Using Twitter to provide live coverage from an event is so popular largely because it’s so simple. You don’t even need a web-enabled phone to do it, so long as the phone you’re texting from is connected to your Twitter account.
However, that means you have a rather one-way conversation – you’re broadcasting, in a way the media always has. But simply using the an app or mobile internet to access Twitter to live tweet from an event doesn’t guarantee a two-way conversation.
Often, newsrooms encourage reporters to live tweet from an event because it’s a simply and effective way to get the updates back into a liveblog powered by the likes of Coveritlive and Scribblelive, or one of the increasingly common purpose-built live-blogging solutions publishers have.
That’s fine as far as it goes – but it’s still missing a trick. We can report live, or we can go a step further and make the audience part of the event we’re covering. As a rule, we can’t feed back what they’re saying to the event – if it’s council meeting, football match, court case and so on – but we can make our coverage the centre of a discussion.
The best way to describe what I’m talking about is to show a great example I followed last week. In Greater Manchester, the local NHS is putting itself through yet another wave of reform, under the banner Healthier Together. Type the phrase into Google and you’ll see similar things going on across the country.
It appears to be a typical NHS PR project – with a lot of money thrown at it, but still an inability to speak English: Talk of ‘health outcomes’ (ie will you live), ‘appropriate settings’ (ie right place), ‘not fit for purpose’ (not good enough) and ‘clinical areas’ (types of care) are riddled through the documents.
In Greater Manchester, they’re promising not to close any district general hospitals, but they are talking about specialising services for the whole region into certain hospitals – meaning many people will have to travel further. To many, this is effectively closing district general hospitals because your local hospital is no longer the place where you’re most likely to be treated. The case of footballer Fabrice Muamba – whose cardiac arrest on a football pitch shocked football – has been co-opted into the case for change, as he apparently was taken to the fifth closest hospital to White Hart Lane for treatment because it was a specialist centre. Whether or not he’s given permission for details of his care to be used in this way isn’t clear.
Anyway, it’s against this backdrop that the Bolton News – whose local hospital, the Bolton Royal, is losing 500 staff at the moment – hosted a discussion on the issue with various NHS leaders discussing what it would mean. I followed it via Twitter, and I think it provides a great case study for how to cover an event on Twitter:
Correctly attribute comments and statements:
Repeat the questions being asked at meetings:
Give people all the facts presented:
In this case, we’re at a public consultation event. Assume those following your discussion don’t have all the facts and bring them up to speed quickly.
Ask people what they think during your live coverage. It may feel like a distraction when you are trying to cover an event such as a meeting but it’s a good way to judge the reaction of regular readers which could, in turn, shape how you cover the story later. In the Bolton News’s case, a nurse got in contact to say she supported the idea of specialised services – challenging a union assumption staff were always opposed to change.
Share the reaction you get
Some good retweeting going on here – serving as a reminder that for the talk of new care services, it’s often the basics the NHS is still getting wrong … in this case people talking about parking wardens and being treated in a bad way.
Don’t be afraid to correct earlier tweets
If you realise you’ve made an error, don’t delete the Tweet, correct it with another one. That’s the quickest way to avoid confusion.
Don’t be afraid to call a spade a spade
We’re there to report and hold to account, so if we’re providing commentary lets not muck around if someone waffles and answer which doesn’t answer a question. My experience of covering health is that the NHS are Grade A pupils at the school of say a lot, say nothing PR answers.
Give the audience in the room their voice too
The Bolton News coverage was particularly strong at reflecting on what people in the audience were saying. Often, I see council meetings or consultations with the ‘open questions’ section either overlooked or not given enough emphasis. Reporting these voices is critical. In this case, it goes right to the heart of the NHS reorganisation argument in Greater Manchester – people don’t want an NHS where they could be treated on the other side of the region.
Explain what you’re doing if needs be
At the meeting, the Christie Hospital – which is recognised time and again for providing an excellent service – was criticised by some because it is hard work to get there from parts of Greater Manchester, a real issue if you are undergoing daily radiotherapy. The News reported this and was criticised by one followers for ‘getting it wrong.’ The News made clear they were reporting what was said, not reporting what was said as fact.
For some readers, such live content is a new experience from a newspaper brand.
Share knowledge from your audience
I was particularly impressed by the Bolton News retweeting questions people were asking via Twitter, which were then being answered by the audience on Twitter.
Don’t restrict yourself to 140 characters (rather than trying to cram too much into one Tweet)
The Christie debating point is a good example of an issue which can’t be summed up in 140 characters. Too often, I see reporters trying to cram too much into 140 characters and resorting to strange abbreviations as a result, or worse still, jargon.
Encourage people to keep talking to you
Sticking with the above image, so important to make sure people know you’re going to be staying on top of a story or issue, and the last Tweet does that – telling people they should keep talking.
Don’t forget to wrap things up!
Live coverage is great, but there will always be an audience wanting just a wrap up after the event is over. If you’re pulling your Tweets into a liveblog, make sure you archive it, as well as writing up the final article.
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The one question which I’m not sure of the answer to is whether you should use a brand account or a writer’s account for a live event? If you have no interest in the health event, would the stream of tweets irritate you enough to unfollow them? Should news brands set up ‘live’ accounts for events – in the same way BBC Radio 5 Live directs you to Sports Extra for many live sports event?