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How to tell long-form real-time stories
When most people think of real-time reporting, they typically think of breaking news that's bookmarked very clearly by space and time: something happens, short posts come in to fill in the blanks, the story ends. But what happens when a story is on-going and has no end in sight? Or if you replace those short updates with robust, article-length posts? This week's Scribble Chat will delve into the world of long-form liveblogging. Why have editors been experimenting with this narrative form, why has it been working and how can you add it to your storytelling quiver? We'll be joined by 3 panelists who've had much success with long-tail real-time reporting to share their views: Margarita Noreiga, editor of live news for Reuters; Chris Dannen, senior editor at FastCo.Labs; and Rachel Pulfer, executive director of Journalists for Human Rights.
If you have a question or comment for our panel, please submit them by clicking on 'Make a comment' above.
Hi everyone! We'll be starting the chat shortly.
While we're getting ready to start, here's some background info on today's panelists.
Rachel Pulfer is the Executive Director for Journalists for Human Rights, Canada’s largest media development organization. Previously the International Programs Director at JHR, Ms. Pulfer has managed media development projects in Sierra Leone, Liberia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and represented JHR at conferences in New Brunswick, the United Kingdom, Tanzania, Germany, Egypt, Jordan and Qatar. Prior to joining JHR, Ms. Pulfer was a Canadian Journalism Fellow at Massey College, and a magazine journalist of 10 years' standing. Her last position was as the U.S. correspondent, editorial board member, and columnist for Canadian Business – Canada's national business newsmagazine.by Miles Kenyon@Rachel_Pulfer
Margarita Noriega, Editor in Charge of Live News at Reuters, joined the organization in early 2013 as a Community Editor, bringing with her more than a decade of communications strategy and public affairs experience with governmental agencies, non-profit organizations and Fortune 100 companies. She studied international affairs at George Washington University in Washington, DC.by Miles Kenyon@margafret
by Miles Kenyon
As a Senior Editor at FastCompany, lead tech editor and overseer of the magazine’s experimental tech lab, Chris Dannen spends every waking moment figuring out what goes on in the brains of his online readers – and how to get more of them. He shares the results of his experiments through talks and classes at places like General Assembly, Stanford Graduate School of Business, TechStars@Kaplan and Soho House New York.@ChrisDannen
OK everyone, we're ready to begin! Margarita and Rachel, welcome to the chat! (Chris should be with us momentarily)
Fire away Miles!
I'm very excited to have you all here today because you've all done incredible work in the field of long-form narratives. To give our readers a bit of background:
- Rachel, your work on News from DR Congo: Local Perspectives allowed journalists to skirt around a media blackout and provide chilling accounts of human rights issues in a war-torn country and reached an audience of more than 2.2 million.
- Chris, your experiment with "slow liveblogging" showed very starkly that readers are willing--happily-- to following along with an always updating story.
Rachel, can you tell us a little bit about how your Congo liveblog came about?
We had just met with the Scribble Team and they had been talking about how ScribbleLive had played an interesting role in coverage of the Arab Spring. A few days later the M23 rebel group invaded Goma. We asked our team of local journalists in Goma: evacuate or cover it?
Their answer was pretty clear - cover it! So we set up a security system whereby their blogs could not be traced to them - everyone was bylined Club JDH Goma - and set up the live feed so that they could - literally - liveblog the invasion of their city.
The really great part was being able to use the technology to get news of what was happening on the ground out from under the rebel leaders' attempt to impose a black out.
But in addition, what we thought would work perfectly was the combination of immediacy - voices reporting what was happening day-to-day as the invasion took shape - and long-form - so that viewers and readers got a sense of the extended experience of living in an occupied city.
And with over 2.2 million views, I'd dare say you hit on a nerve with many of your readers.
Margarita, I'd like to now take a look at some of the work you've done at Reuters.
For example, your Syria liveblog has been ongoing for months. Can you discuss the editorial process that went into deciding to create an always-on liveblog as opposed to simply writing static updates?
Hi Miles. Thanks for having me here to talk about what Reuters has done our coverage of Syria. I want to give some behind the scenes context to how the live coverage began: the first reports of a chemical attack came in the very early morning hours on the east coast of the United States. As with any news event, the information comes to you unexpectedly, so it's important to be prepared.
Early morning on Wednesday, August 21 of this year, we began our live coverage of the initial reports through our usual means: stories, verified photos, and some social media analysis: were the reports true? Who are the sources? What photos and videos can we obtain?
It's important to us at Reuters that a live blog helps people experience an event as if they were on the ground, too. While I was in New York, Reuters had sources on the ground in Syria and neighboring countries -- and our live coverage gave as close access to the events as we could. In order to give readers a close view of the events, we needed to stay on the facts as they came in.
As it became more apparent that a chemical weapons attack occurred as initially reported, we wanted to make sure readers could check in with us at any time to hear the latest updates.
Static updates wouldn't have been helpful in reporting Syria because an entire international response was forming because of the chemical weapons use and investigation. We all want to know the context -- the tweets at 2am EDT, the photos that are not verified -- readers should have a sense of how stories develop into facts over time. That's why we decided on keeping track of all the details as they came in.
Based on the responses from both you and Rachel, it seems like these on-going narratives provided not only important context but also a way for your viewers to gain an important perspective on a situation...which leads directly into Chris and his work at FastCompany.
Chris, welcome! Can you you tell us a little bit about the experiments with slow liveblogging you've done and what the audience response has been?
The problem we wanted to solve had to do with recurring storylines -- events, people or topics we cover regularly, but that (for some reason) aren't big enough in scope to classify as "beats".
I edit our technology pieces, so I'll give a tech-related example that probably everyone here can relate to: the shuttering of Google Reader.
When it was announced this past spring, there was an outpouring of really thoughtful responses from people all over tech and media. It was clear people wanted to talk about it.
But I wasn't going to assign a reporter to just focus on Google Reader-related stories; after all, the hubbub would probably die down once the thing finally closed in July, and the volume & velocity of discussion weren't high/fast enough for someone to cover daily.
There was another problem which added complexity, which was our style of intermittent coverage. When we don't cover something for a week or two, we have to re-explain a bunch of the context around the topic at the top of the article, so that people who haven't been following the story (or need a refresher) can follow along.
So when we covered something like the Google Reader snafu, our reporters were re-writing and re-hashing a lot. Keeping the whole story in one giant article body was a huge time-saver -- it let reporters add new information to the story without needing to re-hash or back-link. They'd just open up the article, add some news, and get out.
We're a magazine, so speed isn't our edge. But this allows us to keep on the pulse of 40+ stories like this, even though we only have a core team of tech writers that's 6-8 people.
And based on analytics you gathered, readers seemed to like these on-going narratives.
Chris, I'm going to bring in a question from a reader for you:
Huge fan of all three publications, thanks for contributing to a great chat so far!
Chris, your "slow liveblogging" experiment was super interesting - wondering if this has changed any processes at FastCompany and if you still believe "quality, not velocity, is the future of online news"?
Our engagement went way up. But these long articles also broke/crashed our site several times.
Thanks for the question Tara.
Yes, it has totally changed the way we think. But now we have to re-structure some of our technology to accommodate this format, so we can experiment more. Which we didn't foresee. Our new initiative is to create more of a feedback loop for readers by putting survey questions in the actual article updates. Do you want to read more of this? Is there an ancillary story we should be following?
The idea is to enfranchise our core readership to start dictating the direction of our slow-live-blog coverage, so they get more out of it.
Interesting. So finding a narrative style that works, try it out, see if your readers like it and then adapt the technology.
On that note of editorial adaptation...
Yep, hack it until it works.
Rachel and Margarita, have there been any editorial or organizational challenges you've faced with these long-tail liveblogs?
Haha. Yes, is the short answer. Will expand in a sec. However, before getting into that, I just wanted to clarify - the Goma Live! feed went out to an audience of 2.2 million via pick-up from Canada.com and Thomson Reuters Foundation. We also had great social media support from our fantastic media partners in Canada (including @LisaLaFlammeCTV and @TroyReebGlobal). However, the unique views on our own JHR site were smaller - 18,633 unique views, 22.46 minutes of engagement on average, and a total of 780,572 engagement minutes.
Thanks for clarifying! (And thanks to those outlets who picked it up!)
Challenges: the blogs were written in French, so we had a team of translators - Claire Hastings, Naregh Galoustian and myself working to make sure the translation was as true-to-original as possible...
On reading the first submissions, we realized that we were going to need to provide some on-the-ground training, in the occupied city, so that our Congolese journalists were up to speed on how to write micro-human-interest features -
The original posts were very very long and formal, and top-heavy with voices from the authorities