Florida Today LIVE from the center of the storm

August 20, 2008 · Posted in Uncategorized 

Florida Today, a 94,000-circulation Gannett paper in Brevard County, has been streaming live video from crews driving out in the middle of some of the worst flooding from tropical storm Fay. They’ve had a live video player from Mogulus.com on their web front for three days showing the rain and flooding. Wednesday afternoon, they had two crews out in the thick of it and were able to switch between the two cameras, making it a much better experience than when I first saw it with only one camera.

Florida Today’s Tom Kehoe, director of staff development, tells how they did it:

“This is real low tech. We’re using MacBook pros with 2GB of memory and the Sprint Novatel U720 usb EVDO cards. We attach the cards with a usb cable and get the best reception by wedging the card up under the sun visor. The camera we’re using is the Sony HVR A1U, and we connect by firewire.. We shoot in 16×9. We mount the camera using an old Video Innovators dash mount, which has suction cups that attach to the windshield and a brace that goes to the floor. We put a cushion under the brace to help soften the bumps. We stream it all through a web service called Mogulus.

The first time we tried it was on Tuesday, as Tropical Storm Fay was blowing in. This was supposed to be a minor storm with low winds that would dissipate quickly. But it stalled over top of us and just grew stronger and stronger. When we sent out our video stream team, we weren’t sure how long we could keep it going, or how the public would respond. We ended up keeping it going for more than five hours, and viewership built steadily until we had about 1,500 viewers – and it stayed at that level for hours. Our two person-crew was Chris Kridler and Tim Walters. Both are converged journalists – they can do print as well and video — and Chris is an avid storm chaser, who has tracked tornados around the midwest for years. That experience really helped.

They toured the county and simply described what they saw, as if they were talking directly to the viewers. They panned and zoomed to show trouble spots and generally give Brevard County viewers a look at what the rain was doing to their neighbors. We pulled them in as it got dark, and before the worst of the storm hit. It was so effective that we ramped it up the following morning, with the tail end of Tropical Storm Fay still sitting on top of us. By this time, Brevard had three days of rain: Rain that came down in sheets so thick that visibility was practically zero. Flood waters were rising all over the county. When you live in Florida you expect the occasional flood, but no one was ready for anything like this. Homes were being breached in towns scattered all over Brevard. Entire neighborhoods were cut off, folks were stuck in their homes, unable to leave.

By afternoon, with rain still falling, we had put two video stream teams out. Using Mogulus, we switched from one to the other, depending on which crew had the most dramatic footage. We used a lower-third label to alert readers to the location of the crew, and then posted my email address and an invitation for viewers to tell us where they wanted us to send our units. Within minutes, we had two dozen emails, some from folks on the other side of the country worrying about their homes. Viewership went over 2,000. Technical problems were constant – loss of audio or video, and occasionally of cellphone service. We directed the teams using cellphones and text messages. The teams were alternately talking with us, a TV station and the viewers themselves.

And while the flooding made for great video, it also made for dangerous reporting conditions. Many of the roads they were traveling were so flooded that just staying on the road was major concern. You often couldn’t tell if you were about to drive into water that a foot deep, or a yard deep. Some of the highlights of that coverage: Police rescuing a couple of kids kayaking who got into trouble because of the intense currents in the flood waters; several accidents; residents trying to cope with flooded homes; and a couple of characters who were surfing the violent currents in a storm swale.

During those first two days we produced more than 13 hours of streaming video, and we’ll be doing it again tomorrow.”

Here’s some of their live footage, edited down:


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