Jun 24, 2008

how to avoid a liveblogging scandal

Recently a Lakewood councilman came under fire for liveblogging during a city meeting.
Lakewood City Councilman Walter Neary’s blog, Neary-Sighted, tells readers about items city leaders will discuss at the next meeting. He also has posted photos of community events.

But over the past three weeks, Neary’s practice of blogging up-to-the-minute accounts of what people say during public meetings has met criticism from residents. They say the two-term elected leader isn’t giving the public his undivided attention.
A typical Neary observation, compliments of his blog:
As I sit here on the council dais tonight, we're beginning to hear from a stream of parents during our open public comment period. (The comments were continuing as I posted this at about 8:15 p.m.) The parents are concerned with how the Clover Park School Board appointed a new superintendent.

The whole issue is extremely complex, but surely the matter will not go away. A high school student got up and told us that her class could not finish a college prep history test ... a test they were preparing for all year ... because they did not have the proper books. More to the point about administration, a parent read from district emails that were disclosed as part of a public records act request. She read from an email in which a board member wrote that the board had made a point about keeping superintendent matters out of email where comments would have to be disclosed to the public.
As a result, Kathi Loverin wrote,
“He was too busy ‘being a reporter’ and writing to this group of people telling them how they need to get involved rather than listening to the very people who are involved. I find it very disturbing that he would begin writing right in the middle of their comments session.”
Neary has his defenders as well, including blog neighbor Emmett O'Connell:
Look Lakewood, you're lucky to have a city-councilman that takes this so seriously that he blogs about it. First, learn some basic civics. Second, blog back at Neary.

That he was blogging what you were talking about tells me that he was actually taking you very seriously, he found what you were saying interesting and that he thought other people should hear about it. [emphasis in original]
Responding to O'Connell, Neary says that he'll give up liveblogging because it's just too "novel" for the masses.

I've done a few liveblogs in my day, and I have a few tips for any liveblogging novice.

1. Show up early. Find a vantage point that'll give you a good view of the situation. Maybe a corner in the back, where you won't be in the way of those who came to speak. Also, you can take notes on the environment, for the full you-are-there experience.

2. Bring digital recording devices. A $30 voice recorder is essential: it helps ensure you get the quotes right, and that you can review the meeting (played back at a faster rate, natch) for those moments where you might miss something because you're busy typing. Bring a camera, too. Visuals add color and depth to your piece, and there's no guarantee the newspaper will bring a photographer.

3. Practice by liveblogging something on TV. I find that liveblogging actually increases my attentiveness, but only after I've learned how to type and listen at the same time, and which quotes to pull, and which can be ...'ed away. (I suppose it would've helped if I'd taken more journalism classes.) Don't do a true liveblog until you've practiced at least three times.

4. Post every ten minutes. This facilitates your summarizing. You don't have to write down everything, just the important and non-boring things. And there will be boring things; it is a meeting, after all.

5. Limit your editorializing. Save most of your analysis for your closing thoughts. Keep your live-opinionating pithy.

I'm with Emmett: liveblogging, if done right, shows you actually care, and should be encouraged. But it has to be done right.

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