Tag Archives: liveblogging

How to liveblog a TV debate: lessons from #leadersdebate 

frontpages

Newspaper front pages the morning after the leaders debate. Most newspapers also liveblogged the debate on their websites.

 

Last night saw the leaders of 7 political parties in the UK debate live on TV. But part and parcel of such a debate these days is the ‘second screen’ journalism of liveblogging. In this post I look at how different news organisations approached their own liveblogs, and what you can take from that if you plan to liveblog a debate in the future (for example this one). Continue reading

Circa news app shows liveblogging’s rise and rise

Circa news app - image from TechCrunch

Circa news app – image from TechCrunch

Just how dominant can the liveblog format become? In Model for the 21st Century Newsroom Redux I noted how quickly the format has been adopted as a default mode of reporting (for example, how widely the format was being used to report on public sector strikes).

In March 2012 the relaunch of the ITV News website saw the format adopted as the default mode of presentation.

In August The Guardian’s horizontally-navigated Olympics liveblog caught my eye.

Now news app Circa is taking the concept back onto mobile (where most liveblogging starts), and adding a few twists, including push updates. Continue reading

How to get started as a multimedia journalist

I’ve now covered almost all of the 5 roles in an investigations team I posted about earlier this year – apart from the multimedia journalist role. So here’s how to get started in that role.

Multimedia journalism is a pretty nebulous term. As a result, in my experience, when students try to adopt the role two main problems recur: 1) having a narrow assumption of what multimedia means (i.e. video) and 2) not being able to see the multimedia possibilities of your work.

Multimedia journalism is a very different beast to broadcast journalism. In broadcast journalism your role was comparatively simple: you had one medium to use, and a well-worn format to employ.

Put another way: in broadcast journalism the medium was imposed on the story; in multimedia journalism, the story imposes the medium.

Multimedia also has to deal with the style challenge I’ve written about previously:

“Not only must they be able to adapt their style for different types of reporting; not only must they be able to adapt for different brands; not only must they be able to adapt their style within different brands across multiple media; but they must also be able to adapt their style within a single medium, across multiple platforms: Twitter, Facebook, blogs, Flickr, YouTube, or anywhere else that their audiences gather.”

With that in mind, then, here are 4 steps to get started in multimedia journalism:

Step 1: Look for multimedia opportunities in your journalism

The style challenge outlined above means starting from a position of having to decide what medium to use – and the type of multimedia which is produced in this role will depend largely on the nature of the stories and investigations being pursued. Here are some typical examples of where multimedia can bring an extra dimension to a story:

  • Case studies: video or audio interviews with someone at the heart of the story: affected by the issue or working at the coalface
  • Reaction: video or audio interview with the person responsible: capturing their attempts to explain their role
  • Clarity: charts, maps or infographic turning data into something that users can understand more quickly. Tools useful here include Google Charts and Gadgets (in Google Docs), Many Eyes and Tableau for charts; Tagxedo, Wordle or Many Eyes for word clouds; Google Maps and BatchGeo for maps; and Infogr.am for infographics.
  • Explanation: taking something complex and making it accessible to a wider audience – this might be done through a graphic, or through a video or audio interview with an expert who can explain it clearly – including a member of the team
  • Conflict and chemistry: staging a podcast discussion to flesh out the key themes in the issue being explored. This can be done in an entertaining way if your presenters have chemistry, or it can be done in an engaging way if you have two camps in conflict (make sure you can add clarity and expertise into the noise)
  • Interactivity: producing something that users can interact with. Freedive is a useful tool for doing this with spreadsheets. There are also timeline tools like Dipity and Meograph, and charts and maps can be interactive too.
  • Curation: bringing together multimedia content by users in a way that adds value

The multimedia journalist needs to be able to spot those opportunities for multimedia to play a role – and develop the skills to see them through. Here are some questions to ask:

  • Does the story involve complex concepts that might be better illustrated through visual or aural means?
  • Does the story require a response from someone, or a description of an event, where non-verbal cues such as their tone of voice or facial expression may be key?
  • Are there different positions which would suit a discussion to flesh them out?
  • Is there so much information involved that users might want to explore it themselves to pull out the bits directly relevant to them?
  • Does the story involve figures or data that work better visually than in text?
  • Is there user generated content related to the issue – online or in offline archives, or individuals’ possession – which could be brought together and highlighted?

Looking at plenty of examples of online multimedia is very important here. For the reasons explained above, broadcast journalism is not always the best example to follow. Look at David McCandless’s visualisation work or the discussions about best practice on Flowing Data. Look at the video work of Travis Fox and Michael Rosenblum’s students. Watch The Guardian’s video and the documentary channel on Vimeo. Listen to the most popular podcasts and micropodcasts; soak in audio slideshows – and ask yourself what makes them so effective.

The technical quality – and I know people will disagree with this – can wait.

Step 2: Plan and practise

The reason that I place technical skills second here is this: if you don’t have a story to tell, you are going to have neither the means nor the motive to develop your technical skills.

Furthermore, because there are now so many technical options available to the journalist, learning them all before going out to report is not the most efficient option.

So: story first, technicalities second.

Once you have a story, you have to decide how best to tell it. If it’s video, you will need to learn that. If maps, then look at that.

Don’t wait for someone to show you how: there are thousands of resources online to get you started, from Vimeo’s Video School and YouTube’s Playbook to the BBC College’s resources andMindy McAdams’s collection on audio and video production.

YouTube has tons of tutorials on pretty much any skill you might want to tackle, but there are also text resources such as The Society of Professional Journalists’ Digital Media Handbook Part 1 (PDF) and Part 2 which cover mapping and data visualisation, among other useful techniques, and the Knight Digital Media Center’s extensive tutorials.

For photography there’s this free book on DSLR Cinematography, while videographers can choose between this ebook (PDF) by Adam Westbrook on multimedia production and ImageJunkies’s free ebook on news and documentary filmmaking.

If you’re struggling for a reason to use multimedia, liveblogging is a particularly good opportunity to practise your skills: when there’s lots going on, what are the multimedia opportunities:

  • Do you need to be in position for when something visually or aurally striking happens?
  • Or do you need to interview the people taking part, for colour?
  • Do you capture the atmosphere somehow?
  • Do you map it?
  • Do you attempt to flesh out rumours with some actuality?

Every choice counts – be prepared to make a lot of wrong ones, or at least to accept that part of the journalist’s job is deciding what to leave out.

Your first attempts will be crude and frustrating – but they will point you to the key issues, and provide the motivation for learning the techniques.

For example, your video may have poor audio, or be too shaky. There may be too much of you in it. Your map may have too little information. Your audio drones on for too long, then sputters out.

Largely this is about planning: checking out the location and picking a place where background audio isn’t too loud. Briefing the interviewee and getting in close. Researching your subject and knowing the right questions to ask – and when not to accept an answer.

So practise. Learn how to edit your work, just as you would edit your words. Learn how to film closely, or with a microphone, or both to get clearer sound. Learn how to kick off and wrap up audio succinctly. Practise.

Step 3: Improve the technical side with an understanding of principles

An understanding of key principles is just as important as technical ability: you need to understand what works well in a chosen medium: being able to hold a camera is worthless if you point it at something dull. Being able to edit audio isn’t going to help if you don’t ask the right questions in the interview. As countless examples of citizen journalism have proved: people will forgive poor technical quality if the newsworthiness of the content is strong enough. Here are some key principles that come to mind – I’d welcome others:

  • Narrative: how to start, maintain interest, and end well.
  • Interviewing: what questions to ask, when and how.
  • Editing and composition: how to combine elements for maximum clarity and effect. Being ruthless in taking things out.
  • Visual design: how to compose an image for impact, or what is most effective in a chart

Just as the story provides a focus for the development of technical skills, so these core principles should refine those further. In particular, they should help you make choices quickly, including the difficult ones. What to start with and what to end with. When and what to cut away. How to be confident in what you’re doing, and push for the right result.

Step 4: Start simple, and go from there

With those three steps established, there may be a temptation to try something with multiple angles, cuts, sections, or layers. So the final step is to step back, and start simple.

Mobile video is a good discipline here: it prevents you from using cutaways and other techniques to disguise your content – and forces you to focus on core qualities: clear audio, good questions, and an engaging subject.

Maps and charts should focus on a few key data points, and link to the rest.

A short podcast, tightly edited, will develop your production skills much better than a flabby multi-section programme which pulls you in too many different directions.

If you’re already good at photography, an audio slideshow will stretch you a little further. Master one part, and then build on that.

Comments especially welcome

How to get started as a multimedia journalist

Investigations team flowchart

I’ve now covered almost all of the 5 roles in an investigations team I posted about earlier this year – apart from the multimedia journalist role. So here’s how to get started in that role.

Multimedia journalism is a pretty nebulous term. As a result, in my experience, when students try to adopt the role two main problems recur: 1) having a narrow assumption of what multimedia means (i.e. video) and 2) not being able to see the multimedia possibilities of your work.

Multimedia journalism is a very different beast to broadcast journalism. In broadcast journalism your role was comparatively simple: you had one medium to use, and a well-worn format to employ.

Put another way: in broadcast journalism the medium was imposed on the story; in multimedia journalism, the story imposes the medium.

Continue reading

How do you navigate a liveblog? The Guardian’s Second Screen solution

I’ve been using The Guardian’s clever Second Screen webpage-slash-app during much of the Olympics. It is, frankly, a little too clever for its own good, requiring a certain learning curve to understand its full functionality.

But one particular element has really caught my eye: the Twitter activity histogram.

In the diagram below – presented to users before they use Second Screen – this histogram is highlighted in the upper left corner.

Guardian's Second Screen Olympics interactive

What the histogram provides is an instant visual cue to help in hunting down key events.

Continue reading

ITV News’s new website – welcome to the news stream

The new ITV website

A few months ago I saw an early version of ITV News’ new website, and was pretty impressed. Now it’s finally live – and I’m still impressed.

Why? Because this doesn’t just fiddle around the edges like so many news website relaunches have done since 2007. This reinvents the whole thing – and the result is more like a social network or a blog than a newspaper front page. Continue reading

Teaching liveblogging

Liveblogging exercise trending on Twitter

Liveblogging exercise trending on Twitter

In the final part of a trilogy of articles on liveblogging I wanted to talk about a recent experiment I conducted in teaching liveblogging, where I decided to abandon most of my planned lecture on the topic and stage a live ‘event’ instead.

I’d also like to this post to provide a space to share your own experiences of teaching liveblogging and mobile journalism.

One of the biggest problems in teaching liveblogging – and of much of online journalism in fact – is getting students to ‘unlearn’ assumptions about journalism production learned in an analogue context. You can talk about the need to operate across a network, to multitask and to look for where the need lies – but there’s nothing like experience to drill that home.

image by @mattclinch81

Casting the panel: image by @mattclinch81

The event

I decided to recreate one of the less interesting events to liveblog: a committee hearing. I could have chosen to recreate a demonstration or a riot, but aside from the obvious potential for things to go horribly wrong, recreating something less ‘eventful’ meant I could communicate some important lessons about those sorts of events – more on which below.

Specifically, I took the transcript from one of the committee hearings into the MPs’ expenses scandal in the UK. Specifically, I chose the evidence of a husband and wife, providing as it did a little extra colour.

Image by @andrewstuart

Image by @andrewstuart

Precautions

Because the event was going to be tweeted live and in public, I had to make sure that there was no chance of libel. And so the names of all participants were changed to quite obviously false ones: the MP was Alan Fiction (Fiction, Al – see what I did there?) and the various committee members had names that made them sound like Mr Men characters (“Dr Fashionabletrousers”).

Normally hashtags emerge organically but I decided to specify a hashtag up front to make the nature of the event explicit, and so #FAKEevent was born.

With those precautions in place I needed to give the event some dynamics that would show the students the issues they would have to deal with in a live situation. Specifically: multiple sources of information; unexpected events; and incomplete information.

Image by @iamdjcarlo

Image by @iamdjcarlo

The roles

The room (over 200 students) was split into 4 main groups: over half made up a group playing the role of journalists. These were asked to move so that they were all sat in the central column of seats. To further mix things up, I gave them different editorial contexts: one quarter was working for a left-leaning broadsheet; another for a right-leaning one; a third quarter was working for a public broadcaster; and a final one for a commercial broadcaster.

20 more students each made up a pro-MP group, and an anti-MP group, who occupied the left and right columns of seats respectively. A final group of 10 or so students were ‘bystanders‘, occupying the back row.

In addition, a group of 10 or so took the roles of the committee itself, the MP and his ‘wife’.

These groups were now given the following materials:

  • The committee/MP/wife: an edited transcript of the hearing which they were to use as a script. Also: instructions for particular actions that individuals should do at specific times (more below)
  • The journalists: briefing notes: the members of the panel; background on the MP
  • Pro-MP group: instructions that they should try to steer coverage in a positive direction, and details of the website that they could use to do so.
  • Anti-MP group: instructions that they should try to steer coverage in a negative direction, and details of the website that they could use to do so.
  • The bystanders: instructions on who they were, and the roles they would play (more below).

I had also approached 3 students beforehand to play specific roles within those groups: one student each as the ‘editor’ of the pro- and anti-MP websites, who had already been assigned admin access to their particular blog and so could give other students publishing rights; and a third student who would act as the major ‘disruption’ to the event.

And I had told all students ahead of the event to bring either a laptop or mobile phone from which they could publish to the web.

A series of unfortunate events

The transcript formed the backdrop to a number of other events which I wanted to use as a device for demonstrating the skills they would need as livebloggers:

  • One member of the panel would begin to fall asleep after a minute. This was to test how many were only paying attention to the testimony.
  • Another member would shout ‘Snake!’ after 2 minutes, waking the first person up. Again, who would be paying attention? Would they have made a note of who he was?
  • A third member would stare intently at the wife throughout – a small detail; who would notice?
  • After 5 minutes or so, my ‘plant’ would storm into the back of the room and shout a loud accusation at the MP, then be calmly escorted out. Most journalists would not have seen what happened (because it was behind them), and so would have to reconstruct events from the bystanders in the back row, some of whom had their own agendas and some of whom had recorded it.

In all, the exercise took some time to organise (here are my notes): around 20-25 minutes to get everyone into their groups and around 7 minutes for the event itself (actually longer as my interruption held back for some time, waiting for a nod). A livestream of tweets (using Twitterfall) was put up on the projector – if you had a phone set up with Qik or Bambuser you could also stream the video.

image by @nicky_henderson

image of sleeping panel member by @nicky_henderson

The lessons

Choosing a staged event like a committee hearing that wasn’t particularly eventful meant that the students had to do a number of things over and above reacting to events.

Firstly, they had to concentrate on what was taking place because it was easy to lose concentration when nothing interesting was happening.

Secondly, they had to make things interesting. Many resorted to opinion and wit – entertaining, but not particularly informative, although that was excusable given that the event and the actors were fictional, and there was no background knowledge (other than that in the briefing notes) to draw on.

Still, the point wasn’t what they did but rather what they learned, and the frustrations of needing that background were a useful teaching tool in themselves.

Finally, they had to be proactive: seek out information, find out what had happened.

At the end of the exercise I asked them what they had learned, and pointed out some things I’d noticed myself about how they’d dealt with the challenge:

  • Some noted the difficulties of taking in information from both the event itself and on Twitter. This is a skill that comes from practice – or if you have the resources, partnering up with another journalist.
  • Not a single student got up from their seat and moved – either to hear the proceedings more clearly (at least one tweeted that they couldn’t hear what was being said) or to speak to the bystanders
  • Only one found out the name of the protestor. None picked up on his hashtagged tweets. None traced his blog where his accusations were fleshed out.
  • Most journalists did not follow what was being said about the event, and put it into context
  • Few took images or other multimedia

Once again: the point wasn’t that they do things right; in many ways they were set up to fail, and the discussion at the end was about reflecting on those rather than playing a blame game.

‘Failure’ was used as a teaching tool: instead of telling them what they should do, expecting them to remember, and giving them an exercise to do that, I wanted to give them an exercise up front, to experience and internalise that desire to do better, and use that as the context for the lessons, so they could connect it to their own experience of liveblogging rather than experiences of, for example, live broadcast or print reporting. (It seemed to work – a couple of students took the time to express their thanks for the nature of the lesson.)

So although that left me much less time to pass on a lesson, it did, I hope, leave the students learning more and with a higher motivation to continue learning (the full presentation, by the way, was available for those who wanted to go through it).

On the motivation side, the hashtag for the event also trended not only in the UK but in the US too, which I think the students rather enjoyed.