How to Cover Live Events: Create an Experience

Whenever I’m trying to figure out a new way to tell a story, there’s a quote from one of the inventors of virtual reality that always pops into my brain: “Information is alienated experience.” Or, like my middle school English teacher used to say, “Show, don’t tell.”

So when you go out to cover an event, don’t bring back a product, a widget, a good, a 10-inch inverted-pyramid story. Use multimedia and interactivity to bring your audience along for the ride. Make them feel like they’re in the room with you. Cover the event live, and then repackage your live coverage to attract the search engine audience.

For these types of stories you should consider:

  • Live tweeting.
  • Streaming video via UStream.
  • Capturing/publishing audio via SoundCloud.
  • Publishing full or editing video on YouTube.
  • Re-using in a regularly scheduled weekly podcast.
  • Posting to the website using Storify.

Live Tweeting Tips

Before the event:

  • Do background research so you have some idea of what you can expect to happen. Because news is when the world doesn’t behave as you’d expect. So first you have to know what to expect. Know the players and the rules. Look at old stories, get a copy of the meeting agenda or the speech text if possible. Check out the group’s website and social media accounts. Check out national press, too, if warranted.
  • Make a Twitter list of everyone you expect to be in attendance at the event — that includes “official” event participants as well as observers.
  • Make another list of anyone you think might be interested in the topic. You might find these are folks who already follow you on Twitter, or folks that have re-tweeted similar stories, or just people who’ve been talking about similar topics.
  • Make sure you know any hashtags related to the event. If there isn’t one, make one up and tell your followers to use it during the event. For the most important hashtags you expect to be used during the event, create a saved search on Twitter.
  • Prepare a few tweets in advance of the event. For example, if you know that someone is going to reference a particular news article or book, have a link to that article ready to send out when the person mentions it. If you use HootSuite, you can save drafts of your tweets. Twitter just added native pre-scheduling of tweets to its clients.

During the Event

  • Get there early. You never know what might go wrong — you can’t find parking, there’s no WiFi, no place to put your camera, room is full, flock of rabid seagulls attacks…
  • Tell people that you’re getting ready to start live tweeting an event. Tell them where you are. Tell them about how long you’ll be at it. You’ll be using your personal account for credibility and intimacy.
  • Listen for key quotes, and either paraphrase them or attribute them: – “Obama: ‘My role here is done.'” or “Obama says he is resigning from office.”
  • Listen for key facts that provide context: -“27% of new students hail from Antarctica.” or “Construction on Gryffindor began in 2011 and was scheduled to cost $3.1B.”
  • Listen for news: “Board voting now on whether to oppose Amendment One.” or “Board’s vote on Amendment One unanimous. Everyone’s opposed.”
  • Provide both “play-by-play” coverage as well as analysis: – “Somewhat unexpected to hear all sides agree on that issue. Where was the opposition?”
  • Use hashtags. Hashtags can be used to help your audience find other tweets on the topic, but they can also help your tweets find an audience that cares about the topic but doesn’t yet know you’re covering it. Finally, you can use hastags for commentary (but be careful with that.)
  • Ask questions of your audience during the event. Questions can either seek information: “Dept. of Labor says it’s still interviewing witnesses. I’d like to interview you, too. Did you see the Vortex collapse?” … or they can seek opinion. “Rides inspected 3x/day. Fairgoers- Is the Dept. of Labor doing enough to keep you safe?”
  • When you receive responses, re-tweet the interesting ones. Think of yourself as the host of a call-in talk show. Re-tweeting adds interesting voices to the live event and puts yourself in the position to mediate a conversation between your followers. That’s creating an experience rather than just a story.
  • Invite your readers to ask you questions: -“Petraeus taking questions now. What do y’all want me to ask him?”
  • If you make a mistake, correct it. If it’s an egregious fact error — “Thornburg found guilty of murder!” — delete the original tweet and send out a correction: “CORRECTION: Thornburg found NOT guilty of murder!” Correct anything that alters your audience’s clear understanding of the event. Misspellings and things like that probably don’t merit corrections. If someone has re-tweeted a fact error that you made, be sure to @mention them in your correction so they’ll be more likely to see it and pass it along, too.
  • Tweet photos and (brief) video. Give people a sense that they are going “behind the scenes” with you — that you’re taking them to a place they can’t go.
  • Interview participants and observers. Tweet a photo and a quote of the person. Be sure to @mention them.
  • When you end your live coverage, tell your audience that you’re wrapping up… and they they can go to your website or print publication soon to see your full wrap-up of the event.

After the Event

  • Use Storify to pull together your quotes. Embed the Storify on your site.
  • Follow-up the next day with a moderated live online discussion with one of the event’s participants. Or just allow your readers to ask you questions. Two good tools to use for live discussions on your site are CoverItLive and ScribbleLive.

Live Audio & Video

With UStream, you can turn your iPhone into a broadcast truck. It doesn’t matter whether the event has a huge following or not, imagine that suddenly you don’t just work for the newspaper of record for in your community but also the CSPAN.

If you want to host your own video talk show, try Google Hangouts On Air like Investigative Reporters & Editors has done.

You know you can use your phone as a camera, but you can also use it to record audio interviews and use SoundCloud to publish the audio on The Chronicle or to a podcast. If you want to dramatically improve the quality of your audio, try one of these little microphones that plug into your iPhone. You can also use this free iPhone app to do some pretty nice audio editing right on the phone.

None of these audio and video tools are going to win you an Oscar. They’re the tools you use when the story doesn’t merit a trained videographer.


General Tutorials

Tips for Speeches

Tips for Meetings

Tips for Festivals/Celebrations

Tips for Live Q&A Events on Twitter

The Guardian and Social Reader

One of the more interesting trends to which I’m trying to better understand is the trend away from search-driven referrals to news sites and an simultaneous increase in social-driven referrals.

This morning I had a chance to read the speech that Tanya Cordrey, director of digital development, Guardian News & Media, gave recently at the Guardian Changing Media Summit in London.

She was speaking about the positive effect that The Guardian’s Facebook app launch in September 2011 has had on its audience numbers.

At the time of the launch, Cordrey said, “search represented 40% of the Guardian’s traffic and social represented just 2%.”

  • 4 million people installed the app during the first two months.
  • Another 4 million installed the app over the subsequent four months, for a total of 8 million installs.
  • Of those 8 million installs, an average of 1 million people use the app each week.
  • At least during the first two months, the app was generating 7 million page views per week. (It’s not clear how those page views are counted. We don’t know whether that’s 7-million single-page visits or 1 million seven-page visits. Overall, gets 1.5 page views per visitor each week. The Facebook post also calls the page views from the app “extra” page views, but to prove that we’d need to look at the overall site traffic for The Guardian to see if its bottom-line traffic numbers were up by at least a million. Some might argue that Facebook “cannibalizes” other readership, similar to arguments that online cannibalized print audience. Frankly, to me that distinction matters little as I’d rather eat myself than have someone else eat me. )

Cordrey noted that it was not just the app that was driving social traffic. She said that during the previous six months there were 1.3M average weekly visits to The Guardian that started with a click from Facebook.

See also said that “Facebook drove more traffic to than Google for a number of days, accounting for more than 30% of our referrer traffic,” but be sure to look at the helpful graphic for details of this opaque statement. Note that the claim is backed by a spike in Facebook referrals for a short period of time, as well as a general upward trend of FB referals and downtrend of SEO that is years long. It looks to me like Facebook accounts for about 15 percent of visits to the site.

That’s 15 percent from Facebook alone. Six months ago, traffic from all social media was just 2 percent.

Cordrey also said that “the largest group of users for the Guardian Facebook app are between 18-24”. During the first two months, “over half” of the app users were under 24.

Two other comments that caught my eye:

  • “Content is much more likely to go viral on Facebook when users actively comment on and recommend content rather than just passively reading an article.”
  • “Only a small percentage of people have chosen to [remove a read item from their newsfeed] since we launched.”

Should I Use Twitter Before My Story Is Posted?

Rebecca Putterman, reporter at The Clayton News Star, asked me yesterday whether tweeting bits of reporting as you go along might take away from a story’s potential readership or whet appetites?

The flat answer is that while I’ve heard anecdotes I do not know, but I’m looking for an excuse to conduct some rigorous research into that question. In the meanwhile, here’s how I would think about whether to tweet or not. As in all things, professional judgment is required:

  1. Is the information of immediate use to the audience, especially their safety? (Being useful is not the same as being immediately interesting, although that can also be something to consider.)
  2. Is the tweet a discrete and complete piece of information? Tweets don’t have to tell both sides of the story, but they must be able to stand on their own without further context or explanation. They must have the relevant “who, what, when, where,” but probably not all of those. They almost never have “how” or “why”. (Although that’s just a guess. Another topic that is worthy of research.) Completed actions are probably the most likely pieces of information to be discrete and complete. And assertions by prominent people — “Newt Gingrich just said…” , for example — can certainly be tweeted in some cases, but they require more careful consideration:
    • Avoid tweeting anonymous assertions.
    • Is the assertion from the source about himself or herself? Or is about another person, or something the source purports to have seen?
    • Is the assertion opinion or is it asserted as fact? Assertions of fact require special care.
    • If a fact, how quickly are you likely to be able to confirm to the information with another independent source? Or, if an assertion, how quickly do you expect the other side to respond?
    • How well do you know and trust the source? Have they been truthful in the past? Are they in a position to know?
    • If the assertion turns out to be false, how much damage will be done to the audience? (Your reputation is always damaged if you report incorrect information.)
  3. What is the competitive environment? If you don’t tweet it, is your audience likely to hear the news from a friend or another professional reporter or from the source directly? If you do tweet it, will it tip off competitors or sources and give them the chance to tell the story in an way that may be incomplete or inaccurate before you can get around to writing your own comprehensive article?

When journalists do tweet discrete facts before a full story is fleshed out, they can sometimes do it in ways that add context and whet appetites:

  • Add context — and raise readers’ awareness of missing context — by describing why the fact caught your eye, and what else you plan to report.
  • Invite questions about “tidbits.” Twitter is better if it is a conversation and not a lecture. Questions from readers via Twitter before an article is complete can help make your story more relevant.
  • If a topic has a particularly high level of reader engagement, post that you’ll be offline to write, edit and fact-check your complete story.
  • Tell your followers when and where they can get the complete story: “Film at 11.” (And, of course, deliver on every promise you make.)

‘Fake’ MLK quote small hint at pernicious popularity of lies

Making its rounds on Twitter recently has been a “fake” quote attributed to Martin Luther King: “I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy.”

Some people — most prominently Megan McArdle at The Atlantic — thought it just didn’t sound right.

The problem is that you can’t prove he didn’t say it. A couple of people have tried, and have come up with a good partial explanation. But disproving something you can’t see is nearly impossible. This is a great example of a problem often faced by reporters — a problem that’s becoming even more vexing with the development of social media.

Making its rounds on Twitter recently has been a “fake” quote attributed to Martin Luther King: “I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy.”

Some people — most prominently Megan McArdle at The Atlantic — thought it just didn’t sound right.

The problem is that you can’t prove he didn’t say it. A couple of people have tried, and have come up with a good partial explanation. But disproving something you can’t see is nearly impossible. This is a great example of a problem often faced by reporters — a problem that’s becoming even more vexing with the development of social media. As it turns out, people say a lot of stuff that just isn’t true.

A quick Google search of the quote turns up more than 10,000 results — almost all from Twitter, Tumblr, Blogspot or WordPress posts written since the death of Osama bin Laden. But as I try to teach my journalism students, popularity does not equal accuracy. Ten bad sources aren’t as useful as one good source. Google says that some date as far back as Feb. 1, 2001, but that may be a default date on the Tumblr micro-blogging platform. In any case, date-based search on Google is useless for this effort. (Similar searches on Bing and Technorati were also not effective.)

My favorite explanation, by tech writer Frederic Lardinois, points most of the quote to King’s 1963 book Strength to Love. He found that the one-sentence quote used on Twitter could also be found as part of a longer quote on other social media sites. Most of that quote — but not the first sentence — is directly from Strength to Love. But that first sentence remains a black swan. I can’t prove that King didn’t say it. But I can’t prove that he did. And I can’t figure out where or when in the contemporary digital folklore that the quote originated.  As a recently popular book points out, just because you’ve never seen a black swan doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Europeans had only seen white swans. Until a black one showed up in Australia in 1697.

Taken as an isolated incident he harm from this misquote is pretty abstract. At worst it becomes George Washington’s cherry tree — a story that everyone hears, that has its accuracy questioned, but that cannot be disproved. It muddies our understanding of history and it contributes to a changing narrative that we tell about ourselves, our history and our heroes.

The problem in the era of social media is that these misquotes are rampant and pernicious. Fabricating the words of political nemeses has become an acceptable and common tactic. Check out the archive of fact-checking that has done on fake quotes attributed to a variety of political lightening rods from Sarah Palin to Hillary Clinton. There is a library of fake quotes and fake legislation that gets distributed via e-mail and social networks. They’re complete fiction. It’s bad enough that political leaders — from Sarah Palin to Hillary Clinton — make up stuff all the time and assert it as truth. But it’s as if we’ve suddenly corrupted the value of the First Amendment by acting as if the answer to bad speech is not less speech but more bad speech. Lies are no longer combated by the often difficult-to-ascertain truth, but by more easy-to-fabricate lies.

It’s possible that the person — and it was one person — who decided to “upgrade” the actual King quote with an additional line was unconsciously mashing up King with another speaker. There’s plenty of historical precedent for that practice. Or perhaps she just incorrectly remembered the real quote and didn’t look it up in the book before she posted it to her blog. That happens all the time. I swear my wife told me to get chicken at the store yesterday. She swears she wanted me to get fish.

This happens all the time, and double-checking things that we “know” is probably the hardest habit for my reporting students to acquire. Good reporters — like good scientists — don’t care so much about what you know as they do about how you know what you know. We want to see it. I teach my students that “If your mother says she loves you, check it out” and I play for them a bit of Marvin Gaye — “believe half of what you see, some or none of what you hear.”

The real problem for our nation is the intentional lies that are spread — and spread in a very smart way that adds to the malice of the act. My favorite is the YouTube video that shows Obama talking about “my Muslim faith.” Here’s the clip…. and here’s the whole clip. The 12-second clip — both totally accurate and totally incomplete — has been viewed nearly a million times. The full clip has been seen nearly two million times. But how many looked for the second after watching the first?

With the advent of democratic media distribution anyone can report what they see and hear. But who will look at the world around them and wonder what is unseen? And who will take the time not just to doubt, but to check it out?

Article Comments Are Alienated Experience

Jaron Lanier, one of the pioneers of virtual reality, once kindly said — I guess — that I often use when thinking about or speaking about online journalism: “Information is alienated experience.” A blog post from one of my students at UNC has done a nice job recording an anecdote from the 2010 Online News Association conference that I think brings into focus the role of comments as form of alienated shared experiences.

Michelle Cerulli, a second-year MA student, told me this story and I encouraged her to blog about it. The short version is this: While attending a session about article comments, she watched a mild-mannered man use Twitter to quietly excoriate one of the speakers. This man didn’t stand up and confront or question the speaker in person. Instead he used this virtual soapbox to disagree with her — in what Michelle described to me as incredibly rude terms — about the role of comments on online news articles.

What was his beef with NPR ombudsman Alicia Shepard? She was saying that online comments tended to be more vitriolic than you hear in “the real world.” His words on Twitter said that Shepard was wrong. But his behavior said that she was dead on. And, according to Michelle, he appeared to be oblivious to the irony.

And while this story so far might seem to some a perfect set-up for a conclusion in which I rail against online comments, that’s not where I’m heading. Online comments are important because it is there that our collective id gets revealed. Many of us reveal in anonymous or pseudonymous comments our fears and hopes n ways that most of us would deny if we were ever confronted with them. Online comments show how us — or at least some non-representative sample of us — experience the world in a way that we alienated from ourselves and the polite company around us.

And that unfiltered id — that alienated experience — is a happy hunting ground for a reporter who hopes to more clearly explain to his readers our increasingly complicated and interconnected world. The problem with comments is not that they are mean. The problem is that there are too few people mining them for hidden hopes and fears and too few people willing to patiently ask probing questions of the crowd.

More and more news organizations are hiring “social media producers.” I hope they’re given the challenge of not just distributing the news to the crowd, but also diving into it and finding individuals who are able to articulate why they’re much more scared, angry or jealous than they are willing to admit in a room full of their peers.

Twitter Fundraising: Lessons I Learned

One of the reasons I remain bullish on social media and the read/write web is my continued hope is that it will lead to an increasing diversity of voices as well as a renewed sense of personal ownership of the First Amendment. So when UNC’s celebration of First Amendment Day rolled around last week, it was a good opportunity for me to play around with Twitter’s capacity to raise money for fun and/or profit.

Continue reading “Twitter Fundraising: Lessons I Learned”

Triple Filtered? That’s Smirnoff Ice. This Is Only a Double Filter.

First of all, I don’t even want to talk to you about this post’s headline. Unless you’re my therapist or in need of SEO consulting.

But I do want to bring you another attempt at headlines I’ve culled from my tech/social filters… and yet still don’t have time to read. Mashable and Romenesko still caught my eye the most this morning, but TechPresident and the PBS/Knight Foundation MediaShift IdeaLab (or whatever that very good site should be called) also added some variety to the mix.

So, without further ado. I filter these to you. Please filter them back to me.
Continue reading “Triple Filtered? That’s Smirnoff Ice. This Is Only a Double Filter.”