WAN-IFRA

A publication of the World Editors Forum

Date

Sun - 31.08.2014


Are live blogs as useful as we think they are?

Are live blogs as useful as we think they are?

It seems the political situation in Libya has reached a turning point. As Libyan rebels flood the capital, surrounding Gaddafi's compound and claiming to have captured his son Saif al-Islam, the world is watching, awaiting the outcome of this dramatic social upheaval.

The question for journalists is: how are we learning about the situation? Most likely, if you have gained your news from any major news site, you will have looked at a live blog.

Popular as live blogs are, they do raise some pertinent questions about journalistic methods and the value of practically instantaneous information.

One thing most reporters now believe is that traditional methods of collecting information, via foreign correspondents and contacts on the ground, must also be supplemented by social media. So much information is now distributed via social media that journalists can collect a much fuller picture of what is going on, from a greater number of sources, without even being on the scene.

Mark Johnson, Community Editor for The Economist, earlier tweeted:

"Am I alone in finding live blogs very frustrating on big news days? I want to know what's happened - not what's trending".

To a certain extent, he is right. Obviously, Twitter is a great resource for forming a live blog, as comments from the micro-blogging site provide a constant stream of information that can be easily incorporated into the live feed, see for instance, the BBC Live Blog. Many posts included in various live blogs could be found by simply searching a trending topic on Twitter.

Twitter is also one of the best means of highlighting how much seemingly contradictory or over simplified information is out there- and it is up to journalists and news agencies to verify the information they include in their live blog.

For instance, The BBC included this post from its foreign correspondent Matthew Price at 1322 GMT:

"The streets are very edgy indeed - this isn't a city that is suddenly celebrating its liberation, this is a city that is in places very concerned. There are areas where the opposition has full control and people have confidence in that, but at the same time the place I am in is still certainly controlled by people who support Col Gaddafi, and the streets are very very quiet indeed."

This view was supported by Jonathan Haynes, the Web News Editor of The Guardian, who stated via Twitter at 2.00pm GMT :

"#Libya's NTC: Cannot say rebels have full control of #Tripoli, don't know where #Gaddafi is - hope to capture alive, will get fair trial".

At approximately 2.15pm GMT The Associated Press tweeted:

"AP VIDEO: Watch Libya rebels celebrate after seizing control of Tripoli with chants and gunfire: apne.ws/pDQOmp -E",

This would seem to disagree with the reports from other correspondents. The tag line under the video states the rebels have control of "significant proportions" of the capital, which shows that AP wasn't privy to new information, it was merely simplifying for the Twitter audience; a trick that is admittedly hard to avoid in 140 characters. This emphasises why reading the good old-fashioned full-length article is still essential to understanding the whole picture.

However, this is where live blogging comes into its own: the news outlet can verify what is happening on the ground through its established network of contacts and correspondents and the live blog also gives them the space to explain things fully and clearly, supplementing videos with reaction of politicians alongside information from twitter and longer reports from people on the scene. Take a look at The Guardian for another example of an effective live blog which does just that.

So live blogs may include a fair amount of information aggregated from the internet, but they offer much more than that; they are probably still preferable, in this respect, to tools like Storify, which allows the collation of material from various multimedia sources, but which doesn't lend itself so well to longer written pieces, the value of which cannot be underestimated.

Although the modern audience is suited to small updates of information, given the constant and baffling stream of online information, it is imperative for journalists to fully and clearly explain complex situations to the public as they happen. The live blog is an excellent medium in which to do this. Crucially, the live blog is just one aspect of any news outlet's coverage; meaning that other features and articles provide the necessary context and analysis to support readers' understanding of a rapidly unfolding and politically complex situation.

Sources: BBC Live Blog , The Guardian Live Blog, Twitter: Mark Johnson , Matthew Price ,


Links

Author

Katherine Travers

Date

2011-08-22 18:12

The World Editors Forum is the organization within the World Association of Newspapers devoted to newspaper editors worldwide. The Editors Weblog (www.editorsweblog.org), launched in January 2004, is a WEF initiative designed to facilitate the diffusion of information relevant to newspapers and their editors.


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