Tag Archives: liveblogging

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.

10 liveblogging ideas (and 31 liveblogging tips)

Liveblogging image by Dustin Diaz on Flickr

Liveblogging image by Dustin Diaz on Flickr

Following my previous post about the rise of liveblogging, I wanted to provide a simple list of ideas for student journalists wanting to get some liveblogging experience. Some people assume that you need to wait for a big news event to start a liveblog, but the format has proved particularly flexible in serving a whole range of editorial demands. Here are just a few:

1. A protest or demonstration

Let’s start with the obvious one. Protests and demonstrations are normally planned and announced in advance, so use a tool like Google Alerts to receive emails when the terms are mentioned, as well as following local campaigning groups and local branches of national campaigns. Issues to consider:

  • There will be conflicting versions of events so seek to verify as much as possible – from both demonstrators and police, and any other parties, such as counter-demonstrations.
  • Know as many key facts ahead of time as possible to be able to contextualise any claims from any side. Have links to hand – Delicious is particularly useful as a way of organising these.
  • Make contacts ahead of the event to find out who will be recording it and how those records will be published (e.g. livestream, YouTube, Flickr, Google Maps etc). Make sure you have mobile phone numbers in your contacts book and are following those people on the relevant social network. Try to anticipate where you will be needed most – where will the gaps in coverage be?
  • Don’t just cover the event on the day – build up to it and plan for the aftermath. Walk round the route to plan for the event – and post a photoblog while you’re at it. Interview key participants for profiles while you make contact. Join online forums and Facebook groups and engage with discussions on key issues.
  • Summarise regularly to help those just joining find their feet (thanks to Ed Walker in the comments for this one – more tips in his blog post on liveblogging)

2. An industry conference

Whether you’re reporting on a particular location or a shared interest there will be industries that play a key role in that. And industries have conferences. Use a quick Google search or some of the specialist events listing and organisation services like Exhibitions.co.uk to find them.

Issues to consider:

  • Industries have jargon. Try to familiarise yourself with that ahead of time (follow the specialist press and key figures on social media) or you’ll mis-hear key words and phrases.
  • There are often different events happening at the same time. Plan your schedule so you know where your priorities are.
  • Don’t follow the crowd. Often you will add more value by missing a session in order to conduct an interview or post some deeper analysis. This will also require preparation: organise to meet key individuals ahead of time; read up on the key issues.
  • As above, you’ll also need to know what’s going to be covered well and who’s going to be publishing online at the event. Build-ups will also be useful.

3. A meeting

Council or board meetings, hearings, committees and other public and semi-public meetings often have significant implications for local communities, sections of society or particular industries. They are also often poorly covered. This provides a real opportunity for enterprising individuals to add value to their readership.

In addition, there are more informal meetings of small groups which you can find on sites such as Upcoming and Eventbrite.

Issues to consider:

  • These meetings can easily pass under the radar so make sure you know when they’re taking place. For council meetings, Openly Local’s listings are particularly useful.
  • Many meetings have to publish their minutes – keep up to date with these (ask for them if you have to – use the Freedom of Information Act if you cannot get them any other way) so you know the background.
  • Know who’s who – and make sure you know which is which. Write down their names and where they’re sitting so you can attribute quotes correctly.
  • Prepare for nothing much to happen, most of the time. Concentration is key: newsworthy nuggets will be hidden in dull proceedings – and they won’t be clearly signposted. One advantage of liveblogging is that others can bring your attention to issues you might miss in the flow of reporting.

4. The build up to an event

Anticipation of an event can be an event in itself. The Birmingham Mail’s Friday afternoon liveblogs previewing the weekend’s football fixture are a particularly successful example of this. Really, this is a live chat, with the liveblog format providing the editorial urgency to give it a news twist.

Issues to consider:

  • Have prompts ready to get things started and inject new momentum when conversation dries up – prepare as you would for an interview, only with 100 possible interviewees.
  • Anticipate the main questions and have key facts and links to hand.
  • Get the tone right: can you have a bit of banter? It might be worth preparing a joke or two, or looking for opportunities to make them.

5. Breaking news

While you cannot plan for the exact timing of breaking news, you can prepare for some news events. At the most basic level, you should know how to quickly launch a liveblog once you know you need to do so. Other issues to consider:

6. Your own journey

You don’t need someone else to organise something for you to start a liveblog: you can do something yourself, and liveblog your progress. Considerations:

  • Ideally it should be something with a beginning, a middle and an end over a limited period of time: running a marathon, for example (if you can hold the mobile phone), or collecting 1,000 signatures for a campaign.
  • It should also involve others: the liveblog format lends itself to outside contributions.
  • You’ll have to work harder to make it interesting, so don’t update unless something has changed, and prepare material so you have interesting things to fill the gaps with.

7. A press conference

A familiar sight on 24 hour news channels, press conferences are an obvious candidate for liveblog treatment. You can also add to this similar political events such as the Budget, debates, or Prime Minister’s Questions. The main consideration is that you will be covering the conference alongside other journalists, so your coverage needs to be distinctive. Here are some things to consider:

  • Controlled as they are, press conferences don’t often generate a constant supply of newsworthy quotes, so when a spokesperson is trotting out platitudes or steering questions back to the particular angle she wants to sell, tell us about other things going on in the room: how is the journalist reacting? What is the PR rep doing?
  • If the situation is likely to be tightly controlled, you have a better chance of predicting what will be said, and to prepare for that. In particular, if a person is going to try to ‘spin’ facts in a particular direction, have the facts and evidence ready to ‘unspin’ them – as always, including links.
  • If you want to use one of your question opportunities to give your audience a voice, do so.
  • Likewise, tap into the wit and intelligence of users to liveblog their reactions outside the room to the questions and answers being exchanged inside.

8. A staged event

A liveblog is an obvious choice for a live event, and there are plenty of sporting and cultural events to cover. The obvious candidates – football matches, popular Olympic events – should be avoided, as existing and live coverage will be more than sufficient, so look to less well-covered sports, concerts, performances, fashion shows, exhibitions and other events. Think about:

  • Be aware of rights deals and other restrictions. Live coverages of certain popular sports, such as Premiership football, may be limited. There may be restrictions on taking photographs of cultural events, or recording audio or video at a music event.
  • As with meetings (above) it’s crucial to know who’s who and have a crib sheet of related facts.
  • Be descriptive and engage the senses. Tell us about the atmosphere, smells, sounds, and other elements that make people feel like they’re there.

9. A launch or opening

Product launches and store opening can be very dull affairs, but occasionally generate significant interest – particularly among technology and fashion fans. The interest doesn’t generally make for a sustained news event, so your liveblog is likely to be use that interest as the basis for some broader editorial angles. The tips on a ‘build up to an event’ above, apply again here, as that is essentially what this is, with the following differences:

  • Launches and openings are social gatherings, so try focusing on the people there: interview them, paint a picture of how diverse or similar they are. Tap into their expertise or enthusiasm; work with them.
  • Think about what people might want to know after the launch/opening: tips and tricks on using new technology? The items that are flying off the shelves? Have experts and inside sources on call.

10. Add your own here

Like blogging generally, liveblogs are just a platform, with the flexibility to adapt to a range of circumstances. If Popjustice can liveblog “Things we can learn from Greg James’ interview with Lady Gaga” then you can liveblog anything. If you’ve used them for a purpose not listed here, please let me know and I’ll add it to the list.

Likewise, if you have any tips to add from your own experiences of covering events, please add them in the comments.

UPDATE (November 2014): The Birmingham Mail used liveblogging to commemorate an anniversary:

“From the morning of Friday November 21, the Mail will be live blogging and live tweeting in ‘real time’ the events of the day, from the stories of those preparing for a night out on the town, to the moment the bomb warning was phoned through to the Post and Mail, to the reaction of the emergency services.”