Blogging the weather: brilliant or stupid?

We’ve been using CoverItLive for football games for some time now, but I’ve never managed to persuade the news desk to utilise it for breaking news stories or for liveblogging meetings.

So when it snowed last week I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to show them what I meant.

The first snow day we didn’t handle very well. The web editor and I were both snowed in, so while we could go out and get pictures and video it was hard to run the story from our respective homes.

We didn’t have school closures, the information was patchy and scattered across ten or twelve four par stories – so while we did the best we could, I thought we could do better.

For snow day two, we’d set up a liveblog in preparation. We’d agreed to run three stories maximum, one for traffic updates, one for school closures and one main story, plus the blog.

@markng remarked on Twitter “I can’t decide if it’s a brilliant idea, a silly idea, or both.”. I couldn’t either.

We were, after all, liveblogging the weather. But we decided to see how it went.

One of the issues with CIL is that we only get one page impression per viwer, despite the endless refreshes the blog goes through. The words on the blog also don’t count for SEO purposes, so our using it isn’t terribly popular with the men at the top.

To compensate, I asked people to send us their pictures by text to our SMS service, linked to the live traffic feed and the school closure list regularly and tried to make sure some of the people taking part in the blog visited as many of our other pages as possible.

It started gently, about 100 people or so in the first half hour as the snow started to fall heavily…. but it very quickly turned into a monster of a thing.

Reporters would tell me about closures and cancellations, I’d add them to the blog, then the web editor updated the website. The reporters could then use our stories and blog to pull together copy for the paper.

People sent us dozens of pictures from out of their window. Photographers texted and emailed me pictures from their jobs.

We sent reporters out with Flip video cameras, first from the top of the office roof, then to the beach, where the snow was settling on the sand, then to the hill outside the office, where the snow had made it lethal for cars and pedestrians. We did a video vox pop and uploaded all the videos directly to YouTube (avoiding the we can’t edit the Flip video issues that we still haven’t resolved) so I could embed them in the blog.

By the time I got up from my desk at about 2pm we had 1800 people taking part. They were telling us about bus and school closures before we could get the information from the official sources.

As people started to think about going home they came to ask each other about the route home, which roads were passable, where it was still snowing and so on.

We published 26 pictures and nine videos and 600 reader comments. We were also running a #bmthsnow hashtag at our @BournemouthEcho Twitter account, and I fed comments and updates from Twitter on to the blog too. We linked to Twitpics and Vimeo videos, the BBC weather site, our Flickr groups, our Facebook page and our own stories.

We ran the blog from half nine until half four, when I had to leave. We couldn’t persuade any of the reporters to take the blog over, sadly, but the weather was clearing up by then, so it could have been worse.

Final stats were:

Total Unique Readers who pressed ‘Watch Now’: 2298

Total Unique Readers who watched for over 1 minute: 2298

We had several comments from readers about how helpful they had found it. The editor wants us to use if for breaking news more often. And the people in charge of development at Newsquest are looking at building a liveblog that works like CIL but will give us the page impressions.

So all in all, I’m counting it as a bit of a result. What do you think?

You can replay the blog here:

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One thought on “Blogging the weather: brilliant or stupid?

  1. Amir Sadeh says:

    I think you did a great job with this. It was much more engaging than I imagined it would be, and has clearly demonstrated that it isn’t just geeks that will get involved with this kind of thing.

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