How to Liveblog Events with a Team | MIT Center for Civic Media

How to Liveblog Events with a Team

(or, The Six-handed Liveblog)

three people typing

When Nathan and Matt joined the Center for Civic Media in the fall of 2011, each had significant blogging experience. But we were to serve under Ethan Zuckerman and Sasha Costanza-Chock. Zuckerman is co-author of Tips for Livebloggers with Bruno Giussani, and he fervently believes in liveblogging all events. Sasha Costanza-Chock, a long time media activist, is also passionate about live, collaborative note-taking.

The Center hosts several public events each week, from guest lunches to evening forums to special events, and Ethan and Sasha quickly established a strong norm of liveblogging these events. Which is to say, they made it clear that we weren't just expected to attend these events, but to blog them. (They help. Sometimes.)

Liveblogging collaboratively, though certainly stressful on days with three different events, has a number of benefits. It produces artifacts of meetings with great people, it documents the work they're doing, sometimes in ways they haven't had the opportunity to, and it greatly expands the audience of a given event from those who could be in the room in Cambridge, MA, to anyone following our blog or our Twitter feed. People have even begun watching us liveblog events as passive participants in our Etherpad. Sometimes our liveblogging complements a streaming video of the event, with Etherpad lurkers watching the transcript unfold in realtime.

Like so many things in life, liveblogging benefits from collaboration. We've found three people - six hands - to be the ideal liveblogging team. Each person assumes a loosely-defined role, which prevents the frustrating experience of writing over one another's sentences and wasting valuable time.

We liveblog using Etherpad, a light weight, open source software application that allows collaborative document editing through a web browser. For people who don't want to run their own Etherpad server, PiratePad offers a way to try Etherpad without installing a server - just click on the friendly frog and you'll be given a PiratePad instance you can use.

It's possible to collectively liveblog using Google Docs as well, or countless other web-based text editors.

Once we start an Etherpad for an event, we share the link with other livebloggers in the room, to see if they want to help. Etherpad's included chat window allows us to discuss what role each participant will take. Otherwise, whoever's first begins the process by becoming "transcriber".

The 6-hand liveblogging roles are:

Transcriber - This person takes on the bulk of the task of capturing what the speaker(s) are saying in real-time, as faithfully as possible. Mapping a speaker's verbal speech to text isn't always exact transcription, though. The transcriber's job can include paraphrasing a particularly convoluted sentence or adding emphasis and clarifications implied by tone of voice. Often the transcriber will attempt to capture literal quotes, designating them as such in the text. We also videotape many of our events, and have found that denoting the timestamp of key quotes helps the video editors put together a compelling summary video.

Linkhound - This person has the job of searching around for relevant links to the projects the speaker mentions offhand, as well as the original sources of studies and quotations, all without interrupting the speaker. This person is also free to add nice-to-have information like Twitter handles and cellphone photos of the event. Depending on content, this role may be deeply involved, or lightweight enough that the Linkhound can post occasional quotes to Twitter, reaching a broader audience.

Polisher & Narrative Threader - This person pays attention to the overall theme of the talk, even when a speaker doesn't clearly establish a theme. They will usually start at the beginning of the mass of text the transcriber has provided, and work their way down the document. Their job is to transform the transcription into a cohesive, well-framed argument fit for a blog post. They may provide further context, trim down extraneous paragraphs, and otherwise finalize the transcription into a document someone not at the event might actually be interested in reading. The poilisher often works 10-20 minutes behind the transcriber, so she's not writing over the transcriber.

With more hands, other roles are possible:

Livetweeter - While some people are willing to follow an event via an Etherpad, and others will wait to read a blogpost, some like to discover the discussion via Twitter. A fourth participant could take responsibility for capturing pithy quotes and short talk summaries and posting them to Twitter. A livetweeter sometimes helps the transcriber by catching quotes she might have missed.

Factchecker - If you're blogging a political speech - or one where the speaker is making dubious claims - an optional role could be factchecking statements made. Note that this will change the document you're writing from a straight account of the event to one that attempts to untangle and verify the speaker's statements. Some bloggers prefer to fact-check in their post - others deliniate between the speaker's assertions and the blogger's research, factchecking or reactions.

This post was written with Ethan Zuckerman. Keyboard photos by digitalshay, colemama, and striatic.