It may seem like a strange question, but New York Magazine has a piece up that asks if livestreaming is the future of journalism or activism.

I don’t have an answer, but I have some thoughts on this. And my thought is … no. Livestreaming is not journalism. Perhaps it is news reporting, but I don’t think it is journalism.

Why? Journalism goes beyond stating this happened. It gets to what happened, why it happened and how important it is. Livestreaming an event does nothing to add context to a story – it just shows you what is happening right now, right in front of this particular camera that this particular person has chosen to stream.

There’s no decision making about what’s important and what’s relevant based on the facts of what has happened – the decision making is made based on assumptions about what may happen.

Every journalist has to make some assumptions – to go here, to interview that person – and those assumptions are similar to the livestreaming reporters out there. The difference is the livestreamer is then tied to those assumptions, the journalist has the ability to decide whether the results of those assumptions are credible, trustworthy and relevant.

And that’s where someone becomes a journalist. It is not merely pointing a camera at something and pressing record or broadcast. It is the collection of information, the sorting of information, the contextualization of information – the assembly of relevant information into a coherent, contextual story about what happened – not what one person saw happen – and what it means.

My stepson and I were just talking about this issue when he got up from the kitchen table and poured himself a second glass of milk. I asked him if broadcasting a video of him pouring and drinking that glass of milk was journalism. He looked at me and said he didn’t think so. And he’s right – a medium-sized boy drinking a glass of milk is not news and the reporting of just that is not journalism.

But if he never has a second glass of milk, that adds information and context – and could lead to a story. If he’s been lactose intolerant and has a new medication that allows him to drink milk, that could be a story. If he stops at two glasses when he usually has three, that could be a story.

But none of those are stories you could figure out by looking at one point of information – a medium sized boy pouring and drinking a glass of milk.

Journalism requires context – it’s this happened and this is why it matters.

Do journalists always get the story right? Absolutely not. But there’s a better chance of getting it right if there is a systematic process of reporting, analyzing and publishing. A system with fact checkers and multiple sources has a better chance of producing a useful story than one person pointing one camera at one thing at one moment in time.

Mark E. Johnson

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