My ideas for 'breaking news' blogs

Thanks to the Telegraph’s Marcus Warren for pointing out a story on the Online Journalism Review: ‘If you don’t have a breaking news blog ready to go on your website, you should.’ I agree entirely – although I think I disagree on what a ‘breaking news blog’ actually is.

The underlying idea is one I’ve discussed with one major UK ‘news breaker’ already. And in truth, it’s a no-brainer. News homepages and stories are produced on the basis of prioritisation: the most important story or fact comes first. But once you’ve read it, you’re more interested in updates – and it’s immediacy rather than importance which dictates your degree of interest.

But the examples quoted – such as the LA Times ‘breaking news blog’ – just aren’t what I had in mind. Most of the entries read like extracts or sidebars from a fuller (and typically stuffy) newspaper story. The definition of ‘breaking’ appears to cover developments over several months.

A ‘breaking news blog’, in my book, should look and feel more like Twitter. Activate it when a huge story breaks – maybe only a couple of times a year, maybe a couple of times a month. Short snaps of maybe only a couple of lines, written in an informal tone. Pretend you’re MSN-ing a friend. Be prepared to be vague – read between the lines if necessary, and don’t be shy about getting it wrong. Stream of consciousness, if you like, and proud of it. I haven’t yet seen any news organisation doing this systematically… but if they have any business in breaking news, then they should be.

(I’ve also got an early idea for a ‘news jockey’ role, writing a running commentary on the day’s news blog-style. The USA Today thing is probably the closest comparison, but I’m thinking of something slightly different. It calls for a certain style of writing, and a certain style of writer, but I think it could be a winner.)

Where is the Telegraph going with its Making News blog? Hard to tell at the minute. They’re asking the right question, but based on these admittedly early signs, I’m not sure they’re answering it the way I would myself.

6 thoughts on “My ideas for 'breaking news' blogs”

  1. Think you’ve also got to consider the audience. Do consumers need to receive vague and sometimes incorrect breaking news updates in a Twitter style app? Would they want it?
    To be honest, even though I work in PR, a breaking news blog/Twitter page isn’t going to appeal to me. Unless it involved a client of course.
    I’d rather be given the facts in an easily digestible format an hour or two after the incident has occurred. I haven’t got time to receive constant updates of an event as it’s unfolding. Again, unless it was something significant to me.
    Or have I completely missed the point here?

  2. “don’t be shy about getting it wrong”
    Journalism should ALWAYS be shy about getting things wrong. That doesn”t mean that you can’t be like a 24 hour news channel and not be wrong for long, but I think the way you throw around ideas like ‘vague’ is precisely what will discredit online news. Call it something adjacent to news, by all means, but ‘stuffy’ old facts are exactly what the public needs during a breaking story like 7/7.

  3. I am a huge fan of Techmeme and Techmeme River does what it sez on the tin >>
    What I abhor with a passion is the kind of frequent refreshing which HuffPost does, usually when I’m about half way down. BBC News doesn’t appear to refresh at all though, which is odd when you think about it.
    What I don’t need is a ‘ticker’ or similar but your use – tracking a story, which a lot of people might want to do – actually isn’t that obvious or easy to do. Techmeme and its sisters are the closest I’ve seen, much easier than Google.

  4. I’m not really seeing it as an automated thing, Paul: more as a deliberate editorial product, with a journalist writing the updates manually.

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