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New Zealand’s news outlets were late to the live blogging party.

British news sites had been using live blogging successfully for around 18 months before it blossomed here during the election. Most UK newspapers and the BBC use it to great effect on their web sites.

Live blogging is, without doubt, the single most important development in journalism of the past few years. It is the first uniquely digital format. Until live blogs, almost every piece of online journalism used formats re-purposed from print, TV or radio news reporting.

You might argue that tweeting news predates live blogging. I’d say tweets are a truncated, maybe even crippled, version of the live blog.

New Zealand live blogging

Live blogging took off in New Zealand during the 2011 election. It was used before then, but it took the sustained political campaign to hit its stride. There were live blogs at the NZ Herald and on the Stuff website.

Special mention should go to Toby Manhire at the Listener, who gave his election live-blog a highly personal flavour – for my money he is New Zealand’s first successful live-blog by-line. I also enjoyed Alex Tarrant’s election diary at interest.co.nz.

Where NZ Herald and Stuff went wrong

One criticism I have of the NZ Herald and Stuff live blogs during the election was they would close mid-afternoon, at around 4PM – long before the day’s news cycle finished.

I guess that was a function of the shift systems at the papers, but it would have been best to have journalists pass the baton rather than shut down. An election live blog needs to run almost 24 hours.

Before the election

A few New Zealand reporters were early to use the live blogging format, most notably my erstwhile colleague Chris Keall who live-blogs press conferences and important meeting for the National Business Review. It didn’t always work, but hat’s off for pioneering the format.

Live-blogging works brilliantly when a story or event unravels at a steady pace. It is perfect for Cricket, other sports coverage tends to be good too. This is why it was a success during the election.

Fast moving news

With fast-moving news stories it gives reporters a way of keeping up with developments. Live blogging is better than constantly updating a static news story. It allows links to other coverage and, this is important, it encourages people with news to contribute. Reader comments can be worked into a live blog.

Live blogging doesn’t work well when the story is too long and rambling, it can get confusing. It often tends to be weak on providing background because live bloggers get caught up in unfolding events. Likewise it doesn’t lend itself to analysis.

Where it didn’t work

One story that a number of outlets tried to live blog — and failed — was when Steve Jobs died. This was one main piece of news, his death, which could have been dealt with in a more conventional news story. The live blogs struggled to find interesting things to say and varied between mawkish and ghoulish.