I have been lucky enough to be involved in many interesting projects since arriving at The Times, but I think the G20 Live Blog is the one that gave me the biggest adrenelin rush.
Running over the two days of the G20, it was like no other live blog I have been involved with. Four journalists were filing pictures and texts to the CoverItLive blog through Twitter and we had comments from tens of thousands of readers.
It was primarily run by web development editor Lucia Adams, my counterpart on news (I’m on business).
That meant that as well as being a contact point for reporters and responsible for answering readers’ questions, she was also moderating comments.
It was a pretty full-on task. I tried to help out by offering up a few helpful links when and where I could and, if Lucia needed to step away from the computer, I would take over moderation.
Moderating a Times Online live blog is a task verging on insane. Comments are pouring in – at some points in their hundreds in a minute – and one person is responsible for allowing them on to the site.
You have to check that the comment is legally ok and that it is not offensive and inciting violence – that’s standard. But, in addition, we had a large number of comments that looked like protestors sending coded messages to each other. If anyone knows who the “Rofchester Crew” are, please let me know. Those had to be moderated too.
Yet, even after removing all these comments there were still too many coming through to get them all up on the blog. We did explain to those commenters convinced Rupert Murdoch was blocking their comments that there was a moderation process and that we weren’t able to publish everything because of the volume.
But what was the decision process behind the ones that did get on screen?
At the time, I didn’t really think about it. It wasn’t until Lucia and I started planning a talk on the subject for last week’s Social Media Camp, London, did we realise we had been applying our own unique criteria for what would get published.
This was what we were both doing:
Me: if it’s longer than a sentence, it goes in.
My justification: If someone has posted a few words, it’s unlikely to be adding anything particularly well considered and, very often, it was more likely to be abusive. Therefore, with very little time to dedicate to reading and approving comments I chose to spend my time on the ones that came in sentences.
Lucia: if the comment is adding something new, it goes in.
Her justification: Lucia decided to put the reader before the contributor. Very often different commenters would repeat the same point (“why don’t these protesters help the economy by getting jobs”, “I bet the taxpayers are going to have to pay to repair the RBS bank’s windows now, why didn’t they board them up?”). If a reader came to a live blog that was just a stream of comments all repeating the same point, it was unlikely to encourage them that the live blog had any value.
In Lucia’s mind, the role of live blog as a public service – answering questions on traffic disruption, providing latest information from the police, reporting on G20 developments, etc – was paramount. Therefore, she chose to publish those comments that best fitted that.
Who was right? I’m not sure there is a definitive answer. Certainly when we talked it though with others at SMC London, there was understanding for both points of view.
I guess part of it is about how you see the live blog. Is it primarily an editorial tool (live updates and information of the G20 as it happens), or is it a forum (where commenters are free to say whatever they like about a subject, within the law)?
One thing I found particularly fascinating was that, in the 48 hours of running the blog, we built up what we named a “flash community”.
People that enjoyed the live blog stayed and started to help us answer questions from other commenters. As this community solidified, the quality of comments improved and moderation became easier. At one point one commenter was helping Lucia to transcribe the G20 Summit speeches.
Perhaps community is too strong a word for what happened, but I like the idea that such blogs can encourage collaboration. It’s something I would like to build up with live blogs I do in the future.