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Live journalism and the power of links #hhldn

Last week’s busy London Hacks and Hackers event brought together two very different approaches to using the web as a storytelling medium.

Two talks at last Wednesday’s event for journalists and programmers explored live reporting via Twitter and the use of linked data at the BBC’s entertainment department.

Sky News journalist Neal Mann, who has co-ordinated live coverage of some of the biggest stories in recent years, shared tips on live reporting – many of them focused on making sure to be fully prepared.

He suggested creating a list of useful and informative links on a chosen subject so that in slow moments context and detail can be added to live coverage, reminding journalists that on social media the audience looks for “speed, balance and a background view”.

In response to organiser Joanna Geary‘s question about coping with low battery life on the iPhone and other gadgets, he suggested taking battery packs and spares where possible, pointing out to live reporters that “if your battery goes, you’re screwed”.

Mann also advised journalists to remember their potential reach does not end when a live event finishes. He recommended using Storify or similar technology to round up the work done during the day and put it in context alongside other people’s coverage.

And on the subject of reach, he said he learned a valuable lesson when his Twitpic of a Sun front page went viral and garnered more than 30,000 views – but was not hosted on his own site and therefore didn’t drive his personal brand as well as it could.

BBC senior information architect Paul Rissen provided a contrasting approach to storytelling with his talk on how the BBC is using linked data and the semantic web to create and augment narrative.

He began by suggesting news organisations on the web today are still confined by their roots in print, audio and video, and that even the best infographics often fail to take advantage of the interconnectedness of the internet as a medium.

He discussed the Mythology Engine, a proof-of-concept prototype created for BBC Vision, which uses carefully structured data to map stories and events onto programmes.

Using the example of Doctor Who, the prototype moves beyond a series of pages representing episodes, series and properties, and expands to create pages for events, characters and stories.

The result, Rissen explained, is a constellation of connected pages where the meaningful relationships between people, stories and programmes are just as important as the entities themselves.

He suggested this sort of deep structured project is a way of telling stories that is truly native to the web, creating rich environments that take advantage of the multimedia possibilities online.

Rissen added this format may also work for sport and news, using the example of BBC Sport which has pages for matches, countries and players, but not individual goals.

He suggested the semantic web could offer news organisations new ways to organise context and make exploration and navigation both intuitive and enjoyable for users.