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Sep 27 / Tim Wood

Live blogging: What it is and how to do it

Floyd Mayweather Jr. vs Victor Ortiz, Sept. 17, 2011.

Floyd Mayweather Jr. vs Victor Ortiz, Sept. 17, 2011.

A live blog is a running commentary on an event in motion. It is one of the handful of writing formats that Bleacher Report uses to create interaction with our readers.

If print media answers the question, “What happened?”, then live blogging, if used correctly, answers, “What’s happening?” But too often, live blogging sporting events is abused and misused.

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There is an art to every format we use at Bleacher Report, but none more than the live blog. Done right, a live blog can be your ticket to a loyal following on B/R, because the live blog is the spot where you can most spotlight your personality.

You’re keeping readers up to date on the event, but more importantly, you’re giving the reader the feeling of watching it with you at a sports bar. You’re the buddy for the reader to interact with, so perspective and variety are two keys to keeping your readers interested.

Here are some best practices, tips and tricks for perfecting this art form.

GETTING STARTED

Create a headline and write the introduction text to your live blog.

In most cases at Bleacher Report, the main headline will come from your editor. If you are doing a live blog on your own and want to do everything to ensure it gets traffic, make sure the headline keywords—the words before the colon in the headline—are search-optimized for the event or game.

For events, the best general advice is to add the year to your event name, such as “British Open 2011.” For game live blogs, use the nicknames of both teams, such as “Heat vs. Celtics.” Include “Live Blog” as part of the keywords.

Use descriptive words like “Live Updates,” “Analysis” and “Instant Reaction” to describe what your live blog will cover.

Examples:

NFL Draft 2010 Live Blog: Results, Pick-By-Pick Analysis and Reaction

Saints vs. 49ers Monday Night Football: Live Reaction to Game’s Biggest Stories

INTRO TEXT

The first mistake many live bloggers make is not paying enough attention to the introduction text. It is the first words that most readers will see when they click on your live blog. So keeping this text as fresh as possible is important.

You’ll likely be asked to start your live blog hours ahead of the event. The perspective you can give at 2 p.m. for an 8 p.m. game is different than what you can provide at 7:30 p.m. as more folks start focusing on the game.

You always want your intro text to stay relevant. That means updating the text often—before, during and after the event. If your text says, “Stay tuned as we get ready for the tip” when the game is in the second quarter, your live blog will seem dated before readers even start to read it. After the event is completed, the intro text should be rewritten to serve as more of a recap of the event.

Tip: B/R editors Adam Hirshfield and Allen Kim both point out that a simple way to enhance your live blog is to add scoring updates at the bottom of the intro text throughout the event.  Add goals in soccer or the top 5 of the leaderboard in golf. Put the latest big plays and frequent score updates in NFL live blogs.

Self-editing is essential: Live blogs are not monitored automatically by editors. It is vitally important that you check, double-check and triple-check spelling and grammar on every post before hitting “Publish.” The simplest spelling error will ruin the legitimacy of your live blog. Learning to be your own best editor will instantly boost your credibility.

FORMATTING BASICS

The biggest comment from B/R veterans and executives when it comes to how to make your live blog stand out? Learn to be obsessive when it comes to bolding key text.

From the reader’s perspective, this gives your audience a sense of where the most important moments are in your blog.

From a design point of view, it makes your live blog look more professional. And with B/R writer tools, it’s as easy as clicking the bold button in your Microsoft Word program. Bolding text is one of those attention-to-detail basics that will instantly make your live blog stand out.

What text needs bolding? Score updates, draft picks, fight results, round-by-round scores for a fight and any key happenings in general that you want to draw the reader’s eye toward.

Examples:

43′, USA 1 France 0 (Weinbach goal 22′): Rampone launches a free kick straight into Sapowicz’s hands. Good to test her, she doesn’t always catch when she should.”

Round 8, Mayweather vs Hopkins (Projecting 37 to 32, Mayweather): Mayweather endures a flurry of jabs, but shows no ill effect.”

Round 1, Pick 15: New York Knicks – Iman Shumpert: A bit of a reach with a lot of available centers left …”

WRITING BASICS

One of the biggest questions from first-time live bloggers involves word count. How much should you write?

There’s no steadfast rules here. The briefer the better, because you want to be able to keep up with the action.

Use the commercial breaks and between quarters or periods as the spots where you spout off longer posts.

Try to mix up word counts as much as possible. A five-word post isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as long as you’re saying something with those words.

Example:

Manning interception. Worst. Read. Ever.”

Use the intermissions between quarters or periods to throw out stats. Use halftime as a chance to give perspective on what you’ve seen so far.

Don’t sign off your live blog the minute the game ends. Give a breakdown of what happened and what the results mean for the teams involved. Look ahead to the team’s next games. Break down fantasy impact or your thoughts on the best fantasy moves based on the game.

The more interaction you can foster, the better. Ask open-ended questions related to the game for your readers to answer in the comments section.

Even better, encourage your readers to ask questions that you then highlight and answer in the live blog. B/R success story Nathaniel Uy built up a substantial following among fantasy football fanatics by employing this simple strategy.

Readers love seeing their name in lights. Moreover, it creates a one-on-one personal connection between reader and writer that is crucial for writers to build their personal brand. It’s no coincidence that Bill Simmons’ mailbag columns are among his most-read work. You’re singling out your audience members, letting them know you pay attention to their needs and give them what they’ll deem as insider information with your answer.

KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE

The reader who prefers the live blog is likely watching the game right along with you. What does that mean for you?

Don’t regurgitate what you see. Assume that your audience is seeing it, too. They’re coming to you for a unique take on what they saw. You should be more color commentator than play-by-play announcer.

Whether it’s a controversial call or an I-can’t-believe-what-I-just saw winning moment, your best route is to put your spin on the event.

Plus, they’re looking for the full experience. Talk about things such as the fans at the event, the broadcasters, the weather, the uniforms, music playing at the arena, the commercials playing during the telecast. Be rooted in the on-field events, but don’t be afraid to go wherever you want to take the live blog.

Don’t recap each play. Many people are watching/listening to the game as they read the live blog. They’re looking for analysis, humor, insights … the blog works best as a supplement, not as a replacement for the broadcast.

Dylan McNamara, B/R NFL Deputy Editor

There will be some who are looking to you as their first line of information on a game or event. For that reason, the best blogs we’ve seen on the site mix in pertinent identifiers throughout their running commentary.

In TV and radio announcer training, you’re told to constantly update time and score. With live blogging, we’re not looking for constant. But peppering your updates with basic information creates a context for the reader to keep up or catch up.

Example:

Packers up, 23-20, 6:30 to go in the third. Should be Packers, 53-20, but Rodgers has been the football equivalent of Will Ferrell in ‘Bewitched.’”

There will also be plenty who come to your blog immediately after the big play to get your take on what happened or to see if you agree or disagree with their take. The best live bloggers will be able to identify in the moment if they’ve just seen a key spot in the game and “break it out” a bit—spend a little more time on that play to give proper perspective.

Your biggest successes with live blogging will come by achieving the tricky balance between basics, commentary and personality.

For me the key is to treat a live blog like you’re watching an event with your buddies. Keep the recapping to an absolute minimum, and instead offer up whatever thoughts are running through your head when you watch, i.e. the kind of stuff you’d say to your friends during an event. Jokes, insights, random musings, etc. I even like to make fun of the commercials.

I treat a live blog like somebody is checking it out as they watch whatever is going on as well. If you get too bogged down in the details of what’s happening, like you’re explaining it to someone who isn’t watching, it gets boring and stale. Have fun with it. I can go pretty much anywhere to find out what’s happening, but I’ll stick around in a live blog if it shows some personality.

Matt King, B/R expert blogger

Don’t be afraid to riff on the “color” of the game—great shot of the cheerleaders, a guy in the stands with no shirt on a 13-degree day, reaction to something idiotic (or insightful) that an announcer says. This all falls into the personality component that will make your live blog unique.

Have fun. Be a fan as much as you can, but be an equal-opportunity commentator. If you come off as a homer for one team or the other, prepare to be called out by your readers.

Don’t be afraid to take stances and offer up opinions. The bulk of the folks looking to your live blog want supplementary coverage that takes their game-viewing experience to another level. That means making them laugh, think and feel informed with water-cooler nuggets that make them sound like experts in the office the next day.

ABOVE AND BEYOND

Variety of media will also make your live blog have that above-and-beyond feel.

What does this mean?

Add photos to your live blog. You have access to the Getty Images archive simply by clicking “Add Photo” in the live blog updates.

Add videos. This could include video of crucial plays from earlier in the game that have been posted on YouTube. Or it could include video of topics that come up during the game. For example, Wes Welker’s press conference referencing Rex Ryan’s foot fetish came up often during the 2010 Divisional Playoff showdown. The video of the press conference went viral. Bloggers included the video link in blogs when they referenced the issue to give the reader a point of reference.

Use Twitter in your live blog. It’s another way to create more of a conversational feel. Bring in what other media experts are saying about the game or the key moments as launching off points for your own opinions. B/R prefers the TweetDeck player to view Twitter. Ask your editor for a TweetDeck tutorial and for access to the B/R media experts feed on TweetDeck. This feed includes the top sports experts on Twitter and can be an invaluable resource to reference in your live blog.

Weave Bleacher Report article links into your narrative. Point readers to both your own stories and other B/R stories that will give more perspective on a player, team or issue. You’ll make friends among your fellow B/R writers linking out to their articles, but more importantly, you’ll give the reader the most informed stances as possible. Don’t think of it as directing folks away from your blog. You’re simply supplementing their experience with longer reads. More often than not, they’ll save those links to read once they’re through with your live blog.

BEST PRACTICES

Here’s a starter kit of some of the best recent examples of live blogs to give you proven examples of what’s worked on B/R.

* 2011 NBA Finals coverage by NBA featured columnist Andy Bailey: Here and here.

* 2011 NBA Draft coverage from budding draft guru Max Minsker

An older example of live blogging from NFL Deputy Editor Dylan McNamara that serves as a great example of how to mix up comedy and commentary.

* Neri Stein captured the excitement around the 2011 Women’s World Cup final:

* One of the all-time favorites among many B/R staffers: Live blogging “The Decision” by Matt King

Note for B/R writers: We’re having some technical difficulties with the live blog tool at the moment. We’re working on it and should have it fixed shortly.

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Tim Wood is Bleacher Report’s Trends and Traffic Optimization Editor. He leads a team of instant analysis writers who write about breaking news and trends. Email him here, follow him on Twitter at @TimWood_BR.

  • Dallisonian

    Thanks for posting this, Tim. I enjoyed live blogging the Packers/Bears game this past Sunday….it has almost 3,000 reads at this point! Integrating reader comments is something I’d like to try out next time.

  • http://www.smartphonehc.com David Lynn

    Is live blogging something only certain people can do? I don’t see anywhere to do one in my profile.

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  • Talltree

    is there a way to watch old blogs from the past that you missed?

    • King_Kaufman

      Any live blog that’s run on Bleacher Report should still be there for you to read. Search for the event and “live blog” and Bleacher Report and you should find it.