Tips for live blogging

herald_live blogThe Halifax Chronicle Herald has joined a growing number of news organizations that are live blogging events to break news quickly and build engagement around them.

It live blogged 8 events this past summer during Nova Scotia’s provincial election. Seven were political events — party platform releases or debates — the other was a discussion of the Herald’s use of social media. The Herald used CoverItLive, the leading (free) live-blogging service based in Toronto.

Rick Conrad, editor of thechronicleherald.ca, calls it a “vital” means of engaging readers and its effect is evident in the quality of conversation: “You get a more defined audience – almost a more educated one – because it’s something they are interested in.” He acknowledges the events attracted the occasional “crank” but “99% of the people were there for the right reasons and wanted to have a real discussion.”

Some tips from the Herald’s experience:

  • Promote, promote, promote: People need advance notice to schedule a live blog into their day. Conrad promoted them on the site, in print, and on Twitter. The result was some success in expanding the site’s audience: “For the social media blog, I got the distinct sense it attracted people who wouldn’t normally think of picking us up every day or coming to us online.”
  • It takes two: If you’re covering an event, you generally need at least two people – one to report and the other to engage the audience. Says Conrad: “With the platform releases, [the audience] would come with a lot interesting — and tough — questions like “What does this mean?” When you’re listening to what the leader is saying and trying to go through the documents, it’s difficult to make a snap analysis.” Conrad suggests bringing a reporter along, if you can. He concedes it’s difficult because a reporter frequently has to file a story as well. But he adds, “Readers really like to talk to a person directly involved in the story.”
  • Let the audience lead: When to drive the conversation and when not to? It depends on the topic, says Conrad. If the audience is getting information from other sources it often works best to let them lead the conversation. “With the election night blog, we essentially took the approach that ‘this is their night’ and we would pop in with the occasional comment on the results … Whereas with the platform releases, I found there was more interaction with me because I was their eyes and ears.”
  • … but keep it civil: Conrad says he approved the vast majority of comments, but rejected a few: “For me, the reason for doing the live blogs for the election was to give as many people as possible the chance to comment.” However, a few were “nasty” and wildly speculative. “We didn’t think that was appropriate. You want [the conversation] to be substantial and you don’t want it to spiral down.”
  • Use it to assess your own efforts: People are especially engaged when they feel they can make a difference. The Herald received almost two comments for every person who attended the session in which it asked how it could make better use of social media. While Conrad acknowledges the difficulty in drawing conclusions from raw numbers, he says the tone of the conversation was spirited. “For me, the people who were involved in that blog were really into it.”
  • Keep it available for replay: The number of people who replayed the Herald’s live blog the day following election night was almost twice the number who participated live. Some people don’t have time to follow a live stream — or aren’t available when it’s scheduled. But many are interested in seeing which topics resonated with the audience.

Conrad says he would like to live blog a provincial budget release and he hopes to experiment with the tool at a concert or a live arts event.

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