Catalan news site covers Barca with a social flair


There are as many elements to master in football coverage as there are in the beautiful game itself.
VilaWeb, the most important online Catalan language newspaper, demonstrated a mastery of interactive football reporting this month when it utilised Facebook Connect to broadcast readers’ thoughts before, during and after FC Barcelona won the Champion’s League final in Rome.

It is the first time the 14-year-old news platform has allowed completely unfiltered commentary to appear on its homepage.

“This final was very important in Barcelona. In Catalonia a lot of people were waiting for this final, for this day,” news editor Josep Casulleras said. “And we thought, ‘We have to do something special, something in the first time.’”

VilaWeb is a combination web portal and IPTV producer with a Nielsen reach of more than 300.000 readers. Its main offering is hard news, but its location in Barcelona necessitates dedication to football coverage.

The journalists at VilaWeb have been consistent early adapters to the participatory new media culture, VilaWeb director Vicent Partal said in a 2008 interview.

For example, VilaWeb began its YouTube Channel in March, 2006, several months before Google bought the ubiquitous video sharing platform. It has a Creative Commons licence on its content.

The site has also been in the vanguard of Catalan Internet culture, utilising the .cat domain. It has been available since 2005.

“Here in Catalonia we say that on the Internet we are already independent because we have the ‘dot cat,’” Casulleras said.

VilaWeb has had standing forums since 2005 and used embeddable Web 2.0 applications to engage with its audience on more recent occasions. The site has so far relied on the live-blogging tool CoveritLive to include readers in political debates and real-time football banter.
“With football it’s different,” Casulleras said. “Its more passionate. With political topics its more polite.”

This month’s Champions League final marked a climax of that passion. Barca’s 2-0 win against Manchester United cemented a historic ‘treble’: a league title, national cup win and European title.

VilaWeb’s challenge in covering the team’s success was to balance its desire to engage its existing audience (and, hopefully, find a broader one) with a policy of minimizing anonymous comments. VilaWeb does not allow comments to its news content.

“If someone gives his name, he can take a responsibility for what he is saying. If the comment is anonymous the responsibility vanishes,” Casulleras said.

That’s why CoveritLive has so far been a favourite tool for VilaWeb editors: it allows journalists to moderate the discussion while deleting offensive material.

“We can give the audience the opportunity to participate, but it is important that we do our job,” the VilaWeb editor said. “That is: decide what we publish and we don’t publish. This is also a part of important part of the content of our newspaper, so we have to decide what is published.”

Happily, no profane commentary popped up on VilaWeb’s Facebook Connect widget, which was featured in a prominent location of the site’s homepage during the week leading up to the final. Casulleras said no comments made on the application were deleted.

He also added that Catalan language speakers have a strong presence on Facebook. The language was added to the behemoth social networking platform in 2008.

VilaWeb staff considered implementing a Twitter feed for the Champions League final, but backed off the idea after deciding the microblogging platform is not widely utilised in Catalonia.

Partal said his staff will evaluate this first trial with the Facebook Connect widget and perhaps use it again during the June elections for European Parliament.
“We are looking for ways of quality participation,” Partal said. “Facebook is a platform where people present themselves with their own name. You can go back and check their activities, opinions, et cetera. These things are important for trust.”

And of course, it is a venue where Barcelona supporters are already busy trading stories, photos and thoughts about the team known by its followers to be “Més que un club” (More than a club).

“We have already learned that we win more by joining others’ platforms than by keeping ourselves isolated,” Partal said.