Live blogging

Liveblogging in progress

Credit: David Ortez on Flickr. Some rights reserved

The general election, the royal wedding, the death of Osama Bin Laden, Japan's earthquake and tsunami, demonstrations and numerous sporting events: all have been liveblogged by journalists. The format is fast becoming the de facto way of covering live events and breaking news stories.

It's a divisive format: it has been condemned as the "death of journalism" and hailed as the "embodiment of its future". So much so that will be looking closely at the debate around it in the final session of our upcoming news:rewired conference.

If you or your newsroom has not yet got to grips with liveblogging or if you want further advice from leaders in the field, we have brought together some examples of best practice from a hyperlocal, a regional and a national.

Be inspired

We asked Matt Wells, blogs editor at the Guardian, Paul Gallagher, head of online content at the Manchester Evening News (MEN) and Philip John, director of the Lichfield Blog which of their liveblogs have been most successful.

The Guardian

There are numerous examples from the trailblazing Guardian. Here is one current idea to inspire:

Blogging a pause: the NHS reforms
This liveblog is unusual in that it covers the gap leading to an event: the NHS reforms. It has provided "rich debate in a very engaged community of doctors, health professionals and managers. The comments below the line are often more interesting than what's being said above the line," Matt Wells told


English Defence League rally

"Our liveblog of an EDL rally in Manchester in October 2009, was a real turning point for the MEN newsroom," Gallagher explained. "There were over 30,000 views of the CoveritLive event and thousands of user comments and it brought home the huge potential of liveblogging for engaging with audiences online."

Council meetings
"We have also used liveblogs successfully for covering council meetings, with reporters' tweets being picked up by CoveritLive along with tweets from councillors and other people who are tweeting from the town halls," Gallagher said. "We cover every full council meeting at 13 local authorities using liveblogs and while the audiences are not always huge, our commitment to reporting on local democracy has been well received by councillors and political parties." An admirable effort indeed.

Sporting events
"We have had some successful liveblogs for big matches such as the Champions League final in 2009 and Manchester derbies. These have focused more on the build-up with pre-match banter between the fans and then we have live commentary during the games. A few months ago we broke the news that Wayne Rooney had requested a transfer from Manchester United on a liveblog.
"We also have our Manchester United and Manchester City reporters, and our sports editor, doing regular webchats using CoveritLive."

The Lichfield Blog

Half marathon
The Lichfield Blog used CoveritLive to liveblog the recent Lichfield Half Marathon. The team there opted to have two people tweeting rather than using the CiL interface. "We set it up the night before to pull in any tweets from four accounts using the hashtag #lichhalf," Philip John explained. "We then went out, armed with our phones and tweeted." A total of 47 people watched the live blog.

Fuse Festival
The Lichfield Blog last year spent 24 hours live blogging this arts event.

Getting started

You will want to show the liveblog on your website. There are two major players in liveblogging software: CoveritLive and ScribbleLive. Both are free for the basic level or trial subscription, incredibly easy to get to grips with and embed in your website.

Both work in similar ways in allowing you to add instant text, pictures, video and tweets via your computer or a smartphone app.

Android and iPhone apps are available for CoveritLive; ScribbleLive also provides Blackberry apps (for the Pearl, Pearl Flip, Curve, and Bold) and the site is iPad friendly. Reporters without smartphones can use SMS to submit posts.

You'll be able to see how many people are online and set up rules so you can control whether or not people can comment and whether comments need to be approved before they go live.

Both platforms allow you to include tweets from reporters and, by using hashtags, from the online community.

1. Sign up to CovertitLive or ScribbleLive;
2. Create an event. If you are using CoveritLive you can practise before it goes live;
3. Copy the embed code from the event and paste it into a story on your website.

Using CoveritLive you can add pre-prepared articles, photos and graphics, run polls (who is winning the debate? Cameron, Clegg or Miliband, for example) with the results shown in real time in a nice graphic. You can include live video using Livestream or a third party app such as video service Qik (more on that below). There's a demo here.

All of the above MEN and Lichfield Blog examples opted for CoveritLive.

The ScribbleLive interface is intuitive and the iPhone app excellent. It is used by Al Jazeera.

The Guardian has developed its own liveblogging software and all liveblog entries are subbed before going live.

"What you get with [having your own software] is it's searchable, it indexes on Google and it's your own platform," Wells said. "CoveritLive is great if you don't have the resources but there are limitations: all the comments are in the timeflow itself and it's not good for long analytical text, but is excellent for events such as council meetings."

Handy hints on effective liveblogging: Advice from the Lichfield Blog, MEN and the Guardian

The audience is part of the story. The audience is the only reason for live blogging. Without one you're just wasting your time," Philip John of the Lichfield Blog said.

Paul Gallagher from MEN added: "We recognise that the most successful liveblogs are more than just a succession of updates posted by our journalists – they will also include user interaction in the form of comments and questions, curation of relevant content from social media and other sources, and multimedia content."

If it is a planned event, invite people to join. "We build our audience by plugging the blogs on our website, on Twitter and other social media, and incorporating blogs into articles which can easily be found by search," Gallagher explained. "We put plugs for liveblogs in MEN and our sister weekly newspaper titles."

The audience added powerful narrative for the Guardian when liveblogging the uprisings in the Middle East. "I can remember a number of people in Egypt who commented every day; people who'd been to Tahrir Square and they talked about their experiences, which was really powerful," Matt Wells said.

Think about writing style. Decide whether to create an individual blog written by one reporter or a collective blog. "I'm a particular fan of authored liveblogs," Wells told us. "If you have someone who, over time, builds up trust and authority that's very powerful."

Include summaries and updates. Don't assume people are following every update so help them out. This technique is used to great effect by Andrew Sparrow, senior political correspondent on the Guardian website. He liveblogs on an almost daily basis and famously wrote 14,000 words a day in the run up to the general election. He starts a liveblog with details of what to expect and includes a round-up at the end of each day.

Wells explained that for the Guardian summaries and updates were "born out of the limitations of the format". He said developers were now working on ways to remedy that with ideas such as "click here and take me to the latest summary", Wells said.

Wells also advises livebloggers to provide the user with visual guides such as icons and pictures of the correspondent.

The BBC's liveblogs have a side bar including the main points.

Be an editor and broadcaster. Another technique used by Sparrow is to include aggregated content of links from elsewhere. Wells encourages blogging reporters in "pointing to the best resources outside the Guardian". He advises: "You are a trusted guide to the story you are live blogging and some people want to know about your sources." He likened a livebloggers role to that of a news anchor, a broadcaster and specifically to Des Lynham, leading viewers through the story.

You don't have to leave the newsroom. Okay, for many stories that is not the case but there are stories which can be liveblogged while watching the news wires, or council meetings that are live streamed. Sparrow famously liveblogged the election build-up by watching TV from the comfort of the newsroom's strong internet connection. 

Consider having a community coordinator
. This won't be appropriate in all cases but for bigger stories a community coordinator can sift, curate and corroborate information. However, Philip John of the Lichfield Blog disagrees. "Just look at what the team reporting from with the G20 climate camp did. There was no central person or editor, they all went out and their content was automatically filtered into their site that they'd set up beforehand."

Gather updates from reporters. This is probably through text, photos, videos and tweets added by the reporter from a laptop or smartphone, but you could consider audio reports. Al Jazeera opted to record reports given by phone when the internet was blocked during the uprising in Egypt, using the ScribbleLive platform.

Consider adding video. "The best liveblogs have rich and diverse types of content," Wells feels. CoveritLive allows you to use Livestream but you should consider an alternative third party tool such as Qik or Ustream. Both Qik and Ustream offer free apps which allow reporters to film from a smartphone. There is more on how to use Qik here.

Liveblog to provide original journalism
. "I would throw resources at our liveblogs at the expense of writing another 300 word article." Wells explained. "The interesting thing about live blogs is the format native to the internet. The rewards are so great. If you've got limited resources, invest in the type of journalism that distinguishes you and sets you apart from the crowd."

And remember, to repeat Sparrow's oft-quoted statement: "If journalism is the first draft of history, liveblogging is the first draft of journalism."

For more information on liveblogging see: Why I blog, The iPad, iA Writer, and prolific blogging and "Live blogging at The Guardian" – Andrew Sparrow from Martin Belham's blog, Richard Kendall's post and this Guardian article.

All three interviewees in this article are speaking in the liveblogging session at news:rewired – noise to signal on 27 May 2011.

How did you get on? Let us know by leaving a comment or contacting us at @journalismnews

Image by David Ortez on Flickr, some rights reserved.

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