This year, as the Arab revolutions have unfolded, live blogging has rapidly become the dominant form for breaking news online – deployed by virtually every major news organisation on their home page and the online answer to 24/7 television news. The Financial Times has had to commandeer Gideon Rachman’s blog to keep up, while the styles vary from the quickfire updates of the BBC (complete with BBC News broadcast feed), to the tight and factual Daily Telegraph technique, to a slightly more expansive approach from the Guardian.
The reward is huge traffic spikes, hundreds of comments – so far in March, live blogs (including minute-by-minute coverage of sporting events) on guardian.co.uk account for 3.6 million unique users, 9% of the total – and the wrath of some traditional readers who clamour for a straight-up-and-down, conventionally written article. One blogger even described live blogs as the “death of journalism”.
Perhaps my ::comment tag:: on the headline for this post is not quite accurate. It is not a new responsibility for journalists but a traditional one — be sure what you know before you report it.
Live, as-it-happens coverage of a story — which, up to now, has been the exclusive purview of broadcasters — usually faces the problem that what the reporter knows right now might not be right, or at best not contextually accurate. Traditionally minded print journalists usually call it one of the benefits of their medium, that they have time for perspective, time to get it right before they put it out there. But of course that can all go out the window even for a newspaper as deadline approaches, so perhaps it is not so much of a difference.
No, the real problem with as-it-happens coverage is the assumed pressure to put something out there even when there isn’t anything new that we really know to be true. That’s when broadcast news routinely slumps to its lowest level. First the newscaster starts to repeat what we already know. Then he starts to offer tidbits and informed conjecture clearly not verified and so heavily couched in qualifiers as if that makes it acceptable to broadcast. Then he brings in the talking heads to fill the time and they, who don’t know anything at all firsthand because they aren’t where it’s happening, simply opine and extrapolate and feel no need to be accurate to the current situation since it is simply their opinion (and opinions can’t be wrong – can they?).
From the cross link in this article about live blogs being the death of journalism, you can see that the main complaint is this same fill-the-lull syndrome. It is interesting that it even applies to live blogging. Apparently the reporter feels it necessary to start putting minor bits and pure drivel out there when there is nothing really new, known and pertinent to add. I’m assuming the reporter or the editors are concerned that if there is too long a lull, the audience won’t stick around or check back in. But in this socially networked aged, that is a silly assumption. If someone you follow on Twitter doesn’t tweet something constantly, do you stop following if you were interested in the first place? No.
If live blogging, like live television, could avoid filling the lull with drivel, both would be much more successful and valuable to the news consumer.