Traditional Reporting, Modern Reactions


As the time to cast ballots nears, debates become a key decision factor in elections. However, the style of this year’s debates is more reminiscent of an episode of Jerry Springer than a forum for political engagement. Debates are changing. The manner in which they are moderated and play out as well as how they are covered is not how it was even twenty years ago. This begs the question: How does one report on them, especially when they are as lively and controversial as Biden vs. Trump?
Politician speaking to a room filled with people

Photo by Miguel Henriques on Unsplash

Live x 3

The first presidential debate appears to have set new records, including the general consensus that both candidates were rather unsuccessful in impressing undecided voters. From constant interruptions to name calling, and even bullying, the debate only succeeded in setting a new standard in how not to moderate or treat the other candidate. Despite the many points that can be criticised, debates are generally understood to play an important role in the electoral process. Even with millions of Americans participating in early voting, debates are still important for undecided voters. For those who watch the debates live, there are always three main ways to follow along. They are:
    1. Watching it on TV or as a stream
    2. Listening to it on the radio
    3. Reading an accompanying liveblog
Depending on the situation, and bandwidth, the debates can’t always be watched when they are taking place. This leads to the question of how accessible the televised versions truly are. For some it’s simply a question of timing — not everyone works during office hours and some people have other obligations such as night classes. While it’s also easy to think that everyone owns a TV or has access to amazing internet, this just isn’t the case. There are many people who can’t watch or stream because they are financially unable. If instead they were to listen to a radio broadcast, the dialogue would be transmitted, but not the important nuances or gestures. Key moments such as when Biden held up his hand to silence Trump would be omitted by the medium. Actions like this can however be described or included in a written narrative as a short video clip or even as a gif.

The International Audience

Another group that needs to be mentioned is those living internationally, and this doesn’t just mean expats. Watching the debate live is simply not an option for people living in extremely different time zones as it’s either in the middle of the work day or the middle of the night. Starting with Bush in the lead-up to 2004, international attention in US elections has been steadily increasing. This is largely thanks to the growing trend of US policies having far wider-reaching effects on multiple countries than before. The War on Terror, decisions about international policy (e.g. Libya and the ensuing refugee crisis), the handling of race-relations or Covid-19 (to name only a few) all have inter-border consequences. For those wanting to follow the election from abroad, as well as for some in the US, the other issue is language. It’s very unlikely that the entire debate would be translated so that viewers could watch and understand it live (if it is even broadcast at all). However, with a written format like a liveblog, the reporter can take notes and flesh out an important point quickly (and in their language), just as another colleague is doing the same for the next talking point.

Social Media: The Modern Reaction

It could be argued that there is a fourth alternative, but since social media is best for reactions and not for factually reporting an entire event such as a debate, it’s best when it’s included to enhance the narrative and not to replace it. Many people who did watch the debate live provided colourful commentary via social media. It is this social content from average viewers, celebrities or news pundits that can really add to news pieces. By including these timely observations in articles or liveblogs, a more complete narrative can be presented to readers. This is particularly helpful for the people who couldn’t follow it as it happened. Even for those who could watch it live, there is definite added value with regard to the level of storytelling.

Breaking the Fourth Wall

The debate isn’t just being reported in a (hopefully) unbiased and nonpartisan vacuum, it’s contextualised and interpreted by the masses. Even if the third-party content is curated by the journalist, the thoughts and views are still expressed by the average viewer. According to most estimates there are roughly 50 million Twitter users in the US alone, with circa 30 million being daily users, which translates to a wide base from which to draw content. This means that by being able to include social media content in an organised format, readers gain even more than when only single-voice reporting is presented. By bringing and acknowledging the viewers and social media content creators within the narrative, the reporter is removing the barrier between the event and the spectator. While social media should in no way be relied upon as the only source of information for current events, it can and should be included to enhance digital storytelling in a structured manner.
The 2020 election is the first of its kind in living memory: it’s taking place during a global pandemic; the candidates would each become the oldest elected presidents; and the current president has been diagnosed with Covid-19 only weeks before election day. With the second debate cancelled, should the next presidential debate take place, how it’s reported live will likely not change that significantly. Like so many meetings, events, and visits this year, it *might* even take place via video conference. That means that there would still be televised coverage, live written narratives to accompany the debate, and perhaps even more interest should the video-hosting technology come with a mute button.

Liveblogs: The Perfect Medium for Reporting on Debates & Election Day

In the run-up to the election, debates have become the bread and circuses of the current political landscape. Despite this, and early voting, the presidential debates are an important tool for undecided voters. With anticipation growing and the likelihood of a tumultuous election day increasing with every passing press conference and tweet, the need for quality digital reporting tools (read: liveblogs) increases with it.

Why liveblogs?

Articles are by definition reactive and written in response to an event or news story. They are an important tool for disseminating information but they are more of a follow-up than a way of sharing breaking news as it happens. Compared with traditional articles, liveblogs are interactive and intended to accompany events with real-time updates. The functions that every reliable liveblog software should have, and that are crucial for effectively reporting on debates and election days are:
    1. Adding short text updates — quickly add information to the liveblog while it’s still relevant
    2. Including social media content — add key posts that enhance the narrative and connect or even include the reader
    3. An offline-capable app — report from on location and work with the team in real-time
    4. Unparalleled usability, performance, and platform stability — rely on the tech so that the focus remains the story
    5. Integrating third-party content — book reputable liveblogs from external content providers
    6. Reliable hosting and traffic and unbeatable stability and scalability — the story doesn’t stop, even if the numbers keep climbing. Liveblog technology that automatically scales to fit even the most popular liveblogs ensures that performance is never a concern for the millions of readers.

Rely on reliability!

Instead of classic news articles or an attempt to present live updates in the form of paragraphs, using dedicated liveblog software produces a clean and easily-consumable end-format for users. It also provides reporters with the chance to present a play-by-play or rather, a rebuttal-by-rebuttal. Ready for anything, liveblogs can transform a seemingly complicated subject into a clearly focused narrative. Given the unpredictable nature of this entire election cycle, it’s good to have at least one reliable and easy-to-understand aspect of it!

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