Mark Jones

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Towards the web 2.0 interview

July 16, 2009

On Monday, Reuters arranged for UK Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg to be interviewed live by the social web.

We’ve been edging towards this with previous social media segments in Reuters-hosted NewsMaker events like those with Conservative leader David Cameron and World Bank President Bob Zoellick who have taken questions from Twitter and the like after making public policy speeches.

But Monday’s event was purely online, with an agenda driven entirely by web participants. And, in weaving together four elements of social media practice, we think we’ve come up with a possible template for interviews in the age of Web 2.0:

1. Crowd-source all the questions

Questions were solicited via a Reuters blog post, the 12 seconds video service, Twitter and the CoverItLive live-blogging service.

We know this isn’t new — there have been radio phone-in interviews based on listeners’ questions for decades. But the questions that we prompted weren’t exclusive to our service – they existed on other platforms where side conversations could and did take place. That notion of setting off a distributed conversation is new-ish.

The most interesting of those questions were put direct to Nick.

Again, not brand new — the CNN/YouTube Presidential debates last year were a powerful illustration of this strand of new media. But the Reuters approach was agnostic over form — questions and comments could be text, audio or video and not limited to any one social media platform.

2. Aggregate the conversations around the event

The best of the rest of the comments and questions were aggregated and pulled together in various modules on the page containing the live video interview. The idea was to enrich the experience of participants by offering them a filtered guide to the best side conversations.

At it’s simplest this merely involved setting up a hashtag on Twitter — in this case #askclegg. But we also pulled in audio, video and pictures from social media sites like audioboo, 12 Seconds, Qik and Flickr to modules on the page and the highlights put on the timeline of the CoverItLive widget.

For those with deep interest in the interview we had meant to offer a full, unfiltered view of ALL conversations around the event by aggregating material tagged ‘askclegg; but we forgot to link to it during the event.

3. Use the live Web

Live responses from social media participants were woven into the live interview making it dynamic — participants could and did follow up on answers given by Nick so influencing the direction of the conversation.

Again, this is something that phone-in interviews have facilitated for some time. The difference is that our curators could choose the most interesting responses from a wide range of participants rather than the handful of listeners who get fed into radio phone-ins.

4. Use social media to promote the event

Content on Qik, Flickr, 12 seconds, audioboo and Twitter was used to update potential participants on what was going on behind the scenes as we built up to the event itself.

NIck Clegg got the ball rolling by asking a couple of video questions well ahead of the event including one on “greedy bankers”:

Nick Clegg @ Reuters – Bankers on

This is akin to what broadcast media has always done with programme trails but the difference here is that we were using raw, unvarnished content with immediacy the key and making use of the social web’s amplification to promote what we were planning.

Another good example: the in-cab interview with Nick conducted by Documentally (aka Christian Payne) on the way to the Reuters News London HQ.

So what was the net result of all this? There did seem to be high levels of engagement all round. The unpredictability of the questions helped, as did the near-live responses from web participants. There was also a strong sense that the role of the journalist in such an interview is fundamentally different — more about keeping up with the side conversations and adding the context that the 140 characters in a tweet can’t possibly do.

Also see:

Nick Clegg at Reuters: the highlights – Liberal Democrat Voice

Clegg takes over own Twitter name — BBC

Live caricaturing Nick Clegg at Reuters — hackcartoonsdiary

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