Video journalism and live broadcasting

This is a section of my upcoming book on video journalism. If you think that sounds useful then sign up for my mailing list by clicking on the image below and I’ll let you know when the book is ready. Big thanks to Simon Bradley for allowing me to share his brilliant blog post about setting up a TVU.

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The Live shot is an essential part of TV news. If you are working in broadcast then there is a pretty high chance that you will have to either shoot them, or appear in them. The way you go about this will be dependent on a number of things: The story, the location and what technology you have available.

Bonded sim technology

In recent years bonded 3G/4G technology has really began to make its mark in news coverage – This involves taking a number of SIM cards and plugging them into a small broadcasting unit. The sum of the multiple 3G connections creates enough bandwidth to send high quality video from location back to the studio.

Shoot/Edit Guy Siggers has used this technology extensively:

“I have used liveU, Dejero and Aviwest bonded cell technology for live broadcasts and I’m a big fan. They’ve changed the way live news can be delivered while also giving us mobile feeding points pretty much anywhere we travel to. The ability to go live on a moving train or up on the roof of the tallest tower has giving live news a new dimension. Being able to store and forward a package from anywhere with a 3G signal has changed the way broadcasters think about foreign stories. Sending a cameraman with a laptop and a liveU is now standard on the majority of urban based foreign sends. So costs have fallen dramatically meaning my employer can now cover more stories.”

TVU One - wireless IP link
TVU One – wireless IP link

Although I have used the kit on a number of occasions, I have never had to set one up from scratch. Experienced shoot/edit Simon Bradley has, and has these great tips for buying SIM cards and setting them up when travelling around the globe:

– Buy around six local pay-as-you-go data-use SIM cards. Ideally these should be 4G, but at least 3G. So far my experience has been that in many places it is not possible to get 4G SIMs that are pay-as-you-go – they usually require a contract.

– If possible use two or three different network providers. The reason for this is that network coverage varies from place to place and also if one network has problems then at least another may still be working.

– The type of SIMs you want are data SIMs and with at least 1GB data allowance, preferably 2GB or more.

– Be aware that SIMs now come in varying sizes, standard, micro and nano so make sure they either come with some adapters or that you have some.

– When you first purchase SIMs they may come with no data, 500MB of data or some other nominal data allowance. You then need to purchase extra data and top up the SIMs.

– We usually buy one SIM and see if it works, if so we then buy some more.

– Once a data SIM has been bought, it may have been activated by the staff in the shop or it may need activating in a phone before it can be used in a USB dongle. This may require the language skills of the local coordinator, as a series of instructions will need to be followed on a phone.

– Once it is established that the SIM card is active it is time to test it in a USB dongle on a computer to confirm that the data is working and can connect to the internet in the USB device. Insert the SIM into one of the generic USB dongles and attach it to a computer.

– Once recognised, the dongle may need to install its software on your PC, that is fine. It may begin by asking if you will allow the device to make changes to the PC, which is OK. 

– If you have the software already then it may ask to remove the older version before installing the new, this should not be necessary. 

– Then the software window will open. For the generic 4G dongles it is called Mobile Partner.

– Once open the first thing you need to do is disable the PIN operation on the SIM. Often the SIM comes with a PIN number, which needs to be input to gain access, however the TVU cannot do this itself and so this PIN operation needs to be disabled for the SIM and device to work properly in the TVU.

– Go to Tools, Pin Operations, Disable PIN Verification. 

– Then follow the prompts, which usually require you to input the current PIN code to disable it. (The relevant PIN code is usually printed on the housing card of the SIM, so make sure to keep the card even after the SIM has been removed).

– Hopefully by now the device has picked up the relevant network carrier and is showing you a signal.

– Next go to Tools, Options and then Profile Management.

– Here, under Profile Name, you may see many different Profiles, from the various countries this device will have been used in. 

I suggest you select a New Profile by selecting New, then Save, then make it Default. You can then Edit it to give it a relevant name, that’s easy to recognise, for where you are. Then press Save again, to be safe.

– Back on the main page you will then be able to Connect to the relevant network through your newly set up profile.

– You should be able to see some movement in the upload and download arrows. Now try opening some web pages to make sure you have a working connection. 

– You have now managed to disable the PIN functions and confirmed that the SIM and device work together to connect to a network.

Wow, complicated, right? For Simon’s full instructions on getting the TVU unit up and running you may want to check out his blog post here:

Many journalists are now able to broadcast from their phones with apps like this
Many journalists are now able to broadcast from their phones with apps like this


Of course there are simpler options. In theory anybody with a smart phone and a data connection can now report live. AJ+ is a web based channel creating some excellent and innovative content. Shadi Rahimi and the team used mobile broadcasting via smart phones extensively during their coverage of recent protests in the U.S:

“Mobile reporting is the future of breaking news. Mobile reporting offers the opportunity to engage directly with the social media audience – i.e. our target millennial viewership – unfiltered and in real-time. The reason much of our Baltimore content went viral had to do with these main factors: 1) Relevance; 2) Timing (immediate delivery on social platforms); 3) Conforming to social norms/standards (the sharing audience members raised their social profile by associating themselves with the content first); 4) Raw emotive video.”

But this type of broadcasting also has its technical difficulties:

“The next time we livestreamed we used the Periscope app instead, which our producer preferred. We had so many chatting on screen at one time that people’s faces were covered by comments. But it was much smoother technically. Our mobile reporter appreciated the feedback and fielded questions from the viewers

Other issues you can face while mobile reporting: Weather, audio and quality. In Ferguson we reported in pouring rain and later snow. Our lenses would fog and there are no coverings to protect makeshift mobile reporting set-ups. We had to use garbage bags. There’s no way to monitor sound with the iPhone’s native camera app. And quality is a big gripe brought up most as an argument against mobile reporting by those who love DSLR’s. Don’t get me wrong, I do, too. But while mobile footage can be shaky, the colours are less than gorgeous and the sound isn’t great, the story remains the same. And the delivery is immediate. That’s what’s important. And in the calm between the chaos, we found ways to report unique angles.” (taken from

Traditional satellite truck

If you work with more traditional broadcasters then it is very likely that you will be working with a satellite truck in the field. My first bit of advice is to work as a team with the Engineer – try not to be a “white gloves” cameraman, be prepared to help rig the cables and get your hands dirty. It will be greatly appreciated. It’s also worth putting together a little magic bag of useful cables and adaptors – XLR Y-leads are great to carry, as are sex changers and BNC Barrels for joining two lengths of video cable or SDI together.

Here’s some practical tips for crewing lives from cameraman Colm Hand:

– Make sure you have enough battery power to get you through the live, especially in winter and when using a camera top light. Have a spare within easy reach at all times.

– If you are doing a static live without a guest then try and use a lapel mic or a mic on a stand so that the Reporter still has a hand free to hold notes (this also stops that bizarre urge that all reporters have to keep raising a hand held mic higher and higher until it is right by their lips and destroying your shot.)

– If possible avoid using radio mic’s during a live in case they break up and you get interference.

– Be careful about shooting a live with your lens iris wide open. . . If the sun suddenly disappears then your subject may be plunged into darkness and you’ll have no option except to change filters live on air.

– If it looks like it could rain try and have two umbrellas to hand. One for the reporter (preferably with a suitable logo on it) and one for you to hold over the lens.

Try and move around if possible during a live, be willing to zoom into the action or, if you have a radio camera or wireless transmitter, go for a walk – put the camera on your shoulder and show the audience around the story – follow the action, don’t be afraid to let the reporter leave frame as you pick out interesting details with the camera. Try and rehearse these moves first if you can and make sure the reporter and yourself both share the same vision for what you want to do.

If you have a dull background that adds nothing to the story (e.g. a Court house at night or an empty field with no obvious movement behind) then consider a tighter shot with a shallow depth of field and use your lighting to make the shot more interesting. If you don’t have enough light to pick out something behind you then use your vehicle’s headlights on full beam.

No matter what technology you use lives are important but can be dull if we don’t think of ways to liven them up and make them look good.

A live broadcast (photo courtesy of Nick Zieltjes)
A live broadcast (photo courtesy of Nick Zieltjes)


There is one other important aspect to lives that is worth addressing – safety. Recently A reporter and cameraman in the U.S were shot and killed in the middle of a live broadcast. It was a shocking incident and one that I hope won’t be repeated. The shooting has prompted a lot of debate about live shots and the safety of journalists. While that case is hopefully a one off it is a timely and terrifying reminder of how vulnerable we are.

Less terrible but certainly more common has been the recent spate of people interrupting live broadcasts by shouting “fuck her in the pussy.” It’s a repulsive trend. It’s happened to me in the UK once, but I know that it has been a very common occurrence across the pond.

Here’s some basic advice I’ve on keeping safe during lives:

-Have a good look around, are you able to get away if needed? Are their any suspicious characters hanging around?

– Be especially careful crewing any live around emotionally charged stories,  alcohol or large crowds. Keep your distance and consider shooting an as-live.

-Trust your instincts. Be especially careful if it’s dark and there is no sign of the Police. If things don’t feel right then don’t be shy to call your news desk and ask to relocate to a new location.

-If you do get abused live on air then don’t pretend it didn’t happen. Check that the danger has passed and then apologise before continuing with the broadcast.

– Don’t get into a fight. Many news people are alpha types and our instinct is to confront the sort of idiot who tries to disrupt a live cross, but don’t do it. Ignore them, if they continue to cause problems then pull the live and start to pull out. If need be call the Police.

Here’s some practical tips for crewing lives

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