“Live blogging breakfast at the Manchester Evening News” - Seb Ramsay at news:rewired

Martin Belam by Martin Belam, 13 December 2012

At news:rewired, Seb Ramsay of the Manchester Evening News explained how a rolling news live blog had brought them closer to their audience.

After Neil Macdonald’s moving talk about live blogging the Hillsborough Independent Panel report at news:rewired, the session continued with a look at how another Trinity Mirror title — the Manchester Evening News — runs their rolling live blog.

Seb Ramsay is “hub news editor” at the paper, and explained that they’d spotted that there was a gap in their coverage in the morning, when to their annoyance, they saw their rivals tweeting out MEN stories and essentially claiming credit for their original regional journalism. I wonder who they could mean?

They decided to try a live blog format, and now have an operation that involves two reporters on an early shift. One starts at 5:30am and one starts at 8. Their key principles are speed, content, and tone. They’ve adopted the relaxed informal entertaining language of broadcast.

What I liked about this presentation was that content was leading the format, not the technology. OK, I know you all know that I am a total geeky technophile and that sentence sounds weird coming from me. The live blog had a really chatty early morning radio show feel to it, coupled with using the technology to connect the paper to the local audience. In fact, Seb explained that they’d been experimenting with different live blog systems to see which worked best for them.

The rolling news live blog allowed them to speak to readers in a new way. People message in bits of news about the traffic, or ask the MEN what is going on somewhere if a police helicopter has been hovering. Actually, the team have found it useful for news leads as well. Seb mentioned putting out on the live blog that police said there had been no crime overnight, and immediately getting back the reply “what about the shooting in Salford?”, something the police press office was keeping under wraps.

Seb admitted they hadn’t always got everything right. In the early days they’d also tweeted out just about every update they wrote, before realising that they were just unhelpfully “bunging up” people’s timelines.

The rolling live blog format also allows them to expand their coverage. Whilst the focus is always on the community that they serve, they also put big national and international stories into the blog, and quirky stuff.

Seb said that the format proved that there is “no such thing as no news”. Even with the slightest of stories the new relationship with the reader allows them to invite comment on issues of the day, or invite people to send in pictures.

There was also a hint that the live blog served a cultural purpose within the business as well. Continuous publishing to the web has diminished the sense of “deadline” that an operation like the Manchester Evening News used to have. Seb said that the rolling live blog had helped bring a “deadline buzz” back to the newsroom, as reporters work to stand up stories and get them broken on the live blog.

There is no doubt that local and regional newspapers have been going through a tough time economically, and that digital disruption has been severe for many titles. One of the things that I really like about news:rewired as an event is that it gives titles like the MEN a showcase for the good work they are doing to the “London media bubble”.

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