Stream
Credit: r-z on Flickr. Some rights reserved.
For the Wall Street Journal, one of the reasons it turns to the live stream approach to digital news is in part due to the close alignment between the format of a liveblog, and that of the stock markets, a daily process of events recognised by a lot of its readers.

"A lot of our audiences are business audiences who are used to an opening and closing of their day," managing editor of WSJ's digital network Raju Narisetti told the news:rewired digital journalism conference earlier this month as part of a discussion on live digital news reporting.

"Why can't we take that experience and make that part of the stream?" he said.

And it soon became clear that this approach is not just popular within business-focused audiences. At the BBC, for example, its three days of online live pages covering the riots in England last year received around 20 million page views, while the royal wedding live pages on the BBC website recorded five million.

Editor for the web at ITV News - which runs its whole website around a stream format - Jason Mills told the conference the stream approach can "pretty much" be done with all stories.

"A few don't sit well as a developing story, but in general we know stories develop," he said.

But while the live stream approach seems to be one that can be adopted for most big news events, there was still plenty of pieces of advice shared by the speakers which offered more detailed tips on how to make sure live streams are a success, whether you're working for a large organisation or a smaller news operation.

Here are 10 of the tips shared by the panel, which included Jason Mills, editor, web for ITV News; Raju Narisetti, managing editor, Wall Street Journal Digital Network; Patrick Heery, UK editor, BBC News website; Pete Clifton, executive editor, MSN and Ben Schneider, senior director and general manager for CoveritLive, Demand Media.
  • Be prepared to do something different to meet audience demand
This was what ITV News chose to do when it looked to redesign its website. Talking about ITV News's approach to its new site design, which functions around a stream, Mills told the conference it is not necessary to "build a big editorial layer on top of what you've already got to create something like this".

ITV News stream

The key is to focus on delivering content in the ways audiences are consuming media today.
  • Be fast
Mills added that when a news outlet is looking to set up a stream "it's got to be fast ... it's got to be really quick".

"Streams are about now, you've got to get the news out."
  • Capture the readers' time, anywhere
Narisetti said one of the reasons for the increasing use of streams by news outlets is about gaining the audience's time.

"My competition is not FT or New York Times or Huffington Post, or anybody else. My real competition is the one single non-renewable precious commodity that my readers have - and that is their time.

"All I am trying to do is say: 'If I can get you more of your time by not giving you reasons to go somewhere else for the second, third, fourth, fifth screen then I have you longer, I can give you more experiences, presumably I can run more ads on the site while you're there, so everybody is happy".

Narisetti also recommended making the experience of a live stream portable. This could be by offering a button on the stream page when accessed by a mobile device which means the stream then becomes an app on the phone, for example.

It is about "marrying portability and the notion we can capture as much time of the reader so they don't have to go somewhere else", he summed up.
  • Consider reordering the newsroom
Heery talked about the value of injecting the idea of "live" into all aspects of digital output. He explained how the BBC had recently "reordered the newsroom" in a bid to bring their Twitter writers "into the heart of the online operations".

As a result those writers are now able to "help drive that live-ness across all our digital output", he said. "They play a key role in the live page".
  • Use big news events to innovate and experiment
Clifton, worked with the BBC before joining MSN, suggested news outlets could look to "a big event" as a great opportunity "to innovate and go for broke".

One key example is the Olympics, which most of the panelists said had provided ample opportunities to try out new and developed live digital reporting projects.

"We have modest resources but we're looking at a different way of bringing together a live ongoing stream of events at the Olympics that will be a merge of live text commentary, the latest picture galleries, latest news we're getting in from Twitter and other social media," Clifton added.

"We'll be presenting that on a constantly moving horizontal line across our apps."

Heery added that at the BBC the London Olympics are "going to be a big new way of doing it for us with video at the heart of it".

The BBC has already outlined its plans for live coverage of the Olympics online, including 24 video live streams within an interactive player.

Heery said that "looking to the future that's something we'd like to bring to the news one as well".
  • Remember importance of context
But Schneider also added that the Olympics also "present a unique challenge". He told the conference while with most other sports live coverage is tolerated if not desired by most of the audience, he has noticed a "delay effect" with the London Olympics.

Audiences may instead feel like they do not want to see coverage until they are home, such as after work, and are then able to absorb the coverage 'as it happened'. In this case audiences may choose to follow the stream "but time-shifted".

I think there's sometimes a danger of just getting ahead of yourself and assuming everybody knows everything that's happened when actually the most important thing you can have at the top are those key elementsPete Clifton, MSN
Clifton also spoke about context, and the importance of offering a contextual overview of the key moments for any reader who wants to dip in and get the latest information, rather than necessarily scrolling through a stream each time.

"I think in the madness of all that you could do don't forget the key points, because I think a liveblog can get so full of itself with the ongoing commentary that people coming to it at different points in the day actually want to know what's going on and what the key moments have been.

"I think there's sometimes a danger of just getting ahead of yourself and assuming everybody knows everything that's happened when actually the most important thing you can have at the top are those key elements.

"Then I think beyond that drawing in, not too many, but just the best context and commentary that you can find from elsewhere adds real value to the basic commentary."
  • Keep it simple
Overall, keep it simple, Clifton adds, especially if it is a one-man operation. "Don't set yourself up to fail by trying to do everything."

And the same rule applies to the stream itself. The "key in all of this is simplicity ... particularly when you're running this on a mobile device, the simpler it is, the fact it just updates rapidly and it's very clear and simple and doesn't try and do too many things is key.

"If you try and throw too many things at a live page, whether it's on mobile, tablet or a PC you can end up shooting yourself in the foot and overcomplicating the story."
  • Pick your battles
Similarly Clifton urges particularly smaller news outlets to focus on what they do best when it comes to live digital news reporting.

"We can't be like the BBC with people in every corner of the world, much as we'd like to, so I think we have to pick our battles.

"If we're really good at entertainment then we should really look to do a live event around entertainment better than anybody else."

He added: "If we can't have the scale, we ought to be able to think of clever, innovative ways we can do live coverage", using MSN's new live trending blog, one of the company's relatively new socially-driven features, as an example.
  • Harness monetisation opportunities
For the Wall Street Journal streams have been a great opportunity for monetisation because of the allure of the audience metrics coming out of such pages and the ability to sell regular advertising and sponsorship.

"We can find sponsors for a whole stream now," Narisetti told the conference.

Clifton concurred that at MSN "we've been able to go out to tell advertisers about the fact that people are coming back to the site more often and staying longer and that's in part driven by this real commitment to real-time coverage".

He added: "I think if we can work out a coherent way to bring together all the different live elements that we can now offer on the site, I think it will be a prime area for us to go and look for some really good sponsorship. I think that will be one of the next places we go in terms of additional revenue."
  • Try to offer readers the choice of live versus the traditional article
Prompted by the question: "Is the article dead?" the majority of panelists answered "no". But there were some key points made about in what cases either format is best suited, and the relationship between each format in terms of audience discovery of content.

There will always be the case where people need to come back and rebuild context around somethingBen Schneider, CoveritLive
Schneider said that in many cases the traditional article, "is going to be secondary, or tertiary, or even further down" when it comes to the "the method or mechanism by which most people will consume a story".

But he added "there will always be the case where people need to come back and rebuild context around something".

"The ability a journalist has to frame a story, to tell a story, to give context, is more critical than ever because all the facts everybody can go get anywhere. It's just now they don't have the luxury of spending hours or days or weeks or months to craft that and have it in one complete place to hand over."

Clifton said journalists still "need to offer people the choice".

"Not everybody is going to want to go in and dive into a pool of liveblogging, some people might want to read really well-written concise version."

There is an "interesting balance to strike around how the two things complement each other", he said, adding that news outlets "need to work out the best way of promoting two things".

Narisetti concurred that "as long as there's sideways traffic coming to specific pieces of content based on search, articles will always be there".

Mills was the only panelist to question the future of the article, saying it would depend on the story. Articles still fulfill a need in terms of analytical pieces of journalism, he said, but that in the case of news "increasingly, yes", the article may be dead.

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