Live blogging: 5 tips for traffic-building journalism
Live blogging's raw, unedited format constantly feeds content to the most prolific of social media sharers, resulting in high traffic and engagement metrics. A format that began in the mid-2000s as a way for tech geeks to virtually attend a tech trade show or Apple product launch has now become a mainstream and essential tool for journalists to cover rapidly evolving situations.
Live blogging, for those who are unfamiliar, is a content format that uses frequent, short bursts of content featuring embedded video, links, tweets and pictures. It’s a form of mobile journalism that has been used to cover just about anything you can think of: the iPad launch event, the NFL draft, the Arab Spring, and even Lindsey Lohan’s parole hearing.
So, what makes for a good live blog?
1. Empower an editor with an eye for audience
One of my favorite live bloggers, The Nation’s Greg Mitchell, is currently live blogging the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement. Mitchell has always had an eye for audience interest, whether it was acting as a watchdog for newspaper coverage of the 2008 elections at Editor & Publisher or his previous live blogging effort of the WikiLeaks cables for The Nation. I asked him how these efforts were going. He responded via email and wrote, “The WikiLeaks blog was among The Nation's 5 top features every single [month] for 5 months. The Occupy blog started slowly but is now approaching the same popularity this week -- #2 most popular on the site today.”
In both cases, Mitchell identified an addictive topic and used the live blogging format to differentiate his coverage from other outlets. Twitter has become the channel of choice to reach content addicts, and followers have been flocking to @GregMitch since he began covering OWS on Oct. 1.
2. Use social media to help find multimedia
Live blogging can be a labor of love, as fans of live blogs can begin to expect 24/7 coverage. Mitchell shared, “I need to constantly spin through Twitter and various key sites. [This] can cause headaches but then, for example, I was ready to pounce
last night when [the same night that ] Naomi Wolf was arrested. I had it very early and did 5 or 6 updates, posted photo and video, all before most even knew about it. Naturally, [that] led to a traffic spike. Eternal vigilance.”
Al Jazeera found a new audience in the U.S. by using the live blogging format to cover the Arab Spring uprisings. The publisher has honed and perfected the format, using provocative photos, broadcast video, user-generated video and a blistering pace of updates to dominate the coverage of these events. Al Jazeera's live video feed ensures that even the most demanding Web visitor is satisfied with the pace of updates.
BBC’s slick packaging of live blogging with video gives readers a more ever-green experience. Instead of the live blog being over and no longer relevant, the packaging of the content makes the content more experiential, allowing viewers to relive the happenings of the experience. (See our previous coverage of BBC's live blogging format)
3. Recognize the risk of inaccuracies; choose words carefully
Many content organizations have their younger writers handle the new, social-heavy work, but this is one area where inexperience can damage your brand’s credibility and become a legal risk. Anyone doing live blogging should get a refresh on libel and slander, just in case. Consult with your corporate counsel for specifics.
How can you fact-check when you are reporting in real-time? Mitchell offered his approach: “I fact-check myself, looking at various sources, but when in doubt always qualify by stating that it is someone's claim, or reported but ‘unconfirmed,’ or someone ‘allegedly’ said, whatever. A little qualification goes a long way. Also can go back and correct. But nowadays a lot of attribution is direct quote from a Twitter feed -- or a video, which tends not to lie.”
4. Aggregate, curate, and link!
I continue to be amazed at how many sites are out there that still don’t include links in their articles. For those companies that are stuck in the early '90s, live blogging is an opportunity to experiment with the agnostic link. You can’t live blog effectively without linking to other sources. So, it’s an opportunity to prove that linking to “competitors” will gain you more loyalty and traffic than you loose.
Mitchell offered this advice to those starting out: “Good luck! And remember, it's not all about you. I include a link with virtually everything I posted -- dozens of items a day. I can express my views in the items I picked and maybe little comments I make but it is more about bringing key events or commentary to broad audience so I give them direct links, video etc. It's not so much what I say myself. And, as I said before, only pass along what you know to be true, or heavily qualify what may be in doubt, to be safe and responsible. Credibility is all.”
5. Evaluate tools that make it easier
The curation process of live blogging is time consuming and requires the ability to monitor many sources quickly. In addition, frequent updates of different content types means that you could be working in your CMS a lot (every editor's nightmare). However, there are several companies that offer cloud-based platforms that enable you to work in an environment designed for live-blogging while still updating your website in real-time. Here's a list to get you started: