Live-blogging shines when skilled writers cover complex, unfolding news stories. It tends to be less useful dealing with scripted or structured events. There are times when it stinks.
Rarely a day goes by without a live-blog on one of the top UK newspapers or at the BBC website.
Recent months have seen The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph and the BBC successfully live-blog events as diverse as riots, cricket matches and the European economic melt-down.
- It’s a quick and inexpensive way of staying on top of a rapidly developing story.
- Live bloggers are able to add and verify incoming items from journalists in the field, social media services like Twitter and from other news media.
- It’s easier for live-bloggers to get away with including links to rival media than it is for journalists writing conventional news.
- Likewise, the informal nature of a live-blog gives journalists freedom to depart from strict news structures.
- Readers are able to get involved and can pass journalists extra information and make comments.
- Live blogging has built-in feedback mechanisms.
Live-blog the election
The ultimate live-blog opportunity would be an election count. Combined with good graphics and live data it is potentially the best way to follow developments. Likewise live-blogging sports events is also a great alternative to radio or TV, especially on a smartphone. It works especially well with cricket which has just the right structure for the format.
There are problems with live-blogging. It is sometimes hard to make sense of what’s in front of you if you join part-way through the unfolding story. Scrolling back through the story can be confusing at times. Live-blogs can get out of control and the person in the driving seat may be distracted. It’s easy to lose sight of the big picture.
Facts missing in action
Most of all, the important facts can be buried in a live-blog. Writers sometimes assume readers joining the live-blog are up to speed and so they don’t repeat key facts.
Live-blogs rarely compete with a well-written, structured analysis. There are times when the classic inverted pyramid approach is still king.
Live-blogging gets story out fast
I’ve seen live blogs of important product announcements. It’s a great way of getting the story out fast, but there’s not always enough time for the research and information gathering needed to put things in context. Live-blogs of announcements generally follow the public relations script.
Similar criticism applies to events like company annual general meetings – or anything that is stage-managed. A little distance helps journalists get past manipulation.
When it doesn’t work
Live-blogging doesn’t always work. One of my jobs involves monitoring and commenting on Australia’s technology press. I found the live blog coverage of Steve Jobs’ death disjointed and confusing. Others found it disrespectful and I know of a few who objected to the semantics of live-blogging a death.
At the moment journalists are constrained by their tools. Newspaper content management systems don’t take kindly to live-blogging, they tend to have strict, inflexible formats. No doubt this problems will solved soon and some of the problems will go away.
That’s more than can be said for live-blogging itself. It’s here to stay. Now we need to get better at it.