Universiteit Leiden

nl en

How live bloggers balance speed and credibility

PhD candidate Sebastiaan van de Lubben has written live blogs about Leiden politics. But how do you go about covering an event while it unfolds? ‘You don’t have time to think while you’re at it.’ Much proved to be unknown about this relatively new journalistic genre.

Live blogs are hugely popular, with journalists and the public alike. The genre is an easy way to provide quick updates on a developing news event. Despite its popularity, there is also much criticism because how reliable is information about an ongoing event? Can journalists provide credible information so quickly? And how do they deal with these uncertainties?

For his research Van der Lubben interviewed live blogging journalists and scrutinised several live blogs. He discovered that live bloggers are constantly making decisions about the relevance and reliability of information. ‘If you are breaking news, you have to quickly decide what you do and do not include. You have a short time to decide whether information is relevant. Then you also have to assess how credible the information is. Are you sure that it is true?’

If information is relevant but uncertain, live bloggers justify sharing it in the language they use. ‘They mainly cite formal sources and only use eyewitnesses if more of them have seen the same thing. They explain that the information has not yet been confirmed but may prove very important. Or they ascribe the uncertainty to a source, by clearly stating who provided the information.’

Live blogs during coronavirus pandemic

Van der Lubben also researched why people read live blogs at the start of the coronavirus pandemic. ‘Previous studies have shown that people initially follow more news during a crisis, only to avoid it after a while because continuing to follow uncertain news can be detrimental to their mental health. But during the pandemic, a select group started to consume more news because they wanted to remove their uncertainty. In my PhD research, we saw that a group of around 12 per cent of the news consumers surveyed continued to consult live blogs for information on COVID-19. That surprised us. What I wondered was why people do so with a fairly uncertain medium like a live blog. You would think it would be better to choose a journalistic genre that offers more certainty.’

News junkies

This group is also referred to as ‘news junkies’, people who are addicted to news. ‘This group consumes a lot of news and is critical of its quality. But despite this criticism, they continue to take the “shots” offered by live blogs. Following the news becomes a routine, with users repeatedly checking the same apps.’

Lessons for journalists

What is the main lesson for journalists from his dissertation? ‘If you use a certain genre, such as a live blog, you should keep checking whether you are meeting your audience’s expectations’, says Van der Lubben. ‘Live blogs are easy to make and are often among the best-read articles, but many media organisations never evaluate them, which is a shame. Live blogs can attract 1.5m visitors in a day. You can learn useful lessons by regularly talking to your readers, particularly the readers of live blogs.’

Live blog readers are ‘almost professional journalists’

Live blog readers are ‘almost professional journalists’, says Van der Lubben. ‘They are going to find any mistakes, so you have to deliver the news as factually as possible. They will want to know why you have or haven’t used a particular source. Talk to these followers, ask about their expectations and explain why you have made certain choices. That is valuable extra information for readers.’

Regional radio

After his PhD, Van der Lubben wants to research the establishment of regional broadcasters. ‘In my PhD research, I tried, via the contents, to link creators to the users of live blogs. I’m now going to look at creators, content and communities in regional radio. Regional journalism is the best journalism there is: you are in the middle of the community. If you get it wrong, you’ll have the butcher at your desk tomorrow. That’s only possible with regional journalism where you are in contact with your target audience. Everyone always looks at De Groene Amsterdammer and De Volkskrant but I think it would be really boring to work there: you’re at a great distance from your audience. You can quote me on that.’

Sebastiaan van der Lubben was previously an internet journalism lecturer on Leiden University’s Master’s in Journalism and New Media. He is now a lecturer and researcher at the Journalism Lab at the University of Applied Sciences Utrecht.

Text: Tom Janssen
Banner photo: Unsplash/Brian McGowan

This website uses cookies.