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Better than Video

-first posted at RTDNA.org on September 29, 2009

I had the pleasure over the weekend of participating in the RTNDF news leadership workshop at CNN in Atlanta. I’m going to break my general rule of not writing about RTNDA matters in this column because there was something happening at this seminar worth sharing with all of you. I didn’t organize the event.  RTNDF executive director Kathleen Graham and meeting/convention coordinator Audrey Lamb did all that hard work. I wasn’t an instructor, leaving that job to the far superior Jill Geisler from Poynter, Chip Mahaney from Scripps, and Victor Hernandez from CNN. Instead, other than offering an official greeting here and there, I got to be part of a three-man Cover It Live team. Myself, Ed Esposito, and Steve Safran all worked to provide contextual coverage of the event live to our website and archived for you to look at now. I take time in this weekly blog to write about this because I think that this was a fascinating way to take information that 30-odd people could see in Atlanta and deliver it to RTNDA members all over the country and world. And I wanted to write a little bit about that because I think it’s a way for RTNDA to reach out more in the future.

In all, we did three different Cover It Live blogs of the event. The setup was a little bit humorous. Off the left side of the front of the room sat the three of us, hunched intently over our laptops, searching and typing and posting away Friday night and all day Saturday. Under tutelage from Jill, Ed, Steve, and I divided up duties so that we could conquer the Cover It Live task.  On Friday night, our guests were Victor, Katherine Green, and Gena Somra, all of CNN.  The discussion — fascinating from the start — centered on CNN’s international presence, the Iranian elections, and how new technology was changing the way we cover things.  There were about three dozen people sitting in the room to listen to this discussion. Those people got a lot out of what they heard. And in the past, at workshops like this all over the country, the only people who would benefit were those there to listen.  But I’ve said before that RTNDA’s new goal is to try to reach you where you are, not just put on conventions and conferences for you to attend. And Atlanta gave us a great opportunity to try something relatively new to deliver that valuable content right to you.

Here’s how we did that. While the session was going on, so was the blog on RTNDA.org. On Friday, Steve did most of the typing, roughly transcribing what it was each of the speakers said. I considered myself the “color commentator” of the evening, providing sidebars, links, and photos to accompany what Steve was writing.  You can see that Friday night blog here:


If you look through the blog now, you’ll notice that Steve does not literally transcribe what it is the speakers are saying. We would need a court reporter typist in order to do that. But beyond that, I’m not sure that would be very interesting to read. We could and did provide a live audio stream for anyone who wanted to listen to the proceedings. Again, I’m not sure that was a great listen that evening. And finally, we could park a camera in the back of the room and provide a live video feed of the entire session. Like the audio, it probably would have been pretty dull.

So, instead of that literal transcription, we attempted to provide a live, enhanced, and annotated account of the workshop that evening. How did we do that? First, Steve captured the essence of each speaker as he or she spoke. Literal transcription would have caught every word. But often speakers make a point then circle back around to re-emphasize that point. That can be an effective tool in front of a live audience, but for a blog to be read live or read again on archive, it’s not necessary. Instead, capturing that essence puts value in the words you read about the event.  And there’s more. Those in attendance heard the three speakers that evening refer to CNN video, iconic posters in Iran, statistics on Web use, and much more. Using the live blog technology, I was able to add to Steve’s interpretation of the events by adding those links, posting those posters, and finding those stories with the statistics of which the speakers spoke. That means that someone looking at the live blog or later transcript actually got more content than those sitting there in person. And I find that an extremely valuable training tool for RTNDA or anyone else trying to reach out to those who cannot travel in these tight economic times.  Beyond that, we have a little fun, too. Jill played photographer with her iPhone that evening, snapping pictures of the speakers, the audience, and even the bloggers. We added those pictures to the blog, along with a few personal comments from Steve and I. Those pictures and comments were a nice touch. They broke up the heaviness of the topic with a little levity for the reader.

On Saturday, we switched roles with Ed Esposito joining the live blogging ranks. As Chip Mahaney presented his rich content throughout the day, it literally took all three of us to keep up on the live blog. Steve shifted to the color work for a while as Ed and I traded duties writing up the main content. Then we swapped again trying to let those of us with carpal tunnel syndrome ease off a little bit. By the end of the day Saturday, thousands of words had been written, dozens of links posted, and a score of pictures shared from the event. We know now, looking back at our statistics from the weekend, that several hundred people tuned in live to watch the blog stream. One hundred or so more have checked out the archived blog since then.  It is my hope that the readers of this column will go check them out as well, adding to the number of people who will benefit from all the knowledge shared Friday and Saturday in the shadow of CNN Center.

There you have it. I’ve written again about the inside baseball of RTNDA. My intention with this blog is to reach out far more often than I look within. But in this case, maybe I’m doing both. This peek inside the workings of an RTNDF conference is more than association self-promotion. My hope is that it turns out to be information valuable to your newsroom as you look for affordable training in this time of very tight budgets. Check out these archived live blogs. You can literally spend hours going back and forth, reading the content, following the links, and figuring out what they mean to your newsroom. If you like what you see, let me know. We’ll plan to do this as often as we can.

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