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When a Turkish Airlines aeroplane crashed on the runway at Schiphol Airport in February 2009, reporting started with a simple tweet by an eyewitness. Twitter became the first news source of this event. A few newspapers in the Netherlands took the reporting one step further.
They started live blogging using Coveritlive. What was an exception at the time is now a must. Journalism cannot escape live blogging. The final breakthrough came with the Tahrir Square demonstrations in Cairo earlier this year. Coveritlive can not, however, be used for all events. What are the conditions?
First a little background. Coveritlive is a simple application that can be installed on a blog with an embed code. From the front end on the blog, readers can follow the reports on the time line. They can ask questions, give comments, or send files for example pictures. At the back end the blogger or reporter controls the process. He or she starts the reporting by typing messages on the time-line. This setup makes Coveritlive highly interactive and opens the road to real time messaging.
From the console there are lots of possibilities. For example adding photos or video; sending a news flash to the followers of the session; or doing a quick poll. A session on Coveritlive is also open to Twitter, meaning tweets can be published directly.
Adding a webcam is easy, and the followers can see what is happening on location.
Much more sophisticated is using ustream.tv, which gives possibility of adding a video stream to the session, or using Qik, which makes live video footage from a mobile phone possible. Finally to follow the session, you don’t have to sit behind a desktop or laptop; just install the Coveritlive app on your mobile phone.
Generally Coveritlive works best when the news breaks so fast that it does not make sense to start traditional reporting on a website or blog. Good examples of interesting practices of live blogging were the shooting in Norway, a couple of months ago, or the tsunami in Japan. Dutch national newspaper NRC- Handelsblad followed the dreadful event in Norway for hours. The recent demonstration and fights in Athens, Greece over the austerity measures put in place by the EU, were covered live by the same newspaper. The riots in the UK over the European summer, covered by the Guardian, are another example. Disasters are not the only topics worth covering — sports events are also a perfect avenue for live blogging.
The most important condition for live blogging is that there must be a straight, uninterrupted stream of messages. Every few minutes there should be an update, long breaks or uninteresting messages are killing the session. The opposite is also true, if the news and messages go too fast, followers will give up. They lose oversight about what is going on.
The public contribution aspect also makes Coveritlive more interesting. Comments are fine, sending pictures even better, but live imports from a certain location using Twitter or Qik are best. So a live stream of text and multimedia is essential. A session should not become the minutes of a meeting.
Of course, the traditional newsroom is very hesitant about form of reporting. Is it true and credible? The blogger behind the console tries to check with help from colleagues in the newsroom. But you are never sure. Live blogs explicitly declare, therefore, that not everything is 100% true. If they are wrong they will correct immediately. Crowdsourcing to check the information is a possibility too, but this presupposes the session has a number of followers willing to take up that role.
Under these conditions Coveritlive is an interesting tool for reporting, and a step towards citizen reporting. Newspaper readers appreciate these live sessions. The page views are high, and the views of traditional articles on the same subject dropped, reported NRC-Handelsblad. The BBC, for instance, did a live blog on the death of Muammar Gaddafi and it was first on the list of the news organisation’s “Most Popular” stories.
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