Tuesday 28 September 2010

All eyes on Ed Miliband? Some thoughts on live blogging.

This is no criticism of Andrew Sparrow personally, who is an expert in the art of live blogging for The Guardian, but, if you've ever tried live blogging, you'll discover that it's pretty hard work and not without its difficulties. Even for journalists who have racked up a number of live blogging marathons like Sparrow.

During his latest effort, blogging Ed Miliband's speech at the Labour Party conference, the Guardian journalist offers some "3.40pm instant analysis". Sparrow says he found the speech "less inspiring than I expected".

But he then highlights some of the problems of making an assessment about quite how inspiring the speech was given his preoccupation with frantically tapping out a live blog:
"...although I admit, not having watched it properly (I've just had my eyes on my keyboard, for obvious reasons) I'm not necessarily. (sic)"
Which rather sums up one of the key challenges facing a live blogging journalist. (Perhaps we could finish the sentence for him " the best position to make a judgement" or "able to take in everything while trying to write everything". [In fact, the update was subsequently corrected and now reads: "...the best judge"])

Personally, whenever I've done some live blogging I've always felt it would be better if there were at least two people contributing to it to compensate for my own live blogging inadequacies. One blogger could get down the outline facts and key points, the other could provide instant analysis and comment. Perhaps even a third could pull in information from other sources.

But Sparrow told me that he writes most of the material for his live blogs himself. He says that sometimes others do contribute, particularly if a live blog lasts a long time and that a Guardian editor will actually post his copy to the blog. (Presumably the editor does some quick checks before posting.) But in terms of writing the thing, an Andrew Sparrow live blog is essentially (a rather impressive) one-man show.

The advantage of this approach is that it gives the blog a clear voice, and allows one journalist to retain control over the direction of the blog. But I would still question whether there are not occasions when it might help to have more hands on deck throughout a live blog.

Of course, there is also a question of resources here and I wonder how often The Guardian can afford to devote more than one staff member to writing lengthy live blogs especially as they seem to be running them on a regular basis and for all sorts of events.


Ed Walker said...

Interesting post and good points. I do a fair bit of live blogging and agree about needing more than one person. We covered the spending review today and it was great to have my colleague helping me out. He took care of the figures, I focused on getting up what George Osborne was saying.

We also tend to use our specialist reporters as experts - so our live blog had tweets coming in from our Westminister correspondent and also our Business Editor.

I think this makes for a more vibrant live blog and allows the main reporter running it to focus on providing a report of what is actually happening and being said - and not have to worry about providing too much analysis. As it's often hard to analyse when you've got headphones on listening to some audio or frantically tapping away on the keyboard!

Daniel Bennett said...

Thanks for your insights on your coverage of the CSR. I think your points are particularly relevant in the context of the spending review (or similarly a budget speech) when there is a lot of detailed information to digest, covering a range of topics in a short space of time.

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