Newsrooms need to provide live coverage of most events and breaking news stories in their communities.
Live coverage will change your newsroom’s culture and workflow quicker and more profoundly than any other step you will try. It will make your news site more timely and produce more content and deeper engagement than any other step you will try. And it won’t take much more work from your staff; they mostly just have to start working differently.
If a journalist is covering an event for your newsroom, you should cover it live unless you have a strong reason not to (more on those later). Instead of taking notes at the event, the journalist should livetweet it, using the tweets mostly as notes if you need to write a story after the event. (You still might need to take notes of things you need to check out later.)
In all four of our Project Unbolt newsrooms, live coverage has been perhaps the most significant success, in our efforts to unbolt from print culture and processes. In a series of blog posts this week and next, I will address live coverage issues.
We’ll start with situations where newsrooms should consider live coverage:
When you’re covering a breaking story, you need to provide live coverage, updating as you verify important facts, debunking misinformation that is circulating and crowdsourcing with the community. The breaking news liveblog will be a mix of staff reports and contributions from the community that you can verify.
News organizations quickly learned that big breaking stories present important live-coverage opportunities. But you also need to cover the more routine breaking stories: a water main break, an accident that snarls morning traffic, routine crime reporting.
Verification is an essential skill and standard in breaking-news coverage. You do need to provide swift and timely coverage. But you don’t have to be first with every detail. Take time to verify. Ask the community to help you nail down the facts. Be clear about what you don’t know.
Where judges allow courtroom access, court reporters covering trials should always liveblog. You’re in the courtroom anyway, and you can provide much deeper coverage for the people with a strong interest in the trial by tweeting notable quotes, rulings and developments and feeding your tweets into a liveblog.
In one newsroom, I noted that a reporter had tweeted just twice from the courtroom during the day, but had written a 900-word story for the morning paper that posted online at 8:30 p.m., well after the day’s digital traffic has tapered off. As examples, I pulled some quotes and paragraphs from the story that would have made excellent tweets with just a little editing and encouraged a shift to liveblogging. During that very trial, he started liveblogging and generated more than 14,000 engagement minutes.
Andrew did one thing in the trial that I would not have recommended: He invited the public to ask questions during jury deliberation. That seemed to me like something that would fall flat. I was wrong. He got a steady stream of questions from the public and kept the conversation going for a day and a half of jury deliberation.
We should experiment with new techniques, and I love this experiment. Frankly, I think I’d be right about the interest level more often than wrong. This was a trial that generated intense interest, and I don’t think you should expect to fill that much time routinely in trial coverage. But it’s probably always a good idea to invite questions and field them as long as you keep receiving questions. When the questions peter out, tell people you’ll provide updates if anything happens, but the liveblog will be mostly idle until the verdict comes in. And if the questions fill the entire jury-deliberation period, that’s great.
Newspaper reporters cover lots of meetings, probably too many. The reporter is there taking notes. Share those notes in real time with the people who care by liveblogging.
Chances are you won’t get the same engagement with live meeting coverage as you get with live coverage of a sporting event, breaking news story or a high-interest trial. But that’s OK. Meeting stories don’t get a lot of traffic (or print reading) either.
Maybe we should reconsider how many meetings we cover and how we cover them. But the usual justification given for covering meetings is our watchdog role. Well, a liveblog, with none of the space limitations of a newspaper, provides better watchdog reporting.
We should liveblog every sporting event that a reporter attends (as long as you have connectivity). For professional and major-college sports, the liveblog can provide a second-screen experience. For high school sports or college sports that don’t draw television coverage, the liveblog can help fans follow a road game they couldn’t attend. Or they can follow and join the liveblog from the stands during breaks in a home game.
One of our Project Unbolt pilot newsrooms, the El Paso Times, used aggressive live coverage for the Conference USA men’s and women’s basketball tournaments in El Paso. The New Haven Register got tremendous engagement in liveblogs covering the University of Connecticut’s dual runs to championships in men’s and women’s basketball championships.
A standard way to liveblog a sporting event would be to set up a live event using a tool such as ScribbleLive and feed in a reporter’s tweets from the event (or, in the case of a big event, feed in tweets from all staff members covering the event, including visual journalists).
You also can feed in a hashtag fans might be using (ScribbleLive has filters to help you keep out most tweets using foul language).
Other newsrooms have provided a video livestream of high school games that get no television coverage.
Travis Souders of the Chico Enterprise-Record won a DFMie last fall for use of another tool, iScorepad, in his live coverage of the Butte College football team. The iPad app lets a reporter depict play-by-play action on a football field.
I encourage incorporating live chats into enterprise reporting projects. If you’re planning a big project that’s going to publish on a single day or over the course of a week, include a live chat in your plan, perhaps after your coverage has run. If the coverage is continuing over an extended period, you might plan occasional chats or consider what might be a point of high interest to schedule your live chat.
You could have the reporter(s) who worked on the project host the live chat, or an editor could interview the reporter(s). You also might bring a source or two into the live chat. If the public joins by asking questions and comments, you have a lively conversation with the community. But you have multiple people on the chat, so the conversation still works if engagement is not strong. (I never had that problem when I was hosting live chats as editor in Cedar Rapids, but the planned conversation among journalists or with a source helped get things rolling.)
A live chat is also a good idea for the day you publish an important editorial. Maybe the editor (or editorial page editor) and the editorial writer will discuss the position you took and field questions from the community.
Whenever you’re covering a community festival, consider a liveblog, either with tweets from your staff, feeding in the event hashtag or both.
You can do this to cover a convention or conference in the community, too. Community interest in the event will vary, but the visitors in town for the conference will have high interest.
The New Haven Register uses a running liveblog called Ask the Register. Editors post their daily news budgets there and field questions from the public. The feature hasn’t been as engaging as Connecticut Editor Matt DeRienzo had hoped, but questions this week asked for a correction, suggested a headline change, asked questions and suggested stories. Those are ways that a newsroom should be engaging, so I consider Ask the Register a success.
You can use a variety of tools to liveblog:
- Most Digital First Media newsrooms use ScribbleLive. We like the ability to feed tweets or hashtags into the liveblog or to post directly into the liveblog from the web or the app. We’ve been quite pleased with ScribbleLive for a variety of reasons.
- I’ve used and been pleased with CoverItLive, too.
- I have not used LiveblogPro, but it appears to have similar features. (If you’ve used it, I’d appreciate comments on your experience.)
- I have heard that Sourcefabric has a good liveblogging tool in Superdesk, though I haven’t used it. Again, I welcome your comments if you’ve used it.
- If you think a meeting isn’t going to have a stream of news suitable for feeding using one of the tools above, a reporter could livetweet and an editor could Storify those tweets, perhaps starting halfway through the meeting and updating as more tweets come it.
- Geofeedia helps you gather geotagged tweets (and Instagram photos and other geotagged social media posts) from the venue of an event for curation using tools such as Storify or Spundge.
- You can livetweet and use a Twitter widget to feed the tweets into your site.
- You can just repeatedly update a news story or blog post (add time stamps, if the content management system doesn’t do that automatically).
- Livestreaming video services include Ustream or Livestream.
Results in Project Unbolt pilot newsrooms
All four of our Project Unbolt pilot newsrooms report notable increases in both how much they are liveblogging and how much traffic and engagement they are getting.
The News-Herald in Willoughby, Ohio, went from seven events covered live by using Scribble Live in January (total engagement minutes just over 35,000) to 24 in February (total engagement minutes nearly 83,000). The events covered included a range of sports (NFL Combine) and news (county spelling bee) events.
The New Haven Register reported a similar increase, from 18 events in January to 55 in February. Engagement minutes also increased from nearly 75,000 in January to nearly 360,000 in February. If you think only big events will generate engagement, let’s presume that the Register was liveblogging mostly just the big events in January. Well, the number of events roughly tripled, but the engagement minutes more than quadrupled, so the Register wasn’t just adding events of marginal interest. The growth continued in March (the latest update I have from New Haven), when a March 21 report showed 77 events and just over 440,000 engagement minutes.
When not to liveblog?
My view is that journalists should liveblog any news event you cover, and should consider a live chat following every enterprise story, unless you have a compelling reason not to.
Some possible reasons not to liveblog:
- As I noted in an earlier post, you should be considerate in liveblogging funerals, and if the family prefers that you not liveblog, you should respect their wishes.
- Some states and some judges don’t allow phones or livetweeting from court. Journalism organizations should fight that. Judges’ arrogance should not be allowed to override the First Amendment freedom to publish and the Sixth Amendment guarantee of public trials.
- If you are reviewing an entertainment event in a darkened theater, your tweets will annoy the people around you.
- Sometimes you’ll face connectivity issues, when you’re covering a breaking story or athletic event in a rural area, for instance.
Other live-coverage resources
Paul Bradshaw’s 10 liveblogging ideas (and 31 liveblogging tips)
As it Happens, Karin O’Mahoney’s report on liveblogging in Europe
Larisa Manescu’s 5 tips to prepare for your next liveblogging event