How to liveblog two days of Senate debate (and keep your sanity)

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What does it take to liveblog two solid days of a lively senate debate? Ask Bob Collins, a politics reporter for Minnesota Public Radio. He live-reported his way through nearly 24 hours of a Minnesota House of Representatives and Senate debate of a bill to provide a large public subsidy for a new stadium for the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings.

The two resulting liveblogs — produced on May 7 and May 8 — received a great response from MPR’s audience. They earned more page views than any other MPRnews.org story on both days they were published. A couple hundred commenters contributed over 1,000 comments, with many more watching silently. (Fans will be happy to know the bill passed and the stadium will be built.)

Collins will continue to cover his beat in real time whenever possible.  He spoke with ScribbleLive after the debate and offered some tips for ensuring successful live events.

Don’t forget that you’re providing a service.  “Done right, reporting live and engaging people while doing it is still the great uncharted territory for newsies and I think it has a greater impact — greater than, perhaps, it deserves — because people aren’t used to having an actual two-way conversation in real time on these things,” Collins says.

Make it a conversation. This isn’t a regular pyramid-style story, so don’t treat it like on, Collins says. “You really have to know the subject and you have to be not only a ‘reporter’, but you have to be willing to be an analyst too, especially in covering politics. And you have to be part therapist because a lot of people fully invested in an issue are going to want to jump off the ledge every 5 minutes.”

Don’t take yourself too seriously. Collins prefers to take an old school talk show host approach to his live coverage. “Have a personality and make it entertaining for people as well as informative.” He wasn’t afraid to drop in the odd joke or cultural reference to lighten things up. “Of course, it always helps to have a lawmaker drop references to popular culture so that we can post videos about Moms Mabley or Warren Zevon as the case may be.”

Make the most of your participants. Collins especially enjoyed recruiting locals to add to his coverage. When he couldn’t find a specific part in the city charter, he asked his readers and several people did the digging and posted a link. He also posted plenty of polls to keep readers engaged.

Make commenting rules clear. Collins was able to approve most of the reader comments that came into moderation, which is surprising considering the controversial nature of the debate. But his readers know if they don’t follow his policy that comments must debate the issues and not the people commenting, they won’t get posted. For the most part, they keep things clean to keep the conversation going.

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