The BBC has seen 'big audiences' as a result of increasing their liveblog coverage in the past year
Senior editors from the BBC, Le Figaro and AFP all shared their experiences of how liveblogging can make full use of a newsroom's potential and provide live analysis, context and insight as a major story unfolds.
All three of them stressed the importance of doing much more than just putting out breaking news lines by adding value with video, reader comments, infographics and much more.
Kate Fairhurst, international vice-president of liveblog platform ScribbleLive, told the conference: "Real time is fundamentally changing the way people report news – there's some really innovative stuff going on."
Here we look at how the BBC, Le Figaro newspaper and the AFP newswire are embracing the opportunity of live online coverage.
The broadcaster - BBCWe've come a long way in just a couple of years. We've all been grappling with this emerging format for some time.Mary Hockaday, BBC
The head of the BBC newsroom, Mary Hockaday, said it was only in the past year or so that the corporation had boosted its live online coverage and seen "big audiences" for it as a result.
"It really is a very powerful tool for us in terms of covering breaking news stories and the bigger stories that emerge," she said.
"We've come a long way in just a couple of years. We've all been grappling with this emerging format for some time. The business of reporting using short form and immediate text and news elements has been with us for a while but there's no doubt that in the past year or so it's really come of age."
Unlike many of the BBC's online news stories, the liveblogs carry an author's byline, emphasising that they are authored, curated "journalistic products". The blogs pull in tweets, emails and links to other news providers' coverage where appropriate.
In terms of writing style, Hockaday says: "For us, we've found that a style that is accessible but pretty straight-forward is the best way to go and it fits our brand. Other organisations go for a more informal or chatty style. It can take us much skill to write a really good single sentence as it can to write a full story. We've given this task to some of our best and crispest communicators."
Choice of topic is key. The BBC has found that the best liveblogs cover a clearly defined single subject: "We did at one point in the last year pilot where we were feeding in all our news stories, all our breaking copy and in the end we found it was serving a really minority audience of real news nerds - people who wanted to have all the news flowing past them 24/7. In the end we decided we would focus on live pages for the big stories."
Adding value to the story is another important element. Hockaday says it is not just about putting out breaking news lines, but also adding context and analysis in real time. She says: "We also use it to link off to additional added value content - it might be a graphic or a piece of analysis."
The BBC is hiring a new visual journalism editor who will work on some of these added-value elements of live coverage, such as infographics.
Asked about how the BBC makes the best use of its reporting resources and doesn't devote too much time to liveblogging, Hockaday says: "It's undoubtedly a challenge for all of us - in the end it is about using the resources you have to try and achieve both. I think there's a deep human interest in stories and stories are built out of unfolding details and snippets and facts. Any credible news organisation has to go on offering both."
The newspaper - Le FigaroWe're still experimenting. What do readers want? What extra can we offer them?Ingrid Vergara, Le Figaro
French quality newspaper Le Figaro is a relatively new entrant to liveblogging; its first major coverage event was last month's presidential elections. The group decided to develop a liveblogging tool internally instead of partnering with a third party.
LeFigaro.fr editor-in-chief Ingrid Vergara said the experiment has helped galvanise the newsroom: "Live blogging is a very powerful editorial tool and allows you to bring together all the resources of a newsroom – desk editors, infographics – all sorts of people.
"We found there was a need to follow live events. We took time to develop a tool that responded to the editorial team's internal needs - that makes it possible to work together internally and with external contributors, and pull in readers' material.
"We looked at external liveblogging providers and we decided not to pursue that route - we wanted a made-to-measure tool and make it as easy as possible for users."
Le Figaro has been surprised by the extent to which liveblogs are read several days after the event: "We asked ourselves in what context we should be using liveblogging. We're still experimenting. What do readers want? What extra can we offer them? The answer isn't necessarily the same each time."
Again, adding context and analysis is important. Vergara gave the example of blogging the presidential election TV debate - it was clear that many readers would be watching the television while following the blog, so repeating what was said verbatim was not the best approach.
"The answer was not to repeat what was said on the TV, but to add extra elements to help people understand."
Le Figaro did the same with the unveiling of the new French government earlier this month, providing "a presentation of who these people were – who weren't known very much to the public – and we offered within 40 minutes of a concise biography of the whole government and that was read a lot in the evening and the following morning".
The news agency - AFPNow you need to build your analysis at the same time as you gather the breaking news.Juliette Hollier-Larousse, AFP
AFP deputy editor-in-chief Juliette Hollier-Larousse said liveblogging was something that ought to come naturally to agencies as it's the same approach that newswires have used since they started. However, she added: "I think the way this new live report way of working, which was the old form of working for an agency, has been taken up by all the websites is at the same time challenging us and helping us improve the core service."
The French agency started liveblogging back in 2008, covering the US presidential elections. Hollier-Larousse said one of the advantages of the method was that it allowed media groups to make full use of all of their correspondents' time and not waste any incoming material.
"On a lot of events we had a lot of journalists on the ground; they were gathering a lot of elements that didn't make it into the report. We had a lot more to say than what we were publishing," she said.
One of AFP's goals now is to use live reporting to significantly cut the amount of time it takes to get a story out. She said: "We really want to have a very short time on everyday stories so we can have a lot of images in the live report, also videos. We need to reduce the amount of time from when a video is taken and when it is delivered to clients."
A key part of that objective will be to integrate the liveblogging activity into the main newswire. "We think it needs to become a core part of our wire service," she said.
Hollier-Larousse also revealed that AFP was developing a new editorial tool for all journalists that aims to make multi-platform publishing as fast and easy as possible. She described this as "a really convergent tool, a one point entry to the different outlets".
Like the BBC's Mary Hockaday, she agreed that providing analysis and deeper levels of context was an essential part of covering a story live. Preparation, she said, was vital.
"When you choose to cover a story live, you have to already have a lot of context ready. You have to know if it is really a breaking event or just some event that will have no tomorrow.
"I think once you've working on lives you need to be prepared. You need analysis and contextualisation that will help you feed it.
"Before, maybe you were thinking the analysis is for tomorrow - that [approach] is finished. Now you need to build your analysis at the same time as you gather the breaking news."
The platform provider - ScribbleLive
"Live has massively exploded over the last 12 months. It's gone completely bananas," says ScribbleLive international vice-president Kate Fairhurst who has worked with news groups including the New York Daily News and Sky Sports.
"We are seeing that real time is fundamentally changing the way people report news - there's some really innovative stuff going on. We're also seeing that people can make money from live; it draws and retains audience and there's other monies available above and beyond that."
Sponsorship is one such opportunity - what Fairhurst describes as "subtle brand placing" next to a liveblog. The company is also working with news agencies including PA, Associated Press and Reuters on syndicating live coverage and integrating liveblogging into newswires.
Global Editors Network unveils new live reporting tool
The Global Editors Network itself is working on a "live desk" too, which has been developed with input from news groups including the BBC, the Guardian and Le Monde and technology partner SourceFabric.
The tool, which is being demonstrated to members at the World News Summit tomorrow afternoon, allows reporters to import wire material, dispatches from journalists and user content and integrates fully with Twitter, Flickr and Google search.
Global Editors Network chief executive Bertrand Pecquerie said it would launch in September and appealed to members to help with the beta testing. He said: "Journalists are blocked by technology, by software. We want to create tools developed by journalists. We considered it a priority for a new association of journalists."
SourceFabric chief executive Douglas Arellanes said: "We all know that news organisations have to deal with limited budgets, limited resources. We've got journalists asking for tools to do their job easier. This demand for better administration is very important.
"We'd like to ask members to get involved in the process of refining the tool and making it as great as it can be."
Free daily newsletter
- Latest report from the European Broadcasting Union outlines challenges for public service media
- Reuters Institute report prompts optimism about readers' appreciation of journalism
- From radio journalism to digital-first: Q&A with Nick Garnett, BBC Radio 5 Live
- Tip: Remember this advice to get around a no-filming rule when reporting live
- BBC World Service journalists are using a tool called Stitch to speed up social video production