With the 2014 Winter Olympics here, many newsrooms are covering the games with their specific readers in mind. Maybe you’re a newspaper in a small town that has a local Olympian, or maybe you’re a niche sports site devoted to covering curling.
Regardless, mastering live event coverage—now becoming a norm thanks to the technological revolution sweeping through journalism—is an increasingly important way to increase engagement and relevance with readers. With the explosion of Twitter, many reporters are live tweeting, but are newsrooms utilizing that coverage on their websites, or abandoning it all together?
The debate between live-tweeting and live-blogging (a term we don’t hear much these days) has been rekindled recently among some media observers such as Northeastern University journalism professor Dan Kennedy. The question seems to make sense. Why give away page views, reporting skill and ad dollars to Twitter, when you could easily host an old-fashioned live-blog on your own website, surrounded by ads?
In a back and forth that took place recently between editors, reporters and news observers (on Twitter, of course) Steve Buttry, the Director of Community Engagement for Digital First Media, has the solution: simply do both.
“These days, it doesn’t have to be an either-or proposition for newsrooms,” said Buttry, who points to modern tools such as real-time engagement platform ScribbleLive to capture Twitter users in real-time while curating content on a media company’s website. This enables reporters to return to live-blogging, which many think puts a greater emphasis on writing and narrative, while still pushing out live updates on Twitter, Facebook and other social platforms, all without even having to switch tabs.
Digital First Media used ScribbleLive to provide live coverage of last month’s Golden Globes, taking advantage of the program’s flexibility to easily curate photos, video, trivia and facts from the company’s national entertainment staff. They’re not the only ones. Reuters, Boston.com, ESPN, and CNET all are using ScribbleLive’s program to provide live coverage of events and keeping readers engaged on their site, while not abandoning Twitter and the exposure it provides.
“The level of engagement is so much deeper among readers when covering live events this way,” said Buttry. “It enables us to use Twitter as a way of promoting our reporters and brand, while at the same time capturing that engagement—and ad dollars—on our newspaper sites.”
There are no real “best practices” when it comes to live event coverage, since events as diverse as a football game and a television show require much different types of coverage and style. However, as with most things, a lot can be learned from seeing what other reporters are doing and finding success with.
Travis Souders, a sports reporter for the Chico Enterprise-Record in California, won a DMFie (an award Digital Media First gives out to its best content) for his live coverage of a Butte College football game. Since the college has no live radio coverage, Souders got people to “tune in” to him with a combination of live coverage in ScribbleLive and a iPad app called iScore, which tracks every play of the game and displays it in an easy-to-consume interface for readers, complete with animation.
Teamed up with Enterprise-Record photographer Jason Halley, who adds photos and video to the live coverage, Souders has been able to grow traffic and engagement among readers, according to editor David Little.
“Between 7,000 and 20,000 engagement minutes has been the norm each week,” Little said, noting the live coverage is promoted heavily and featured on the newspaper’s homepage during the game. “It really is a phenomenal live experience, as the fans prove every week by coming back.”
Buttry suggests that reporters looking to “live-tweet” their local high school or college games (which he dubs “Friday Night Tweets”) follow a couple guidelines to help the flow of their coverage. They include:
- Tweet the final score and scores at the end of each period.
- Get a program, if one is available, so you can be sure to spell names correctly. If not, try to get a roster from each team in advance of the game.
- Use the hashtag. And if you’re covering something other than the dominant sport of the season (football, in fall), use a secondary hashtag identifying the sport, such as #volleyball or #xcountry.
- If a performer really stands out, tweet a nomination for “Athlete of the Week.”
But what if you’re not covering sports, and are more interested in how to pull-off live event coverage of a meeting or a trial? During the Whitey Bulger trial, CBS Boston reporter Jim Armstrong reported in front of the camera during breaks in the trial. But during the hearings and the verdict, Armstrong was in the courtroom, life-tweeting everything that was going on.
“In federal court, where cameras are not allowed, Twitter became a tremendously valuable way for me to explain what was happening,” Armstrong said, using a combination of his notes and tweets to write his subsequent stories on the trial. CBS Boston created a Twitter list featuring Armstrong and fellow reporter Lana Jones, and embedded it on their site for casual readers to follow. They also showed the tweets on-air during breaking news segments, reinforcing their complete coverage of an event important to many of their viewers.
When it comes to live coverage, some reporters fall into the trap of essentially transcribing an entire event. Buttry suggests reporters should focus on important and interesting quotes, developments, observations and crowd reactions, all while not losing your objectivity and perspective in the rush to cover something quickly.
“Don’t just parrot what you hear. Be a skeptical journalist,” Buttry writes on his popular blog. “It’s OK to pause the live-tweeting for a quick conversation with a source in the room who may be able to verify, or to do some quick online research.”
In addition to ScribbleLive (which is powerful but pricey), there are a number of platforms available for newsrooms looking to maximize engagement on site during live event coverage while simultaneously taking advantage of their social media reach in the community.
CoveritLive is a popular choice among newsrooms looking to quickly get information out. The program offers a host of solutions for newsrooms looking to embed and curate information about live events, including mobile support and a customizable API. The program also offers a bevy of analytics and statistics that allow editors to quantify their live-event efforts.
Another potential solution is Liveblog Pro, a platform developed specifically for journalists to make it “ridiculously easy” to set up a liveblog and start publishing. The program is free for individuals, with a pay service which allows multiple users, white-labeling and SEO-friendly embeds, so reporters don’t have to fumble with code to post links, video and other multimedia content.
Whatever platform you pick, make sure your emphasis is on knowing your reader. “Ask yourself what the person who really cares about this wants to know,” suggests Buttry. “Remember, you’re not covering it for that mythical “average reader” newspaper stories are written for; you’re writing for the junkie or the diehard fan.”
Rob Tornoe is a cartoonist and columnist for Editor and Publisher. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.