Cornwall Live‘s coverage of Prime Minister Theresa May’s visit to the area has attracted a lot of attention for the way in which local reporters were denied opportunities to film, take pictures, or ask more than two questions.
“Having covered several high-profile politicians’ and royal visits over the years,” the liveblog reported, “the level of media control here is far and above anything I’ve seen before.”
But it also demonstrates some of the things to consider when planning a liveblog — and how journalists can still manage to make a success of the coverage regardless of PR control-freakery.
Tip 1: Pre-prepare material and sources
Just as live television doesn’t spontaneously happen, good liveblogging relies on solid preparation and planning. Live events invariably will have their ‘quiet’ moments, which need to be filled with background details (pre-prepared), links to articles which provide context (likewise), quotes from various people involved (some of which might have been gathered in advance), and video, audio, photos and graphics (for example charts) which bring the story to life.
You can see some of this in the early posts to the liveblog, with reaction to the Conservative leader’s visit from other political parties, but when the journalists get locked down they don’t have any other material, or ideas, to draw on.
One example of what they could have done comes from The New Statesman, which produced a listicle of 5 times Theresa May has been accused of avoiding the public when campaigning. Linking to context like that would have shown that this was part of a bigger pattern.
Another option would have been to ’empty chair’ the uncooperative politician, and use the space to serve an audience which was expecting at least some insight into policies at this election.
Tip 2: Make it social
Liveblogs are often a social event: not merely a description of what is happening, but an opportunity for gathering people together around a shared experience.
When things are quiet, good livebloggers often look to their audience for inspiration, ideas, and raw material.
In this liveblog the reporters could have attempted to bring in comments from readers following on social media (there are almost no comments on the liveblog itself), which could have provided a very rich seam of debate.
Aside from readers, there are also experts, commentators and people involved in the field (in this case, politics) who could be drawn on to flesh out the story.
Tip 3: Recce the venue, and think about visual (and audio) opportunities
Good liveblogs try to get pictures and video if possible — so it’s important to know in advance where the best images are likely to be, and which places are good to film video (for example, which spots are quiet enough to get clear audio). You also need to know if there are any blackspots for 3G coverage, or any good places to tap into wifi.
It was indeed “archaic” (or disingenuous) of the Conservative Party to assume that there is such a thing as a non-video publication any more, and claims of a “last minute request” to add a camera should be taken with a pinch of salt: it is much easier to manage a regional broadcast organisation which only needs 30 seconds of video, than a local newspaper which is broadcasting everything live, and that is more likely to be the logic here.
But reporters need to be ready to adapt if filming isn’t possible.
In this case they did that by taking pictures of the “The great shut door” of the room in which reporters were kept for most of the visit. Even the most mundane objects can lend colour to a story.
Curiously, although their requests to take pictures were also denied, there is no mention of any request to record audio of the visit.
Tip 4: Sometimes the lack of information *is* the story
Despite all the techniques listed above, sometimes the behind-the-scenes controlling of an event is the story itself, and that’s what made this liveblog fly. Just don’t forget to follow up with the ensuing debate.