In an effort to understand the changes to the NHS, The Guardian created a series of blog posts starting last April following the injection of the private sector into the National Health Service. The daily blog posts were updated routinely, aggregating podcasts, expert commentary, and government statements.
Last Thursday, Guardian journalist Rowenna Davis covered a baby girl's open-heart surgery in real time on the blog via Tweets and pictures sent from her phone. The little girl survived and the Twitter feed received a frenzy of feedback.
The blog described the object of the live-blogging experiment as to "describe how the NHS works", but not all readers agreed. One reader pointed out that documentaries have done the same thing before. Another wondered whether the piece was more voyeuristic than serious reporting.
In an article defending her live blog, Davis conceded that some of the Tweets were more emotional than seriously analytical, as raw reporting inevitably is. However, she offered a few points explaining live-blogging's importance. Firstly, capturing the visceral reality of a surgery touches viewers more profoundly than simply covering the politics of NHS reform. Secondly, live blogging "builds community", as readers become active commentators and real debates are generated. Lastly, it removes the wall between reporters and readers. Readers asked questions and had them answered as the surgery unfolded.
With research conducted at Cardiff University confirming that the quality of traditional reporting has declined, is live-blogging another symptom of this decline or a savoir of quality reporting?
The study, which traces sources of stories to reveal whether news comes from "pre-packaged" sources, showed that nearly 60% of press articles derive all or most of content from PR material or wire services. The forecast is even worse for health reporting, which is especially prone to being influenced by PR. The same study found that 19% of newspaper stories on healthcare were verifiably derived mainly from only PR material. The lack of originality in health care journalism puts The Guardian's experiment in a different light.
The "live-blogging" experiment has another value that Davis forgot - it goes beyond regurgitating press releases. The blog added another dimension to health care coverage, and the daily updates allowed for many players to comment on the health care debates - from doctors to professors to politicians. Although live-blogging is a relatively new phenomenon, it has an important value for journalism. It may not be long-form analysis, but it is still a component of reporting that engages readers and sheds light on issues as they unfold.
Photo Credit: Hongkiat