Three ways to cover live events online (without clogging my timeline)

The go-to medium for live coverage online seems to be Twitter, and for good reason: It lets journalists get the news out almost immediately, without waiting for reporters and editors to craft a full-on story. It’s especially great for breaking news — though the definition of “breaking news” is sometimes stretched.


This is not breaking, and I’m not sure it’s really even news.

For not-so-breaking news, Twitter can be great or terrible. Live tweets that include commentary or supplementary information can be part of a solid second-screen approach.

But I hate play-by-play on Twitter. All through football season, my timeline was clogged with constant updates on nationally televised games, usually four or five accounts sending nearly identical tweets all day long. It’s likely some users really do appreciate the updates, but I would argue most people who care are already watching the game, so the updates are useless.

I also see the occasional tweet dump from school board meetings, city council meetings, civic award ceremonies and the like — stuff that’s definitely not nationally televised and probably isn’t televised at all. Someone cares about this stuff; that’s why you’re covering it. But, barring an unusually important and contentious meeting, most of your followers don’t need live updates.

“But our readers,” you say, “They want scores! They want quotes! They need more instant content!”

OK. I’m not saying live tweets are bad, but you do have options. Here are three approaches I’d like to see more of.


1. Create Twitter accounts specifically for play-by-play. The only time I’d ever want play-by-play via Twitter would be if I couldn’t access it on television or radio (or online video/audio streams) and if ESPN’s ScoreCenter didn’t have live updates. That means I probably never want FBS college football updates on Twitter, but leaves plenty of opportunity for updates on high school sports, smaller college sports, and less popular sports like volleyball or water polo.
KU Athletics does exactly this with its accounts, including @KUGameday, so fans of a certain team won’t miss a beat while the rest of us avoid being buried under updates we don’t want or need.
You could also do this with local government and education beats. Some of your readers care deeply about this stuff, and they’ll appreciate the account. The rest of your readers will appreciate you sparing them the details of a three-hour meeting to approve contracts.

2. Live chats. Engagement is a silly buzzword I’m hesitant to use, but it’s key to online journalism. Those same people who care enough about city council to follow for live updates may be interested in joining your beat writer to discuss the issues in a live chat.
Taking the discussion off twitter and into a live chat a) drives traffic to your organization’s website, b) eliminates the character limit so reporters can dig into more complicated issues. Readers can ask questions to better understand what’s happening, and their thoughts on the issues may help reporters in their coverage.
The Lawrence Journal-World has used live chats for years to engage the community on any number of issues. They bring in elected officials, community leaders, or experts in a specific field to talk shop with community members who log on.
This stuff works great for sports, too. The reporter or web producer or whoever can give detailed updates for readers who want to know what’s happening, and it’s easy for them to ask clarifying questions or pick the brain of their favorite beat writer. The Eagle hosts a weekly chat with Texas A&M beat writer David Harris and‘s Aubrey Bloom, which have been pretty successful. You can view a replay of one weekly chat here. Or, better yet, you can join them for a live chat at 6 p.m. Thursday during the Florida-Texas A&M men’s basketball game.

This photo from the first of several blasts is by Richard Gwin of the Lawrence Journal-World.

Journal-World photo by Richard Gwin

3. Live video streams. If a Skype call from an iPad is good enough for the BBC, maybe it’s good enough for your website.
Live video drives traffic to your site, adds dimension to your coverage, and — this is important — reduces the number of tweets on my timeline that essentially transcribe an event for the reporter’s notes.
I know you can’t stream everything. Most newsrooms are already trying to do more with less and simply don’t have the equipment or manpower to stream really cool stuff like high school football games, which is a bummer.
But what about press conferences? Award ceremonies? Pep rallies?
The Journal-World posted live video streams of a couple of local bridge demolitions in 2009 and 2010, garnering a million quadrillion hits because we all like watching stuff blow up.


  1. Wonderful insight. I would argue that the intention of Twitter is for the play-by-play approach, but only when a large trending event is in progress. With that said I’ve setup accounts for specific venues just for the purpose of not “clogging” feeds. The issue is with promotion. How do you make certain those who are interested will take the time to follow?


    1. In the case of news outlets, it’s usually enough for the primary account to tweet something like “Hey, follow this other account for updates on this event!” KU Athletics does the same thing when it switches to the KU Gameday account.


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