and those elements require people.
During a Facebook Live shoot on location, we generally need all four people: one to host, one to shoot, one to act as field producer or second videographer and one person in the control room to launch, direct or moderate. In addition to our Facebook Live work, we also post live events to The Post’s website and edit some of our segments into video packages for the site. Our goal is to maintain high production standards and ensure that we are able to cover all the events that we want to cover.
What have been some lessons you’ve learned from using Facebook Live that you could share with other news organizations?
First, thoroughly plan and test everything in advance. If you’re heading to a location where a lot of people will be using their phones, have a backup. Secondly, use two phones: one to communicate with headquarters and another to shoot. Next, I’d say research various cameras and connectivity or production options. I haven’t found anything that fits our needs 100 percent of the time. Finally, actively moderate comments and acknowledge people when you ask their question on air. Casual trolls seem to move along when it’s clear that there’s an adult in the room.
In our email correspondence, you mentioned that one of your goals is to “push the boundaries of the platform” for live video. How have you been able to do that so far?
Live video has been around for decades, but what’s exciting about Facebook Live is how it’s been democratized and how it allows for a two-way conversation in real time.
When our reporters came to us and said that they had a copy of an exclusive video game, we thought it would be cool to play it on Facebook Live. Twitch has had enormous success and we were curious to see how our Facebook audience would react. It did really well. In addition to solid views, there was a high quality of engagement. Viewers were asking us to try new game features, sharing strategies and tagging their friends. Mark Zuckerberg even tuned in and liked the video.
In another effort to see how people would engage with us, we put a GoPro on our producer’s head for a chess match with a former chess master and invited people to tell us what our next move should be. We gave people a first-person view and the results were amazing and weird. People were tagging their friends and we had a lot of repeat commenters. The chess master was also a character, so that helped.
Who won the chess match?
The former chess master won.