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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.
So, we sent one of our expert Congolese partners, journalist and trainer Prince Murhula, to show the group how to micro-blog, live-blog and upload stories to the feed about the experience of life under the invasion.
That meant sending Prince, literally, into an occupied city to run workshops and provide on-site mentorship. But Prince was more than up for it - and did a fantastic job.
As this is a new way of storytelling for a lot of journalists, training was key.
Crucial. After Prince went in, the stories became clearer, livelier and more accessible - covering everything from the tragic - a woman who was in the wrong place at the wrong time and lost a leg - to the funny - how kids were annoyed because having missed school in the invasion, they were going to have to go to class through Christmas.
We also saw how the tone of coverage changed, as things started to relax
I have to admit that I love the Congo liveblog, precisely because it gives such a 360 perspective.
Margarita, have you experienced any editorial snags over at Reuters?
The editorial challenges we had were translation-based and the fact that Syria is a war zone, so it's been our first priority to make sure our correspondents and photojournalists were adequately secured.
And unfortunately, journalists and aid workers are now becoming targets in warzones.
Here's a question from a reader regarding verifying information. Chris, perhaps you can address this one.
As a reader of a live blog, how do I verify the information. Or let's turn the question around: as moderator: do you and how do you verify the information as told by all the contributors? Is it a concern?
(I believe that question is referencing information from non-reporters)
I can speak to the accuracy point. The first couple of blogs were completely out of this world - descriptions of cannibalism as freed prisoners were torn apart by mobs. So we asked Prince Murhula to take on the role of fact-checker and fact-checked blogs before they went up.
What I loved was being able to put the reader right into the heart of the action over the course of three weeks, and experience the invasion from the ground, from a Congolese perspective, as Congolese were living it. That, for me, was journalism at its best. Readers could immediately empathize with the surreal human experience of living in an occupied city.
Wow-- that's simply unbelievable.
Here's another question from a reader that has to do with narrative flow and I'd love to hear what you all have to say about it.
How important is it to have a narrative and stick through it throughout the coverage? Do you decide what bits to include based on that narrative, and how do you decide what not to include?
The way we use live blogging is a little different -- we think of it as each reporter keeping a journal of their own reading about a certain topic or issue. It's almost like they're narrating their own hunt for stories around a certain topic; they're explaining their view on the news as much as reporting. When they come across something that deserves a deeper dive with lots of original reporting, they break off from the "liveblog" and go write a feature, which ties back (in the form of links) to the liveblog at a specific place.
So each journalist has more of a personal attachment to their mini-beat. I like that.
On our end we didn't do a lot of 'crafting the narrative' so to speak but we did try to ensure that all aspects of the experience were covered - the mob justice, the fear, the overbearing announcements from the rebels, the deaths, the injuries, the confusion - but also the practical - for example, in a city without cash, a barter trade immediately sprang up on the border with Rwanda, so that families could have access to fresh food - and so one of our team followed a woman as she navigated the crazy politics of crossing a border in a war zone to get vegetables.
@Christa, on the topic of verifying content, Reuters will always tell you if something is not confirmed on a live blog. There's no need for you to wonder if it's a rumor or a fact. We will tell you if something is unconfirmed -- but you won't be confused. Confusion is a barrier to learning.
Margarita, do you go into long-form liveblogging with a particular narrative in mind? Or is it broader than that?
Hey guys, I'm off to my next appointment -- but thanks for having me. Here's my email if anyone wants to connect later: email@example.com
Great to 'meet' you Chris- fantastic work!
Thanks so much, Chris! It was great having you here.
And if Rachel and Margarita are available for a few more minutes, I'd love to just round out the chat is a couple last points.
Re: narrative, I think it's important to explain the context of the situation: why is this "news"? Why should I "care"? Why will X lead to Y and so on? These are questions everyone asks when we walk down the street and see a police car on a blocked corner, or a magazine cover, or an article that our friends post on Facebook. The narrative lies outside editorial control -- it is the reader narrative: AKA perspective. Once you understand how people approach information, you can help expand their understanding.
A follow up question might be: how do we know what the reader narrative is? We work hard to intimately understand what our readers interact with and ask about -- and we build and expand content from there. An example is our ongoing coverage of the federal budget shutdown in DC: live.reuters.com
That seems to go back to Chris' comment about checking with his readers to get their perspective on long-form storytelling and if it's been working.
Well, that's all the time we have for today!
Margarita, Rachel and Chris-- thank you all so much for being here!
Thanks so much to you Miles - it's been a pleasure!
You've helped shed light on an emerging form of storytelling and I'm glad you could make some time in your busy schedule to join us.
Thank you Miles, and thanks to ScribbleLive for continuing to build a powerful content sharing platform for Reuters!
And we'll be back next Tuesday with another installment of Scribble Chats!
Yes- looking forward to expanding the partnership with ScribbleLive and doing more such live-blogs in the future!
Us as well, Rachel!