Liveblogging open heart surgery: How to put a human face on health care reform

For the past few months, The Guardian has run a blog series focussing on UK health care reform, culminating with an internet first: journalist and labour councillor Rowenna Davis liveblogged a baby girl’s heart surgery, complete with photos. A lot of people have since weighed in, either lauding the coverage or labelling it sensational journalism. Davis has defended her coverage, explaining why The Guardian went the liveblog route — and why they’d do it again. Editors’ Weblog also chimed in. I’ve distilled their arguments into four points:

Why liveblog a child’s heart surgery?

1. It put a human face on complex news

“That visceral reporting is important,” Davis points out, because health care reform is often treated as a political weapon. “Capturing the brute reality of surgery in real time puts things in perspective.”

2. It built a community

“By publishing live updates, we were able to generate a huge debate on Twitter and online – our Twitter feed was trending in London and throughout the UK,” Davis writes. The baby’s parents approached her afterward, thankful for the support, while other parents thanked her for taking some of the uncertainty away from their own children’s upcoming heart surgery. Others still shared stories of success.

3. It gives the readers what they want

Davis was able to field questions from readers and answer them on the spot — not only was she stationed in a roomful of experts, she could provide extensive details about what she was seeing, hearing and feeling. That connection with readers was an advantage after the fact as well. “Live blogging meant we could react to our audience and produce spin-offs that suited them,” Davis writes. “After the event there was so much interest in the story, I decided to stick around and visit the rest of the ward, meet the family and give a further update on the baby’s progress. You can’t adapt your content like that if you filmed the whole thing two months ago.”

4. It went beyond the press release

Editor’s Weblog adds an important point to Davis’ list: “The blog added another dimension to health care coverage, and the daily updates allowed for many players to comment on the health care debates – from doctors to professors to politicians.”

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