Monday, May 7, 2012

Could this be the future style of newspaper reporting?

We have used live blogging for breaking news before, but I've never used it for entertainment reporting. Last week, I brought my iPhone and iPad to the NoBo Nite Out, a first Friday artwalk event, and live Tweeted pics and tidbits from the event. Then I Storify-ed them all together, updating live onto our website. I was super stoked to try this new kind of reporting. Enough to say "super stoked." That's extreme.

Then a few hours before the launch, I got nervous and began second-guessing my ability to pull this off. (In hindsight, that's how you know you're about to enter Learning And Growth Mode.) What if I couldn't figure out the technology? What if the story turned out like a big vomit of words and frantic, forced journalism? What if I accidentally pressed the "self-destruct" button and murdered the whole world wide web?

That's when I remembered a piece of advice from my most excellent editor, Dave, who incidentally also used to be a stand-up comedian. (Surprisingly useful in this field.) He said his training in the very, very cheap and fast world of comedy taught him this:

Less editing, more planning.

In other words: 

1. Create a plan, even if it's just a mental timeline. Picture what you want to Storify to look like. I wrote my ideal timeline on a sticky note (which I immediately lost, but I didn't need it anyway). I researched enough online to know a few studios and special features I wanted to capture.

2. Try to shoot (or in this case, Tweet) only what you are going to use in the end. Prioritize. This makes the Storify process easier. Minimizes editing/compiling. Saves time.

3. Make changes as necessary. The timeline is going to be the skeleton. Whatever pops up on site is your flava. Roll with it. In my case, my husband had to work late and I ended up having an unexpected junior reporter on hands: my 2-year-old daughter, Bettie Anne. She led me to a new youth studio, Tinker, which turned out to be the most interesting part of my Storify. 

My chocolate-smeared assistant. From an outsider's perspective, I was just a distracted mom pushing my sugar-filled kid in a stroller while I texted the whole time. But REALLY I was a high-tech, cutting-edge modern journalist. Beware! 

Along these lines, I think you have to always expect something to go wrong, and be prepared enough to work around it. My Twitter wouldn't upload on my iPad for magical reasons. Wireless was down. I accidentally deleted part of my Storify. Deal with it. 

Other lessons learned hard: 

* It is awkward live-Tweeting from your cell phone, because you look like you're just being an inattentive jerk sexting your boyfriend. It does not lead to a very professional air. 

* I found it challenging to write longer paragraphs in the Storify app itself. I actually sneaked a piece of Real Paper and  Pen (an ancient device that you can find in some museums, on exhibit near the Gutenberg Press), and I had to write it out there first, and then type it into Storify. Cheater.

* I definitely don't think this is my highest quality of writing. I will need a significant mental shift before I can be as clever as a comedian on the spot. 

* This experience did make me realize the extreme value in this kind of reporting -- beyond anything TV or radio can offer. In 10 years, I wonder if this is how all reporting (print and broadcast) will be done. And He Who Thinkith Quickest On The Spot wins. (See lessons from the comedian boss above.) 

Bottom line: 

There are many opinions on the best way to live Tweet and "instant report." 
Some prefer the machine-gun approach, shooting pictures of everything and picking the faves for an after-the-fact Storify. Some think you can create a more intentional and effective Storify if you compile it after you report, not blurring the two. As for me, I'm going with the stand-up comedy route. With lots of practice. And no more fear of a live audience.

Wondering how I did on my first instant news project? Check out my NoBo Nite Out coverage here and let me know how badly you think I bombed it:

View from inside my Storify.

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