Live-blogging—writing about an event as it happens rather than after the fact—can be a valuable resource for your readers, providing them with up-to-the-minute information about important events and making your blog the go-to destination for information on a developing story. It is also rife with perils: insufficient power supplies, spotty Internet connections, and errors made in haste, to name a few.
Here are ten tips to make live-blogging work for you. I’ve used blog posts about the last month’s most frequently blogged about stories, according to Regator (they are, in order: Egypt, Super Bowl XLV, Academy Awards/Oscars, Libya, national budget, Charlie Sheen, New Zealand earthquake, Mobile World Conference, CPAC/Conservative Political Action Conference, and Radiohead) to illustrate live-blogging techniques and practices that you can start using on your own blog:
1. Do research as you blog to fill in gaps in your own live reporting
Example: World Watch’s Live Blog: Egypt in Crisis, Day 11
Yes, you are on the scene, gathering original information, doing interviews, and taking your own photos, but if you’re covering a broad story (in this example, the revolution in Egypt), you simply can’t be everywhere at once. Don’t be afraid to include well-attributed links to other up-to-date coverage or to include quotes from experts to give readers more information.
2. Choose your weapons carefully
Example: Packers Blog’s Super Bowl XLV live blog
There are a number of useful tools and services designed to make live-blogging simpler. The live-blogging plugin for WordPress, CoverItLive (the service used in this example post and acquired on Thursday by Demand Media), and ScribbleLive are solid options for general live-blogging assistance. Justin.tv, Ustream.tv, and Qik.com are useful for on-the-go video. Audio can be recorded and posted from anywhere with tools such as Chirbit and Audioboo. Determine which of these tools works best for you and become familiar with their interfaces before you go live.
3. Prepare if possible
Example: Paste Magazine’s 2011 Oscars Live Blog
If you’re live-blogging an unexpected event, such as the tragic New Zealand earthquake (see below), you’ll have to start from scratch. An event such as the Academy Awards, on the other hand, leaves ample opportunities for advance preparation. In this example, the categories, nominees, and predicted winners could all be filled in prior to the show, leaving the live-bloggers with extra time to cover the spontaneous moments and announcements of winners. This particular live-blog also makes the author of each comment undeniably clear, which is especially important when opinions are being shared in a post by multiple bloggers.
4. Go beyond the tweet
Example: Need to Know’s Libya revolts: A live blog
There are times when 140 characters will suffice and times when seconds matter more than details. Those are the times to turn to Twitter. There are, however, situations, such as the Libyan revolts, that are too complex to be conveyed with such brevity. Those who argue that live-blogging is dead (likely the same ones who claim blogging as a a whole is dead) should look no further than this example to understand its value. This post incorporates official statements from Amnesty International, Interpol, and other organizations; video and photographs from the scene; witness interviews; updates from bloggers, activists, and news outlets; relevant tweets from Libyans; video of the White House’s statement; original reporting; and, perhaps most importantly, a lasting, detailed chronological account of events as they happened that can be referenced for years to come. Take advantage of the diversity of content and attention to detail that live-blogging allows and don’t treat it like a series of tweets.
5. Understand the difference between distilling and transcribing
Example: The Two-Way’s Live-Blog: President Obama’s News Conference [National Budget]
In this example, Mark Memmott blogs important direct quotes but does not attempt to transcribe the entirety of the president’s speech. He quotes key phrases and summarizes the rest of Obama’s main points. He is fastidious in his use of brackets to indicate changes to direct quotes and (this is important) never uses quotation marks when the language isn’t exact. As a live-blogger, your job is not to transcribe an event but to distill it for readers and present the most important points. Trying to transcribe word for word will lead to frustration, exhaustion, and typos galore.
6. Pack appropriately
Example: The Wire’s Live Blogging TMZ’s Charlie Sheen Backyard Livestream (headline changed after-the-fact to “WATCH: Here is Charlie Sheen’s EPIC TMZ Livestream Interview”)
Admittedly, finding a good live post about the month’s sixth-most-blogged-about story, Charlie Sheen, was challenging. It’s pretty much impossible, after all, to live-blog Charlie Sheen without being with Charlie Sheen and he’s too busy “winning” to hang out with most of us. TMZ did, however, do a live video interview from his mansion so I’ll use that to discuss the kinds of equipment you should bring in a similar live-blogging situation. Things you might want to pack in your live-blogging kit include: extra batteries, power cords and chargers aplenty, laptop, smart phone, Flip or larger video camera, reasonably sized camera, USB cords or other connectors for cameras and video cameras, and an alternative method of Internet connectivity in the case of inadequate WiFi.
7. Update frequently with clear time stamps
Example: Channel 4’s News blog Live Blog: Dozens dead in New Zealand Earthquake
Live-blogging is a commitment. If you plan to post only two or three updates, you’d be better off posting a single well-thought-out post after the fact. In this example, 45 updates were posted during the two days following the earthquake, each with a clear time stamp for context. Regular updates ensure that your blog will be considered the primary place to go for up-to-the-minute information. This is especially vital for situations in which people are frightened and worried about the wellbeing of loved ones. As a general rule of thumb, aim for updates every five to 15 minutes or so during shorter events such as the Academy Awards or Obama’s budget news conference, and once every half hour or so when covering situations such as the earthquake aftermath or revolts. This lets readers know the blog has not gone dormant.
8. Accept that your live posts won’t be as flawless as your edited posts
Example: Business Insider’s LIVE: Steve Ballmer At Mobile World Congress
Once you’ve made it clear that you are live-blogging from the scene, most readers will forgive minor typos and grammatical errors. Do the same. The faster you are trying to get updates out, the less time you have to edit and guard against errors, so don’t beat yourself up. As long as you’ve got your facts straight, errors such as the minor ones in this example (lowercase “nokia,” lack of apostrophe in possessive “consumers,” etc.) from the normally meticulously edited Business Insider are understandable.
9. Use subheadings along with time stamps
Example: The Fix’s CPAC 2011: The Conservative Political Action Conference
Live-blogging can lead to lengthy posts. Using subheadings such as the ones in this example in addition to time stamps throughout your post can increase reader engagement and allow for easy scanning.
10. Know when to live-blog…and when not to
Example: Dig Boston’s Live Blog Review: Radiohead’s ‘The King of Limbs’ From Start to Finish
Live-blogging works best for developing stories or live events. While this live-blog of Radiohead’s new album is good, the live-blogging format doesn’t add a great deal because of the static nature of the story. With all due respect to the blogger, whose work is solid, the review would have been just as good or better if the blogger had taken notes as he listened then written a comprehensive post after the fact. Use live-blogging in moderation.
Do you live-blog? What tips can you add?