Live blogging boosts audiences and engagement, study finds



Live blogs by student reporters increased the number of visits to the website of a campus newspaper, held audiences on the page for longer, and encouraged more interaction with readers, a new Ryerson University study shows.

Gavin Adamson, a Ryerson School of Journalism professor and leader of the study, said that while study results show that live blogging also boosted the newspaper’s Twitter followers, it did mean students were more likely to make small reporting mistakes.

The conclusions are based on tests of the live blogging platform ScribbleLive by fourth-year Ryerson journalism students who did placements at The Ryersonian newspaper during the 2013 winter semester.

“The goal… was to give ScribbleLive clear advice and suggestions [on how to improve its development],” Adamson said. The research aimed to determine how well the ScribbleLive application integrated with different Apple and Android mobile devices and affected battery life; how live blogging affected audience engagement and audience numbers; and the accuracy of information reported by live bloggers.

To investigate these issues, students used a variety of Apple and Android mobile devices to live blog events like sports games and the protests earlier this year against the creation of a men’s support group at the University of Toronto. Each morning they also aggregated news on a live blog.

Although Adamson is still analyzing the results, he said that some patterns are emerging. For the mobile devices test, he said, the ScribbleLive application tended to perform better on Apple products like the iPhone and iPad than Android phones and tablets, most likely because the iOS application has been further developed than the Android one.

Live blogging, the results show, also increased the amount of traffic to The Ryersonian’s website (early results show one story received about 8,000 visits) and increased its Twitter followers by about 10 per cent. Visitors also tended to stay longer on pages with live blogs (an average of 12 minutes) and interacted more with stories.

On the reporting side, however, student bloggers tended to make more spelling mistakes than usual and were also prone to technical errors like uploading pictures upside down.

“It happens so easily, because you’re managing so many different things at the same time,” Adamson said. “The reporting, the technical stuff, the mobile device, the app itself – there’s a lot of places you can make errors.” He also noted that students geared towards broadcast and its “as-it-happens” coverage did better at live blogging than those with an interest in feature writing with its longer deadlines.

The $9,000 project was funded both by ScribbleLive and the Connections program, run by the Ontario Centres for Excellence (OCE). Connections provides funding for studies that allow companies to work with university instructors and students in capstone courses. Students test the company’s product in a controlled environment and provide feedback on the strengths and weaknesses of the product.

ScribbleLive is one of the most popular live-blogging platforms available today. Used by media companies like Al Jazeera and Reuters, it creates a time line where journalists can report in real-time using text, pictures, video, audio and tweets. As part of its development, the Toronto-based company also makes its product available for free to journalism schools around the world, including Ryerson.

Adamson said he first came across live blogging platforms in 2010 and, after seeing them used more and more by big media outlets, began to push for their integration into Ryerson’s journalism program.

“I just love the platform…. As far as I’m concerned, it can easily be the backbone of any online news organization. It’s just such a good tool,” he said.

Adamson said the final results of the study will be published in a report. Noting that there is little scholarly research on live blogs, he said he plans to continue conducting research on the topic.

“It really just starting,” he said.