I will be leading a webinar on liveblogging this Tuesday, April 21, for the American Society of News Editors. I have compiled these tips as a handout for the webinar. I welcome experienced livebloggers to add their tips in the comments here or to answer the questions I raised Friday. If you are an experienced liveblogger or an editor whose staff liveblogs, please email me. I would like you to join us in a live chat Tuesday afternoon about liveblogging.
Please plan on joining the live chat about liveblogging Tuesday between 1:30 and 2 p.m. Central time:
Newspapers originally responded to the opportunities of the web by posting print stories online after they appeared in print. Then we recognized the need to post news immediately to the web and started posting bulletins when news broke, often followed after the newspaper deadline (or even after newspaper publication) by newspaper-like stories. Liveblogging is a story form for digital platforms, a blend of the styles and techniques of traditional newspaper-style reporting, radio play-by-play and the interactivity of blogging.
How to liveblog
Liveblogging is a new writing technique, so you can develop your own style. Here are some approaches writers are using effectively:
Write a liveblog in short takes, each time-stamped and posted above the previous one. In a normal blog, this means a reader checking back for an update will see the freshest take at the top. When you use CoverItLive, the program jumps automatically to the bottom when a new update is posted. Readers checking in for the first time midway through the event will need to scroll up or down, depending on the program you use, to catch up.
Individual takes can be short bursts of a sentence or two (if you’re Twittering, you get only 140 characters) or a few paragraphs, depending on the blogging software/platform and the story. Though each take will be part of a chain, try to make it a distinct link that adds a meaningful piece to the story.
For a big, breaking story involving multiple staff members, a single person can be assigned to liveblog as reporters file or call in information, just as a rewrite person sometimes pulls together a print story from multiple colleagues.
During a controlled event where you are able to write on a laptop or mobile device, you can use the liveblog as notes, recording every development or quote that you might want to consider for use in a story. A breaking event may not lend itself to continuous liveblogging. You can still file brief updates with major developments. Sometimes you will have down time, perhaps waiting for a press conference with emergency authorities. Use those down times to write longer updates with more details.
Space isn’t an issue in a liveblog. You may have just 12 inches for the print story, but be able to post dozens of entries ranging from a single sentence to a few paragraphs in the liveblog. This doesn’t mean anything goes. You still want to provide interesting reading. But some things that are interesting to someone who is following an event as it unfolds will not be as interesting or important in the summary of that event after it is finished.
A liveblog can be posted directly to the web by the writer or can be edited quickly first and posted by an editor. This requires advance coordination to have an editor ready to move the posts quickly.
Liveblogs of sporting events (sometimes called a “glog,” short for “game log”) build on the rich tradition of live radio and television coverage of sporting events. A sporting liveblog should use that traditional mix of play-by-play reporting with analysis and color, along with the opportunity to interact with fans.
Accuracy remains essential
Liveblogging requires a huge change in our usual standard of completeness. Each take is lacking something, however much you work to make it stand alone. However, you cannot relax your standard of accuracy. Attribute information that you have not been able to verify as factual. Ask people where they got their information and include that explanation. If you have doubts about something, don’t post it yet. Even if someone in authority tells you something, seek opportunities to verify. Tell readers when you’re working to verify something.
Consider your tone
The tone of your liveblog must be appropriate to the story you are telling. An athletic event or a community festival can have a light tone that reflects the exciting or festive tone of the event. A liveblog of a contentious meeting or a murder trial should take a serious tone that reflects the event. However, a serious meeting might include a few light moments or humorous asides that wouldn’t fit into the print story (in space or tone) but that work well as individual takes in a liveblog that will turn more serious as the meeting does.
A columnist can share opinions in a liveblog the same as in print or in an opinion blog. A reporter generally should not use a liveblog as an outlet for opinion. Exceptions could be discussed with the reporter’s editor in advance of liveblogging. For instance, a reporter who also writes a column or reviews could use a liveblog for those purposes. Or you may decide that the different format of the liveblog justifies more commentary by a reporter. Or perhaps a topic, such as sports, seems to work better online with more commentary. These matters should be decided by editors and staff members discussing the issues together, not by bloggers finding their own way without guidance.
Try some interaction
Seek information, reaction and questions from the audience as you liveblog. As you see something that might make a good lead for the print story, ask the audience whether they think that might be a good way to start your print story. (Even if you and they like the idea, the event’s not over and subsequent developments could move ahead of that first tentative lead, but that’s just another opportunity to seek feedback.)
If you hear someone make a claim that sounds doubtful to you, you might ask whether anyone in the audience has some information on that. Be careful not to express an opinion that someone is wrong; just ask the audience for information that would confirm or contradict: “I had not heard that before. If you have some information on that issue, I’d like to hear from you.”
Seek opinions from the audience. Again, avoid expressing your opinion unless you and your editor have agreed that opinion is appropriate in your liveblog. You can report what just happened or what someone just said and ask, “What do you think of that?” or “How do you think that will work?”
CoverItLive allows you to pose questions to the audience in quick polls that increase interactivity. It also allows you to screen questions and comments, so you don’t approve comments that are off-color, defamatory or even off-topic.
Benefits of liveblogging
Immediacy. A liveblog helps readers follow the action or dialogue at an event as it happens.
User loyalty. A liveblog helps establish your site as the place to go to get the news first.
Traffic. A news story that draws a reader’s attention gets a single page view. A liveblog that draws a reader’s attention gets multiple page views as the reader keeps coming back for updates.
Saving time. If you are covering an event such as a trial, meeting or sports contest, your liveblog can become a combination of your notes and even a rough draft of the story you write for the print edition. You may write your lead or some strong passages in the liveblog that you will be able to cut and paste into the print story. A critic watching a concert might liveblog each song in order, producing several of the paragraphs that would go into a print review. Even if the liveblog style is rougher and choppier than what you’ll want for a single story that flows nicely, you’ll be able to cut and paste some quotes and facts. (This advantage may not apply to a breaking story such as a crime, fire or disaster, where you are reporting more actively than at a controlled event. There you would have to pause from your reporting to liveblog, which may not always be possible.)
Advice from liveblogging veterans
Marc Morehouse, The Gazette: “I love liveblogs. I love the engagement. I hate some of the moderation duties that go along with it, but that’s a fact of life with these things. … Be yourself. Be conversational and interesting.”
Scott Dochterman, The Gazette: “Liveblogging is valuable toward interacting with the public during a live event. Reporters can provide depth to a subject that even the participants cannot (a game, a city council meet, a trial, etc.). But livebloggers need support from the staff when writing a story. Details and perspective often lapse when you’re providing information simultaneously while interacting with the public. Late events, such as a basketball game or a school board meeting, might need to be double-covered.” (Scott provides more advice in the comments.)
Hugh Kellenberger, Bloomington Herald-Times: “The biggest problem I see when I look at live blogs is just that there is not enough. As journalists, we have this mentality of writing only the most pertinent info. On a blog, I will write about the crowd, the gym (it’s Indiana – people love to talk about high school gyms), who’s doing what and who’s saying what. I try to look at it like I am the play-by-play guy and the color man, and our readers are only going to be satisfied if I can tell them what happened and why it did.”
Mark Briggs (excerpt from his upcoming book):
Techcrunch, one of the most popular blogs in the world, set the standard for liveblogging several years ago with its coverage of Steve Jobs and his keynote addresses at the MacWorld conventions. By posting every minute or two, with timestamps in reverse chronological order, and adding ample photos, Techcrunch (through its sister site Crunchgear) was able to provide the most timely coverage available anywhere. News organizations like The New York Times took note (probably because they lost their audience to Techcrunch) and now liveblog similar events in similar fashion. Imitation is, after all, the sincerest form of flattery.
The next generation of liveblogging can be seen though add-on services like CoverItLive. The module embeds onto any web page and gives a mobile journalist more than 140 characters per post (the limit on Twitter). And it provides several feedback features not found in a traditional blog, allowing the audience to comment and ask questions or participate in polls in real-time.
Richard Pratt, The Gazette: “Immediacy is the key here. Verify whatever you can, of course, but if you don’t keep up with the ‘action,’ whatever it may be, your viewers will lose interest. When you promise real-time updates, readers expect real-time updates. They’re not nearly as concerned as you are by a misuse of the they’re/their/there family. Just try it. You’ll find a rhythm, and better than that, you’ll connect with a whole new audience – one that’s largely engaged, passionate and knowledgeable, and one that’ll expand your horizons.”
For more advice from journalists, check out the comments in this post, in which I asked questions of liveblogging veterans.
I will be updating and adding to the list of links to liveblogging examples that I used for a February webinar for the Canadian Newspaper Association. Please suggest good liveblogging examples (or examples of challenges encountered while liveblogging) in the comments.
Here are the slides I will be presenting in the ASNE webinar.
I also strongly recommend reading The different styles of live blogging, by Daniel Marrin of BeatBlogging.org.