News for Digital Journalists

January 31, 2011

How Al Jazeera is putting audio updates from Egypt online fast

Just because it may not be easy to get online from Egypt at the moment doesn’t mean you can’t get timely online updates from correspondents there covering the unrest. Flexible, adaptable content management tools, deployed creatively, can help you get news out from anywhere fast, despite communications roadblocks.

That’s what Al Jazeera has done…

Al Jazeera English is posting Live Messages from Egypt—audio messages recorded from phone calls placed by their correspondents on the ground in Egypt.

This may not sound like a major technological feat; correspondents have been phoning in live updates since the invention of the telephone. But the cool part here is that Al Jazeera is using Scribble Live (a service I covered before) to get these audio updates online fast and smoothly, with minimal newsroom processing required.

ScribbleLive allows news organizations quickly integrate multiple types of content from multiple sources into a stream of coverage that’s fairly easy for site visitors to follow and explore. You can set it up on the fly, and choose which types of content from which sources you want to integrate. It’s an example of the modular approach to story creation that’s adding a new dimension to breaking news.

In this case, Al Jazeera correspondents are calling from mobile phones or landlines in Egypt and recording their updates as voice messages. These recordings are saved by the system as MP3 audio files and readied for publishing. Editors then only need to choose which files to publish—they don’t have to do a lot of processing and packaging of the audio content. In a breaking news situation, a system like this this can save a lot of time and effort.

Mark Walker of ScribbleLive explains that this audio capability has existed in their system since the Canada’s Global News used it in their 2010 G20 protest coverage.

“This is our first mission-critical use of phone-in audio updates,” said Walker. “Al Jazeera rolled it out on the fly as everything hit the fan.”

Other tools, such as Storify, offer similar modular capabilities. News organizations should watch for, and try out, these kinds of tools. It helps to be ready to quickly implement a modular approach to digital storytelling, rather than rely on crafting traditional narrative stories (which is more work, and not always as useful or compelling to a real-time audience).

The News for Digital Journalists blog is made possible by a grant to USC Annenberg from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.


My understanding is that there are no cell phone calls coming out of Egypt as the government has turned off all cell towers.

Let me start by saying nice post. Im not sure if it has been talked about, but when using Chrome I can never get the entire site to load without refreshing many times. Could just be my computer. Thanks.

It has been available for ling time but like most people I have only become aware of it by reading coverage on Egypt

Well seeing as the Guardian and Al-Jazeera have a common interest in destroying Israel and spreading dis-information Israel it only seems like a common goal of the Guardian board. Thanks for sharing this great information with us.
Kansas Classifieds

It still needs a brave management to let the content out as row. Some networks might have a problem with that as they are much more controling.

I am very much pleased with the contents you have mentioned.I wanted to thank you for this great article.I enjoyed every little bit part of it and I will be waiting for the new updates.The blog was absolutely fantastic! Lot of great information which can be helpful in some or the other way
Kijiji Halifax

There are unlimited topics that we can discuss about. Like we can talk about future of children and best choices, we must provide to them. They are future of nation, we are suppose to left something extraordinary for them. Thanks for this platform that provides us opportunity to speak up freely.
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