Analysis, Tools of the Trade - by on Tuesday, April 7, 2009 13:26 - 6 Comments

The different styles of live blogging

Live blogging has helped transform how journalists — particularly print journalists who had to report yesterday’s news tomorrow — cover events and give commentary in real time.

A live blog is a live, online update of an event, via a microblogging service like Twitter or a dedicated live blogging service like CoveritLive. We’ve been researching live blogging habits and trends, and live blogs tend to cover standard fare: breaking news, politics, sports, entertainment and business events. Beyond that though, live blogs on the web are so varied that it’s hard to see them all as one style of journalism.

The differences in live blogs can be narrowed down to three main areas:

  • Style
  • Frequency and length of updates
  • Level of interactivity with readers

A live blogger’s writing style can vary from straight-laced news reporter, to snarky know-it-all commentator or rapid-fire text messenger. When Kate Phillips covered the State of the Union for the New York Times, she did so as a straight-up reporter at the event, with knowledgeable entries that covered all the bases. When “Political Doctor” covered the same event from her TV, her writing went with a dose of sarcasm. Meanwhile, when covering the Independent Spirit Awards, Spout just sent in Twitter messages of 140 characters, essentially fun blips to her audience.

Live blogggers vary widely as to how often they check in during an event. While most announce major developments, some take it to the extreme: When FiredogLake covered the Scooter Libby trial, it read like a transcript of the entire trial. Their team of bloggers rotated simultaneous blogging in the courtroom and hardly missed a beat. On the other extreme, there are live bloggers who just contribute when they feel like it, regardless of the event, like this casual Oscar live blog from the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

Then there’s how the blogger uses the readers’ feedback. In that Oscar blog from Florida, comments were in their own separate section below the blog post. In other blogs, comments are mixed right in with the bloggers’ writing, which makes it more of a conversation than a report. Some bloggers use their position to act as a voice of authority to readers asking questions: The Sioux City Journal’s live blog of Lawrence Harris’ trial read like a radio call-in show. In contrast, when The Uptake covers the Coleman-Franken hearings, everybody’s got an opinion, and the hosts tend to fade to the background.

Some live blogs use tools like instant polls to interact with readers Though perhaps gimmicky, the polls at least make participants feel valued. Other live blogs utilize links, which can be helpful to provide more info. But in the case of a fast-breaking story, who has time to be reading other links?

Underlying every one of these questions is how the blogger conceives of the audience. If they think their readers are watching along with them, as with the Oscars or the State of the Union, then the blogger can afford to miss details and chime in at will. In other events though, especially court cases, the live blogger is the only eyes and ears for their audience.

The bloggers also have to decide if they’re writing for insiders or the general public. Newcomers to The Uptake’s coverage of Coleman-Franken may feel lost at first, because essentially the blog is an ongoing chat room. It’s great for insiders but hard to navigate if you don’t have the background. In contrast, the Philadelphia Inquirer’s coverage of the Vincent Fumo trial gave constant updates but was also written to be accessible to readers with only a passing awareness of the case.

In the end, these questions of the audience are far more important than the event is in deciding a live blog’s content. The blogger who stops and thinks about their audience, tone and the other issues we’ve raised will probably create far better and more popular content.

In our research we noticed a few trends in live blogs. We hope these sites broaden your understanding of this fun and evolving reporting style.

Case #1: The Caucus Blog — It covered the State of the Union at the event, as the objective news reporter.
Who it’s for:
Both those watching and not watching.
How it works: One author sends constant updates on essential parts of the event, in short news report fashion. It’s professional, with links and occasional commentary from readers.
Tools used: WordPress, links
Other examples: The Fumo Live Blog, USA Today GameOn, CNET coverage of Apple sales call

Case #2: Political Doctor — It covers the State of the Union from their TV, with a sense of humor.
Who it’s for: Anyone also watching the event on TV.
How it works: One person in charge, who sends a new short joke or comment every 5-10 minutes, while also offering analysis and commentary.
Tools used: Blogger, links
Other examples: Deadspin World Series blog, Florida Sun-Sentinel Oscar live blog.

Case #3: Spout — It covers the Independent Spirit Awards at the event, glued to Twitter.
Who it’s for: Those interested already, but who can’t watch it.
How it works:
One reporter sends 140-characters or less bursts of info as events unfold, with occasional links.
Tools used: Twitter, photos, links
Other examples: Ron Sylvester covers the courts.

Case #4: Film School Rejects — It covers the Independent Spirit Awards as a chat, where the bloggers do most of the talking.
Who it’s for: Those interested already, both who can and can’t watch it.
How it works: Constant interaction between bloggers and readers. It’s as if listening to a radio or TV broadcast of announcers, with occasional public commentary.
Tools used: CoveritLive, polls, software
Other examples: Devil Rays’ Digest covers the World Series

Case #5: The Uptake — It covers the Coleman-Franken Senate contest as a chat, where the blogger mostly moderates public commentary.
Who it’s for: Anyone interested in the event, those who can and can’t watch it.
How it works: Besides occasional updates from the blogging team, most of the space is for the public’s to fill and ask questions. Much more of an IM chat style, with the public chatting amongst users on the site.
Tools used: CoverItLive, live video streams, polls, links
Other examples: Awful Announcing covers the World Series


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About BeatBlogging.org

BeatBlogging.org was a grant-funded journalism project that studied how journalists used social media and other Web tools to improve beat reporting. It ran for about two years, ending in the fall of 2009.

New content is occasionally produced here by the this project's former editor Patrick Thornton. The site is still up and will remain so because many journalists and professors still use and link to the content. BeatBlogging.org offers a fascinating glimpse into the former stages of journalism and social media. Today it's expected that journalists and journalism organization use social media, but just a few years ago that wasn't the case.

About the Author of this post
Daniel Marrin is a student at NYU.