Twitter’s new video streaming app, Periscope, launched on Thursday morning. By the afternoon it was facing its first real test as a medium for citizen journalism.
Just after 3 p.m., a large explosion shook a building on Second Avenue in Manhattan. By the end of the day two buildings had collapsed, at least 19 people were injured, and at least one was missing. People who signed on to Periscope out of curiosity about Silicon Valley’s latest craze in self-documentation were given an intimate look at the confusing scene on the ground in the immediate aftermath of the explosion. Multiple users began streaming video from the streets, nearby buildings, and other vantage points.
Just like every previous golden age of citizen journalism, the may-be-upon-us age of Periscope journalism is beset by faulty and incomplete information, inane commentary, and technical setbacks. The first feed I saw of the fire said it was being filmed in the Bronx. The second one correctly identified the neighborhood but gave the wrong address for the building where the explosion took place. The visuals consisted of a man on the street asking other bystanders what was going on. A voice off-camera started screaming: “Everybody needs to pray!” Then the feed cut out.
I found another feed from a building that looked to be at least a mile away. Like most of the videos on Periscope, it seems, the narration was about the app itself. The reporters, as it were, lacked the gravitas that even the basest local news network knows how to fake. “I have my own channel!” shrieked the narrator, a woman who was presumably holding the phone doing the streaming.
“What’s that?” asked someone else.
“Periscope. Someone said I’m the new CNN! Just kidding, I don’t know how to work this thing.”