The Guardian are having their SxSW hack event this weekend (follow it on Twitter) which seeks to explore uses of technology in reporting events, all framed by their forthcoming coverage of SxSW. As part of the Digital Champions project last year we had a go at that very thing, so here’s an overview of what we did, why we did it, and what we learned.
Events as digital narrative
My BCU colleague Andrew Dubber has already written a great deal about his process for “Aftershock”. Aftershock focuses on music creation, with the Internet material being understood as its own text, and just as important as the finished record. The final record presents us with a writerly text: authored, mediated, packaged and complete, but the Internet part of the project is much less defined, much more open to interpretation, and is also open to comment and direct interaction.
This process can work for news just as well as it does for music, and indeed already does if you think about the way in which stories evolve over a series of days through a cycle of “breaking news” to considered and in depth analytical features. That’s something that news organisations are already doing quite well, especially when they live blog some sort of news event (Over by Over cricket live blogs which might inform a final piece, or political live blogs are good examples here). The difference perhaps between Dubber’s approach to Aftershock and the media approach to live-blogging of stories is that Aftershock seems much looser, and to encourage ephemeral production and vignettes in a way that a “live blog” situation does not. Aftershock is very much a “capture everything” approach, whereas a news liveblog is a more deliberate professional discourse.
So my submission to the gSxSW hack would be to move to a publish then filter (Shirky, 2008) approach:
- let the journalists capture what they see in a very raw style;
- let the audience interact with that if they wish;
- see what the audience reacts to the most;
- finally, repackage the raw material for a different audience that prefers the writerly, polished text (this is the equivalent of the “record” as an artefact at the end of Aftershock).