Reuters Institute survey reveals growing global popularity of live blogs

Live news pages, also known as live blogs, have become one of the most engaging formats for news online. They are increasingly prevalent on news sites, including NYTimes.com, FT.com, and BBC News online, and are receiving more visitors for longer periods of time than conventional articles or picture galleries.

Today the Reuters Institute for Journalism at Oxford University published the results of its second annual Digital News Survey. The survey revealed that 11 per cent of UK news consumers had followed a live news page the previous week, and that they were even more popular with news consumers in the US, Brazil, Italy, Spain, and especially France (19 per cent) and Japan (35 per cent).

One of the reasons for the success of live blogs has been their perceived lack of bias. Previous research of mine has shown that readers assessed live blogs’ neutrality and balance positively and the Reuters Institute survey confirmed this with 40 per cent of live blog users in the UK agreeing ‘strongly’, or ‘somewhat’ that they were more balanced than articles on the same topic.

In this year’s Reuters Institute survey we wanted to investigate the popularity of different types of live pages. One might expect, given the preponderance of sport live blogs and sport’s popularity with online news consumers, for readers to favour sport live blogs over other categories. The survey showed, however, that live blogs covering breaking and running news were more popular than sport live blogs with both US and UK news consumers.

As smartphone ownership grows and consumption of news via these devices increases, the Reuters Institute survey revealed that 79 per cent of mobile news consumers in the UK say they use their mobile for accessing quick news updates during the day, including from live blogs.

There are, however, inherent dangers in the speed of the format. While live blogs’ use of a wide range of primary sources and transparent correction practices has earned the trust of readers, their very short deadlines bring the possibility of the publication of unverified information. Recent cases involving allegations made via social media sites such as Twitter remind us of the potential consequences.

For some, live blogs are symptomatic of the direction that news journalism is heading; news delivered in superficial, bite-sized chunks. But while live news pages are meeting some readers’ contemporary preferences for snacking on news, often on the go, they may simultaneously be delivering levels of transparency, and an engagement with public affairs, that could contribute to journalism’s reanimation.

Adapted from ‘How Live Blogs are Reconfiguring Breaking News’ by Dr Neil Thurman, which features in the Reuters Institute for Journalism’s Digital ‘Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2013.

Dr Neil Thurman is senior lecturer in Electronic Publishing at City University London.

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