The first, unwritten rule of journalism is: be prepared, and bear in mind who you are writing for. Needless to say, this applies when liveblogging journalism festivals too.
This is the most precise advice I can give after my hectic experience covering the Glocal12 j-festival in Varese, Italy, the country’s first online journalism festival dedicated to local journalism, online community management and digital news. As an external media partner of the event, Rock Content (personified for the occasion by… me) provided the liveblog in Italian of the whole kermesse.
If the liveblog of the event is screened in real time within the conference area (as it happened in Varese), the question to be asked in order to draw a coherent editorial strategy is:
am I writing for those who cannot attend the festival and are biting their nails from home? Or for the lucky ones who got a seat in the room? Or, instead, am I writing for the panelists and their moderators, checking out the screen every now and then, hungry for questions and/or inputs from the audience?
In short, who is going to watch that screen, and why. As it often happens, the answer is: all of the above.
There are also a couple of other factors that need to be taken into account: a) How busy is the festival schedule? b) How many people the social media team can count on? But, most of all, what they will be busy with?
Glocal12 featured three general theoretical meetings opened to the public, 16 closed-doors roundtables for journalists, 8 workshops, J-labs for students, evening happenings such as theatre shows and concerts, networking lunches/aperitivi and the National assembly of the local Association of Online Media.
Most of the social media task force was busy managing Twitter – in Italy it is still “the next big thing”, even though things are evolving fast – while few of them had to deal with the YouTube channel and with other things (such as, writing articles for the web publication sponsoring the event, VareseNews).
Only a young j-intern with no previous experience in liveblogging was assigned to the task of liveblogging the event with me.
Too much for just two people? Yes, indeed. But with a wise use of the liveblogging tools available, both ubiquity and the ability of speaking to different audiences at the same time became a reachable utopia.
Here’s how we managed to nail it.
1. Create separate events for each of the locations in which the festival will take place. Alternatively, assign each relevant talk to a different liveblog. Promote your whitelabel index page as the main, landing port: people could then choose which room to join according to their tastes.
2. Find out from the festival’s organisers what is their policy regarding images/videos/audio files taken from the Internet: you don’t want to get in trouble for nicking a copyright-protected picture without legal permission.
3. Create a Twitter list: what you need to do is creating an event called ‘Tweets of the festival’ (or similar), and start following all the relevant Twitter accounts/hashtag in automatic. Needless to say, you won’t need to attach this Twitterbot to any template. The next step is to syndicate this Twitter event into the others, at your convenience: it will work as a sort of shadow event, being there for you to fill the void of your coverage. Once the talk you are liveblogging starts, just ‘remove’ it from the main event (you can do that from the syndication settings) to have full control of the incoming Twitter stream through manual search.You can do the same with any feed, perhaps from Instagr.am or Flickr.
4. Prepare longer posts (the Advanced Content Module is really handy) in advance, containing short bios and pics of the speakers of the day, plus summaries of the talks’ subjects. It will be of use for both the home audience and the festival one: those waiting in the conference room can get some important background info on the people they are about to listen to, and those seated comfortably at home will get to know what’s on at the festival right away.
5. As panelists are speaking, highlight their main points with catchy images taken from allowed sources on the Internet. A instant, graphic visualisation of the concept – perhaps re-assessed in the caption – helps your followers to better concentrate on the speakers’ words without risk of losing the plot. Needless to say, if you use quotation marks, make sure that you’re getting the quote correctly.
6. Foster the conversation: include relevant Tweets or comments from readers, and don’t forget to make a call for questions at the end of each panelist’s intervention. People can interact with the liveblog via email, Twitter, SMS, voicemail, comments on the website (even anonymous ones) or discussions on individual threads: you just need to let them know about all the options available. Pin the wittiest contribution or the most provocative questions at the top of the liveblog so the debate’s moderators can spot them right away and be grateful to you forever.
7. Sum up what the main speakers said at the end of the talk. Round-ups are useful to everyone: the speakers themselves can double-check if they were able to get the message through correctly; people leaving the conference room have something to chew upon while walking off, and people at home can spot right away whether they missed something important. As Zuckerman and Giussani put it, “you don’t need to transcribe the whole talk, you need to capture the gist of it. A 20-minutes talk can often be summarized in a 20-lines post. Finally, it fills up the screen for people during the walking-away lull.
8. Have some emergency material ready in case your Internet connection is down, or you run into any sort of technical problem: screenshot a picture like this one … and explain what the problem is. But don’t forget to tell the audience the liveblog will be up and running shortly!
9. Between one talk and the next one, you can either put a funny image to highlight the fact that everyone is on a break (including the liveblogger, who surely needs a coffee), or switch on the Twitter syndication. Tweets will start pouring in automatically – you just have to let people know they are watching a Twitterbot now. This is how I did it.
Remember that pictures uploaded automatically from Flickr, or videos taken from the official festival channel (i.e. via a Youtube account) are a good ice-breaker, and do fill the gap between talks pretty well!
10. A useful one by Zuckerman and Giussani: collaborate with the rest of the liveblogging team. “You can divide up the speeches to write about; or one can blog mostly in pictures and another interview the speakers during breaks, etc. Cross-link to one an- other — it gives your reader the chance to see.” And remember, don’t be afraid of repeating key concepts. “Never assume that readers have already read what you’ve written earlier.”
11. Put the liveblog in Scribble’s Marketplace and syndicate it with all the media properties around the world interested in receiving the amazing brainstorm produced at the J-festival. Most certainly, being a journalism festival, you can invite speakers and the panelist at the conference to have the liveblog of their talks running on their publications’ websites too – quite an appealing catch! If they work for publications which are not yet Rock Content clients, they can still embed the liveblog on their websites simply by coping and pasting an iframe code.
With these few tricks and the assistance of an amazing platform, liveblogging a journalism festival has never been so easy, proven by David – the afore-mentioned young intern with no previous experience in liveblogging. On his second day, he was already doing it like a pro, and during his third and last day he was even interviewed as liveblogging expert during a workshop!
(as his amazed tweet witnesses…)