Times Insider explains who we are and what we do, and gives a behind-the-scenes look at how our journalism is made.
As the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan began to accelerate at astonishing speed, NewsMadura quickly switched to live reporting mode: Reporters and editors posted developments as they happened about the collapse of Kandahar, the disintegration of the Afghan military, the global response to US government actions and more, all wrapped up together.
The live reporting format, which allows journalists to share the news as they learn it, has become a staple at The Times for reporting major events. So far this year, the editors have published more than 800 live stories, each consisting of a series of posts and updates that can add up to thousands of words. On a typical day, The Times publishes four live packages – covering the coronavirus, politics, business news and extreme weather – but there have been days with as many as eight.
At the center of it all is the Live team, a unit of about a dozen reporters and editors formed at the beginning of the year to work with newsroom agencies in creating and running breaking news coverage.
The Times has outgrown its role as a print newspaper in New York, said Marc Lacey, an assistant editor who leads the Live team. It is now a global digital news organization producing podcasts, videos and newsletters in addition to a newspaper – the investment in the Live team is just the latest step in its continued evolution, he added.
“I want people all over the world to think of us when a big story comes out,” he said. “Whether in Times Square or Tiananmen Square or somewhere in between.”
Front-page news events — wildfires, the Haiti earthquake, the resignation of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo — are clear candidates for live coverage. But The Times has covered live coverage of the Grammy Awards, the National Spelling Bee, the Olympics, and even Meghan Markle and Prince Harry’s interview with Oprah Winfrey.
“Anything that people want to know immediately about is a good fit,” said Traci Carl, one of the Live team’s two deputy editors.
Live stories are anchored by beat reporters who are experts in their subject matter, and the Live team works as a group of consultants for other departments. The journalists will contribute ideas, solve problems, help report and edit, and sometimes create or manage a live story. “We act as a support system for agencies,” said Ms. Carl. “We help them get a team in place and advise on the best approaches, but we don’t want to run their reporting.”
While The Times Express desk, another unit of reporters and editors, initially responds to many breaking news stories, the Live team, in conjunction with other departments, focuses on setting up live coverage. Express reporters are often critical when contributing to live coverage, as are other agencies, such as international and national correspondents who come to the scene.
The Times mainly uses two types of live formats. A fast-moving blog, in which the latest information appears at the top, allows short comments from reporters interspersed with succinct reported items, a format used for the Derek Chauvin trial and the Emmy Awards. Briefings, which have an index of their submissions at the top, “are more of a synthesis of a big story, a little higher up,” said Mr. Lacey.
“A blog is like a fire hose with news,” said Melissa Hoppert, deputy editor of the Live team. “A briefing is a curated experience with takeaways at the top. Here’s what you need to know if you’re only reading one thing on the topic all day.”
The Times has been experimenting with live blogs for about a decade and it became live coverage to cover momentous events such as the terrorist attacks in Paris in 2015. The Times published its first daily briefing on the coronavirus on January 23, 2020 and has not yet done so . has since been discontinued, making it the organization’s longest-running 24-hour live briefing.
Reader demand for live coverage, especially the coronavirus briefing, which recently surpassed 900 million page views, led The Times to set up the Live team.
Producing the daily live briefings requires collaboration between dozens of editors, reporters and researchers around the world: for example, the coronavirus briefing is a 24-hour relay race with multiple time zones and three hubs in Seoul, South Korea; London; and New York.
The editors overseeing the briefings are in constant contact through video conferencing, email, multiple encrypted apps, internal chat groups, and Google Docs.
“It’s intense,” Ms Hoppert said of working on a briefing crew at a quick news event. “You’re essentially figuring out what’s going on, while the readers are too.”