Media Watch

KGUN on front line of Periscope phenomenon

If you're not watching the news in the traditional way—from your television—you might consider checking out a different perspective: from that of the newscasters.

Welcome to the world of Periscope, the new, trendy video platform the KGUN TV 9 news department has embraced full bore.

Periscope is basically video Twitter. Download the Periscope app on iPhone or Android devices and it allows the user to provide streaming video of pretty much whatever that person is doing. Since Twitter purchased the app for close to 100 million dollars in March, its popularity and notoriety have exploded. Entertainers from a variety of mediums have openly accepted the concept and have played a significant role in catapulting it to one of 2015's hot social media undertakings. It's not just a celebrity thing. Anyone with an Android or iPhone operating system can use it.

KGUN, or more specifically, members of the KGUN news team, jumped in almost immediately, and the results have been nearly instantaneously positive. As a result, Periscope viewers can get access to a number of feeds from the likes of primetime anchors Guy Atchley and Stella Inger, and morning news anchor Liz Kotalik, whose follower numbers dwarf a lot of media personalities using the feature, regardless of reach and market size.

"One of my Twitter followers wondered why I wasn't using Periscope yet, and I told them I hadn't because I was a bit nervous about it," said Kotalik, who downloaded the app the first day it became available after her news producer tipped her off, but then didn't immediately utilize the feature. "It is kind of daunting, the live stream. People can see it from everywhere around the world. I tried it, and I don't know what happened, but it's here now and a lot of people are doing it. I was one of the first, but I don't know what it is that's making my account go crazy."

A lot of it probably has to do with personality. As is the case with Atchley and Inger, it gives Periscope viewers the kind of access other technologies haven't granted. In their case it's a behind the scenes look at the news product, and those who bring the news to viewers.

That's well and good, but it helps to be engaging and seem real.

Atchley and Inger clearly let that side of their demeanors shine through. Atchley comes off as remarkably approachable for his followers. He'll broadcast, usually from studio immediately before and after a newscast, and even during the proceedings when he isn't doing his anchor thing.

"It kind of surprised me. You do develop some fans," said Atchley, who patiently responds to viewer queries. "They do get on there and watch every night and quite frequently they'll write that 'I watch you guys instead of our local news here because you're more interesting.'"

But it's the type of medium that invites trolls, and in this forum, if the person on video gets overly sensitive that can be a real problem. Trolling exists. It's a social media reality. When those instances arise within the Periscope forum, the KGUN crew has not hesitated to utilize quick trigger fingers.

"I immediately block. That is the best," Kotalik said. "If someone wants to say something creepy or if someone wants to say something mean that isn't constructive, I just immediately block them. I have people who watch every day who love me, and I love them too, it feels like we're friends, that tell me about someone who was trolling while I'm doing the news and can't see the feed. Then I'll block them. If they do it once they'll probably do it again, and that just ruins the experience for everyone."

"When you put yourself out there like this, it's sad, but especially if you're a girl you have to expect this. People will say disgusting things. It doesn't faze me. I just block them, and then the other people in the chat say "Yay." We celebrate and move on. You have to just accept it."

Atchley and Inger are generally broadcasting on Periscope from studio in and around their newscasts. Kotalik, on the other hand, has significantly expanded the concept's breadth.

"After the (newscast) I'll occasionally do a question and answer sort of thing maybe once a week, but when I'm out of the studio and doing something cool, like maybe a hike, I'll Periscope it," Kotalik said. "I have people now ask me if Tucson is a great place to visit, it looks so beautiful when I'm out on these hikes. Not only is it a good means to reach people who might not watch the news in a traditional setting, but it's reaching more people who didn't know Tucson existed. They are now appreciating the scenery and now they want to come to Tucson."

The KGUN anchors' Periscope involvement isn't a requirement of the position, but management has condoned its use. As such, Kotalik, Atchley and Inger enjoy the unsanctioned, but willingly accepted interaction.

Still, as is the case with any social media venture, balancing the fine line between benefit and time suck is part of the learning process. And there's the issue of attempting to figure out whether there's potential to ultimately monetize it.

"We're all trying to figure out how to make money in a new age of social media," Kotalik said. "I just figure we might as well get on board as soon as possible and try to experiment with ways it might work for us, and hopefully by the time this takes over, if it does, we'll have a good grasp of it."

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