Is Guardian live blogging really the "death of journalism"?

Martin Belam by Martin Belam, 22 February 2011

The louse & the flea blog had a post today entitled “The Guardian Newsblog and the death of journalism” which, somewhat naturally, rather caught my eye. When chasing news of the Christchurch earthquake across the web in the early hours of the morning, author John noted that:

“Most of the newspaper and TV sites have treated the story in the traditional way: the ‘inverted triangle’, with the intro giving the essential what, where, when information, then crafting the story with more expository material of gradually lessening importance. It’s how I learnt to structure a hard news story all those years ago when I first started out in this craft and it's the tried and tested way that’s served journalism well for over 100 years now.

For some reason, the Guardian website has decided the old way is no good. Its coverage of the story is in the form of a newsblog. We get the who, what, where information as brief bullet points at the top, with the eye-catching photo of the now spire-less Christchurch Cathedral, but what follows has absolutely no structure at all.

It’s a mish-mash of baffling tweets, irrelevant musings from the Guardian's comments, contact details for those who want to find out about loved ones or make donations.

...

Scattered meagrely throughout, like sixpences in a Christmas pudding, are bits of what you and I might call ‘hard news’.”

John adds:

“I suspect that even as I write the Guardianistas are all patting themselves on the back and congratulating each other on what a splendid, marathon effort they've pulled off, with all this radical rewriting of the rules of journalism.”

Well, I’m obviously bound to disagree.

We published an Associated Press story covering the who / what / where at 00:52 GMT and Ben Quinn’s piece for the paper an hour later, with an expanded version around 8am in the UK. Another long piece by Toby Manhire in Auckland and Mark Tran was published this afternoon, and judging from the article history we provide on everything posted to the web, this is due to be in print tomorrow. Christchurch based author David Hayward has written a first-hand account which also looks set to be in tomorrow’s editions. There is follow up online coverage in a photo gallery and on video. And more analysis-driven articles like those from our science correspondent or about the potential impact on the Rugby World Cup are coming along.

The rolling live blog coverage is only one component of the way that the website covers an unfolding story like a natural disaster or man-made revolutions.

In his blog post John argues that in “trying to emulate 24 hour rolling TV news in this way, the Guardian is merely just repeating all that’s wrong with 24 hour rolling news.”. I think that very much depends on the topic. The live blog coverage of Gaddafi’s television address today, for example, was able to convey immediately to our audience what he was saying, without waiting for someone to turnaround a traditional 350 word piece on it.

Nevertheless, John does identify some of the issues that concern me from an information structure point of view of the way we do live blogging now - notably it is very difficult within our templates to display a summary prominently enough, and the strict reverse chronology of entries whilst a live blog is “active” can lead to the more important chunks of the content getting buried. We could also probably do an improved job of permanently sign-posting packages of more conventionally formatted stories from within the live blog itself.

That is all partly an effect of the way that the journalistic usage of live blogs has evolved well beyond what the CMS tools were intended for. The fact that the URL of the front page for our live blogs describes the tone as “minute-by-minute” betrays the format’s origin in our sports coverage - the oldest on the site is an Arsenal European match from April 2001 the oldest on the site is coverage of Inter vs Manchester United in March 1999. [see note in the comments]

Next...

By chance John posted his piece at a time when I’ve already got another blog post about The Guardian’s live blogging scheduled. That will be up tomorrow morning and features my notes from a recent session where our political live blogger Andrew Sparrow talked about how his style of covering the daily rhythm of British politics has evolved.

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10 Comments

Go to page 3 of our report that you can download by following the links from here http://www.charliebeckett.org/?p=2932
It is all about how Live Blogging Is The New Front Page,
cheers
Charlie Beckett
POLIS LSE

I don't get the anti-live-blog people. There have been some lame ones (the Icelandic volcano one with its updates about a hockey team who couldn't fly abroad springs to mind) but for events like Egypt and Libya or even the Liverpool sale / court case they have been an absoutely compelling way to follow the story without waiting for someone to file a "proper" story. It's not as if you don't also write up proper news stories as well.

I think 'tis not yet dead but merely resting

There has been some debate sparked about what really was the first Guardian live blog or minute-by-minute. Matthew Tempest suggested on Twitter that the order of development was 'Sportsdesk invented it. Politics desk liveblogged 2001 election night and PMQs from then on...'. Neil McIntosh, who should know, pointed me to an Inter - Man Utd minute-by-minute commentary still live on the site from March 1999.

There has been some criticism of my response in the comments over on the original post:

Well, Martin Belham, in a very small way, you’ve kind of proved Louse’s point with the last line of your very pleased-with-itself response blog. Those football minute-by-minutes you link to were, as memory serves, a feature of the 1998 World Cup, yet the one you link to, and claim is the first, is from a good few years later. A really minor point, but instructive enough: you work at the place – why not go and ask the sport desk, throw some proper journalistic shapes, instead of Googling and hoping for the best?

Read the full thread over on The louse and the flea

I started writing a comment in response to this, but it started turning into a blog post. So I let it. :-)

It's a tricky debate. I find it hard to believe that blogging or computer based products will kill off journalism. People do tend to prefer having something physical to read. I know I do. It's also interesting to consider the job losses in the industry and how this will be catered for. Are there enough jobs in a paperless environment to replace the journalism industry as a whole?

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