Mashable has a piece today noting that the new social media editor at The New York Times doesn’t appear to be very active on social media.
We think the answer to their question is clear as day. Yes, of course a social media editor should be all over social media.
News orgs should have social media phenoms as their social media editors. Someone who eats, sleeps and breaths social media. A journalist who can’t get enough of it and understands how social media can improve journalism.
Now, maybe @NYT_JenPreston will become that phenom, but she has already called her role “more internal,” meaning that she doesn’t plan on being more active on networks like Twitter, at least for the time being. I can’t imagine how someone who isn’t actively engaging in social media can direct others, especially on what’s next.
Certainly, you can listen to what others are saying, read sites like BeatBlogging.Org and grok what is and isn’t working on social media. Being an avid social media user, however, is probably the only way to innovate and see what’s next.
There are some very talent social media editors at traditional news organizations: Robert Quigley and Andrew Nystrom come to mind. Both are dedicated social media employees who were into social media before they got jobs in social media, not after. By being active and passionate social media users, I think they are well positioned to see what’s next and how to make their news orgs’ use of social media better than the rest.
We certainly wish Ms. Preston the best of luck at the Times and hope she does a wonderful job in her role. We do think she has a point about listening, and many so-called social media experts would benefit from more listening. By listening, she’ll certainly be able to understand what others are doing and why they are doing it. In the end, however, we think being active on social media (and loving every second of it) is a key part of being a social media editor.
I do a lot of listening and researching for BeatBlogging.Org, but many of my best lessons were learned from doing (and sometimes falling flat on my face). I’ve been a Twitter use since 2007 and how I tweet and why I tweet has changed considerably since I first started. I’m always learning new lessons by both listening and doing.
Social media is one of those things that is hard to fully understand and appreciate without getting your hands dirty. It is, in many ways, quite similar to blogging. Most people don’t fully understand the power of blogging until they do it. But for most bloggers (and social media users) there is that ah-ha moment, and I’m not sure if that ah-ha moment can come from just listening and researching.
I think what has been most important for me in my social media research and use has been my enjoyment of social media. Most successful people on social media (outside of celebrities) are successful because they genuinely enjoy being on social media and interacting with people. I don’t mind following both my personal account @jiconoclast and tracking what people are saying to @MsBeat, because I genuinely enjoy my time on Twitter.
MinnPost publisher Joel Kramer is aiming to bring the same immediacy and frequency of social media to advertising with a new ad format, dubbed Real-Time Ads.
Kramer noticed that local businesses in Minnesota were using Twitter, blogs and other social networks to get their messages out to people, and Kramer wanted to tap into this market. Real-Time Ads don’t even require additional effort on the part of advertisers either. All an advertisers has to do is submit an RSS feed of content that they are already creating (like a Twitter feed or feed from a blog), and MinnPost will display headlines or brief summaries of these existing messages that link back to the full message on an advertiser’s Web site.
Real-Time Ads look like a cross between traditional classified ads and Twitter updates. And like a Twitter stream, Real Time Ads are listed in chronological order. Advertisers are required to update their messages frequently, and if an advertiser doesn’t update for awhile, their message will be at the bottom.
MinnPost is currently vetting advertisers for this program in order to ensure a high quality experience. A lot of advertisers are interested in Real-Time Ads, but many don’t have an RSS feed of a frequently updated message. If an advertiser isn’t already harnessing the immediacy and frequency of social media and blogs, they probably aren’t a good fit for Real-Time Ads.
“If you’re only creating a message once a week, then this thing is not for you,” Kramer said. “Beyond that, we do want the space to be a value to our readers. So, we might say only certain kinds of products and services could be in there.”
Kramer strives to keep MinnPost’s ads high quality because high quality ads provide a better user experience and bring in more money. MinnPost only displays banner ads to Minnesota residents, guaranteeing advertisers that their ads are reaching the people they want to reach. This targeting of ads is why MinnPost enjoys a robust $15 CPM.
Real-Time Ads enjoy one significant benefit over other, more traditional ads like banner ads: they’re self serve. MinnPost is not involved in the ad creation process, and advertisers sign themselves up and provide their own RSS feeds. All MinnPost does is vet potential advertisers.
This new ad format is meant to be another piece of the puzzle for MinnPost, not a panacea. The site has banner ads, large sponsorships, small sponsorships, a jobs board and now, frequently updated, small ads. Banner ads are designed weeks or months in advance and are for longer-term campaigns.
A Real-Time Ad could be advertising a lunch special for two hours. A restaurant, for example, might notice that business is slow and then update their status with a new special to try to entice dinners to come in. Real-Time Ads are designed for the now.
“For readers, it’s a kind of marketplace of the latest marketing messages,” Kramer said.
The service is currently in beta and free to advertisers testing it out. A final price for the ads hasn’t been settled on, but Kramer said the ads will be less than $100 a week. Kramer said MinnPost is considering charging different rates for different placement. A Real-Time Ad that is placed on all pages would cost more than one that just showed up an ad-only page.
MinnPost is also considering charging different rates based on how often ads are rotated into a particular spot. Kramer also said it’s possible that Real-Time Ads will be targeted. For instance, a local sports store would be able to choose to have their Real-Time Ads only show up on sports content.
“There could be many, many combinations, with different prices on them,” Kramer said about Real-Time Ads.
Kramer views Real-Time Ads as a form of content that enhance a user’s experience, and ideally, MinnPost users would find Real-Time Ads valuable, instead of distracting like most online ads. Kramer is considering having a dedicated page of just Real-Time Ads. A business directory could logically follow as well.
The format is about a week old, and Kramer said more time is needed to gather feedback before making any major judgements. Advertisers seem intrigued by the idea. Only time will tell, however, if users find the new ads valuable.
It’s 1999. Christina Aguilera’s self-titled debut album is at the top of the charts. Even if you eschew pop music, you might catch yourself humming “Genie in a Bottle” because it’s all over the radio, and it’s so darn catchy.
Meanwhile, ‘70s glam rocker Gary Glitter has just been thrown in jail for downloading kiddie porn. While some people are preparing for a Y2K apocalypse, others are “partying like it’s 1999” to a Prince song penned sixteen years before.
If you were a music journalist in 1999, the means by which you learned about and reported on newsworthy events was significantly different from the way you’d do it now. The speed of music news has accelerated from how quickly a publicist can hold (or lose) your attention on the phone, to how quickly a rock star can type a 140-character tweet. Gone are the days when aspiring music reporters were beholden to editors who could decide whether or not a story ever reached the general public.
Now, in the age of the blog, an editor might actually approach a writer and offer him/her a job that the writer hasn’t even applied for. In short, things have drastically changed.
Three Journalists — One Decade
John Nova Lomax, Ben Westhoff and Jeff Weiss are all music journalists. In terms of age, twelve years separate the oldest of the three writers from the youngest. However, all of their careers in music journalism began within the last ten years. The times at which each of them started in the biz — and the technology available to them — have given each one different experience of their field.
The veteran of the three, Lomax, is 39. In the late ‘90s, he became the sole contributing writer to the Houston Blues Society’s music journal. In 2000 he started freelancing for the “Houston Press,” an alt-weekly owned by Village Voice Media (VVM), and by 2001 he was the music editor there.
“I kind of came in through the back door,” he said. Lomax is now a staff writer at the Press. Over the years, his work has been featured in several VVM publications.
Westhoff is 31. He lives in Hoboken, NJ, and has made a living writing freelance articles, primarily on rap and R&B, for six years. He has written for “Spin” and numerous VVM publications, including “LA Weekly” and the “Village Voice.” Internet pieces for sites like Pitchfork and NPR.org have also become a mainstay for Westhoff.
“Over time, steadily, a bigger and bigger percentage of the money I make for writing has come from online stuff,” he said.
The youngest of the bunch, Weiss, is 27. He lives in Los Angeles. After graduating from college in 2003, Weiss said he wrote “all these really stupid emails to “Rolling Stone” and “Pitchfork,” like ‘Please hire me.’”
He ended up contributing to the “San Fernando Valley Business Journal,” and in 2005, he started his own music and pop culture blog, Passion of the Weiss. The blog took off, eventually landing Weiss writing gigs at the “Los Angeles Times” and “LA Weekly.”
Weiss says an editor at “LA Weekly” approached him about becoming a contributor to the paper. Within just a couple years, Weiss had gone from getting turned down for journalism jobs to being offered them without asking — thanks to the popularity of his blog, now receiving about 2,500 page views per day.
As one might expect, three writers in different stages of their careers have a mixture of similar and diverging opinions on their craft. What’s astonishing, though, is how much their industry has changed within a relatively short period of time.
In 1979, The Buggles declared that “Video Killed the Radio Star.” In 2009, the latest music casualties seem to be the publicists, dead at the hands of social networking sites.
“The Internet has sort of killed the publicist off,” Lomax said. “Not completely. But every year I’ve had fewer calls from publicists by a factor of about two or three.”
He paused and then added, “You know, which is great.” Though Weiss has only been covering music for a handful of years, he agrees — hypothetically, anyway.
“Ten years ago, you were relying on the publicists to get that promo, and if you didn’t get that promo, then you were kind of screwed,” he said. “Now with the culture of the leaks and with MySpace, you don’t really need that.”
Lomax couldn’t be more thrilled that music publicists are becoming a thing of the past.
“Publicists have made me break stuff in my office,” he said. “Through no fault of their own. I mean, they’re just doing their job. But you just get the same call, and they all have the same patter, where they’re saying, ‘I just want to reach out to you. This band will be in your area.’ And sometimes they don’t even get the fucking town right. Like, they’ll say they’re playing the American Airlines Arena, and I’ll go, ‘Well, that’s in Dallas.’ And they’ll go, ‘Oh yeah, uh, the Verizon Center.’”
To be fair, not all publicists are inept, and some artists still use them. But, increasingly, bands have learned a cheaper way to promote themselves: the Internet.
As magazines continue to fold at an alarming rate, opportunities for new writers to find a stable job are becoming as slim as the remaining magazines themselves.
Online magazines were not the automatic answer to the industry’s woes either. As a result, everyone is searching for an edge, a way to stand out from the pack of other hungry writers. In searching for a way in, young journalists may find it useful to learn from veteran writers and editors.
Jennifer Owens, special projects editor at Working Mother magazine, is one such journalist. A writer and editor with more than a decade’s worth of experience, Owens knows what it takes to be successful. Here’s what she has to say about entering the magazine industry:
Q. When did you get your first job as a journalist?
A. I got my master’s degree from Medill [School of Journalism at Northwestern University] in 1990, during the recession, and my first job was at the Greenville News in South Carolina, my home state.
Q. How long did you work in newspapers?
A. I was there for about two years and worked at a few other places [The News-Herald and Women’s Wear Daily] before moving to Folio and then Adweek where I wrote for their Web sites.
Q. Did you find it difficult to adjust to writing online?
A. Not at all. To write for a Web site you need to be able to write quickly and concisely which I learned to do as a newspaper reporter.
Q. How did you get into the magazine industry?
A. When the dot-com companies started failing, I had to look for a new job. I became an editor at several trade publications – even one for knitting and crocheting. Eventually I moved to consumer magazines under Fairchild and Time Inc.
Q. What’s your specialty as a writer?
A. I like to explain things. I break down complicated topics and make them easier to understand.
Q. What would you say are some of the differences between entering the magazine industry now vs. the 1990s?
A. I’d say there were more big name magazines back then; that said, the start-ups keep coming! In the mid-90s, the dot-com boom meant there were a lot of jobs for a lot of people, and it was actually hard for employers to find enough candidates to fill openings. There also was a lot of jumping around from job to job as people quickly moved up. I’d say right now, everyone is staying put as long as they can.
Q. Has the way people find their first editorial/reporting jobs changed or is it still mainly by word of mouth?
A. I think it’s all about getting your foot in the door with an interview and then charming the socks off a potential employer. I didn’t get jobs by word of mouth until I was much farther along.
Q. As an editor, what do you look for in freelance writers? Is it helpful to have a blog?
A. It’s very hard to take a risk on a new writer. I want to know where you’ve been published. Are most of your clips from mom and pop publications or have you written for some major names? I’ll look at a blog to get a feel for the person’s writing ability. A lot of stories are heavily edited but on a blog, I can watch you as you write. How well can you turn a phrase? Can you accurately discuss a topic?
Q. Have you ever hired anyone who only had a blog?
A. No, but I did start following a Time reporter first through her blog and she might do a piece for us.
Q. Do you have a blog?
A. No, I don’t blog. I’m old fashioned that way. But I have been using Twitter for Working Mother.
Q. Do you have any final tips for new writers?
A. Develop a passion for something and write about it. That makes it much easier for editors to find you, say through a Google search, and decide if you’re someone who can contribute to their magazine.
What do Legos, standardized testing, online museums and robots have in common?
Well, for one, there’s the GeekDad blog on Wired.com. Originally the brainchild of Wired.com Editor-in-Chief Chris Anderson in March 2007, GeekDad has since become one of the most popular blogs on the site. (See our recent post on Wired.com for more of the history of the GeekDad blog)
By day, the current editor of GeekDad (since September 2007), Ken Denmead, is a civil engineer. He described himself as “very much a geek and very much a father.” By combining these interests to create the tone of the blog, Denmead said, “I’ve tried to turn it into the Wired.com parenting blog.”
Denmeads sons, 11-year-old Eli and nine-year-old Quinn, have enjoyed some of the perks of their dad’s online moonlighting gig, and Denmead has learned some things from his kids. He often receives free, sample video games from companies who want their products reviewed on the blog.
“I won’t necessarily play them completely myself,” Denmead said. “I’ll throw ‘em to the kids and say, ‘Hey, play this, and then let me sit with you while you play it, and you tell me how you feel about it while you’re playing.’”
As a result, both the parent’s and the kids’ perspectives are reflected in the blog post — and Denmead gets to spend some quality game-playing time with his sons. Eli and Quinn aren’t complaining.
“A new game for the Wii or the DS shows up every couple of weeks, so they’re happy about that,” he said.
GeekDad contributor Matt Blum, a software engineer, also finds inspiration for posts from his kids. Blum has a six-year-old daughter and an eight-year-old son. One day, when the whole family was in the car, Blum’s daughter asked where the first human beings came from.
“My wife and I are both staunch believers in evolution,” Blum said, and so his daughter’s question led to a discussion of evolution. “I wrote a post about that because it’s a tough question. We weren’t prepared for her to ask that sort of question.”
The comments from GeekDad readers, some with similar beliefs and some with different ones, continued the discussion online. Denmead said that the interaction with readers has contributed to the popularity of the blog — which averages 20,000 to 22,000 hits per day. He uses Google analytics to gauge the traffic.
“One of the weird things about GeekDad within the larger Wired universe is that we really do speak more directly to our readers as sort of a personal conversation, whereas most of the rest of Wired is much more about posting news articles,” he said.
In order to increase posts’ visibility on the Wired.com main page, Denmead encourages the bloggers to vary the tone of the posts between conversational and more formal news reporting because the latter have a better chance of being featured on the main website. This kind of publicity draws readers to the blog.
“It’s been a lesson in journalism and in good writing for publication,” Denmead said.
Still, the driving force of GeekDad is its awareness of its audience. Blum has utilized his readers’ knowledge when preparing questions for interviews. He has asked readers to respond via Twitter with questions they’d like to ask a particular interview subject, such as Adam Savage of the Discovery Channel’s MythBusters.
“He does tons of interviews, so I didn’t want to ask him the same questions that everybody had already asked him, because what’s the point” Blum said about interviewing Savage.
To avoid duplicating previously published information, Blum does his own research prior to interviews and said that the readers’ contributions are also helpful.
“I figure if I’m asking the readers,” he said, “not only are they helping me, but that way the end product will be that much more interesting to the readers because they’ve had some input into it.”
He said Twitter offers the perfect means of gathering information for this purpose.
For Denmead, his work as the GeekDad editor has blossomed into a book deal. He was approached by a literary agent and, after researching the agency to make sure it was legit, wrote a book proposal that got picked up by Penguin Viking. The book, which will probably be titled “The GeekDad Book,” is a collection of “geeky” projects that parents can do with their kids.
The test group for these projects? Denmead’s sons Eli and Quinn, of course. The book is scheduled to come out around Father’s Day in 2010.
This kind of family-oriented material is largely what makes the GeekDad blog so easy for its readers to relate to.
“It is very much the nature of GeekDad to try and be a community blog,” Denmead said.
All of the bloggers are unpaid and write from different parts of the country (and the world—one author lives in Australia), which provides the blog with varied and fresh perspectives. The bloggers clearly share one thing in common with each other and with their readers.
“We are literally what the title is,” he said. “We are geek dads — and a couple of geek moms.”
Wired.com has some of the most techno-savvy readers of any publication, and editor in chief Evan Hansen is not afraid to use them.
As it turns out, the online publication has fostered symbiotic relationships with its blog readers in a variety of different ways, all of which have been beneficial both to Wired.com and to its sharp-minded readers.
“You have the ability to reveal the story in progress, this sort of ‘process-is-content’ notion,” Hansen explained about blogging. “You reveal what you have, as it comes in, and then you invite the readers and the public to help you finish the story.”
This method of reporting has improved blogging at Wired.com, particularly when Hansen and his colleagues have taken experimental risks that have become incredibly successful. Most prominent among these experiments is the Geekdad blog, which features posts from self-proclaimed “geek” dads and moms. The contributors submit one or two posts a week, typically about science or technology topics that appeal to parents and kids alike.
Nintendo, NASA, and Legos are all fair game. Originally, the blog was run solely by Chris Anderson, but it became too much for one person to handle, so Anderson reached out to readers and asked whether any of them wanted to contribute.
“He found some people who were very qualified to do it, and he took that chance,” Hansen said, “and it worked out.”
“Worked out” is putting it mildly. Geekdad is now one of the most popular blogs on the site, and its contributors write posts for free — yes, free! — from all over the country. The blog’s unpaid editor, Ken Denmead, now has a book deal in the works as a direct result of the blog.
As of April 15, 2009, Denmead has sent out a call for more contributors. If the past is any indication, he’s going to get responses from plenty of enthusiastic, knowledgeable participants — just the sort of people who fuel the content of Geekdad.
As an editor who entrusts readers with blog content, Hansen laughed and said, “You’ve got to close your eyes a little bit and kind of just have faith that stuff that comes out is going to be in line with your brand and your sense of quality. It was a leap of faith, but it really turned out well. It’s an interesting and eclectic and, I think, very high quality publication now.”
Hansen estimates that 20-25 percent of what gets blogged about at Wired.com either starts with or includes tips from readers. The site uses a feedback tool developed by Reddit specifically for Wired.com blogs that allows users to upload text and pictures and also assists with sorting the content offered by readers. When Cal Tech grad student Virgil Griffith introduced the Wikiscanner in 2007, the Threat Level blog at Wired.com asked readers to submit IP addresses of Wikipedia users who were editing the online encyclopedia to suit their own agenda.
Using the Reddit tool to upload their findings to Threat Level, readers exposed hundreds of instances of corporate whitewashing on Wikipedia and then voted to determine the most appalling ones. In 2008, the project earned Wired.com a Knight-Batten award for innovation in journalism; Wired.com gave the $10,000 award to Wikiscanner creator Virgil Griffith.
The kind of reader/blog interaction that changes journalism is, of course, only available on the Internet. Hansen emphasized that Wired.com has the advantage of being a stand-alone Web site with original content, as opposed to being an offshoot of a print publication. Although Conde Nast now owns both Wired magazine and Wired.com, the two publications remain separate in terms of staff and news stories.
“The marriage back with the magazine has been very beneficial financially and otherwise,” Hansen said. “But, again, the structure here is that the Web site is considered to be its own business. We are very collaborative, and we share a brand, and we’re very respectful of the magazine…but we’re not the red-headed stepchild of a print publication.”
While the magazine and the Web site have different modes of operation, Hansen observed that the fundamentals of journalism apply to both.
“The most surprising thing is that the more we got into blogging, the more we realized it’s not all that different from ordinary news gathering,” he said. “The same rules apply in terms of accuracy, confirming information.”
For the blogs, Hansen said the goal is not to be an aggregation site but rather to do original reporting.
“Which means that you’ve got to pick up the phone,” he said. “You’ve got to talk to people. You’ve got to chase down facts and not just link to other people.”
And, it seems, it also helps if you’re something of a risk-taker — with very smart readers.
Facebook surpasses 200 million users — Still ignoring Facebook? Every journalist who wants to be a part of the future of journalism should at least play around with Facebook and understand why it is so popular. With its new design and rapid growth, Facebook should be a very appealing network for news organizations.
If its growth rate keeps up, Facebook should easily surpass 300 million users this year. Check out the original article over at AllFacebook to see that growth curve. Facebook is becoming massively popular, and it’s growing beyond it’s original demographic of high school and college students. (hat tip to Journerdism)
Number of US Facebook Users Over 35 Nearly Doubles in Last 60 Days — A large part of Facebook’s recent growth has been in older generations than its original target audience. This is good news for news organizations. High School and college students may never be a major demographic for news organizations, but people 35 and older have always been at the core of what news organizations target. Just look at where the growth has been on Facebook this year (Twitter has been similar too):
Looking at Facebook US audience growth over the last 180 days, it’s clear that Facebook is seeing massive increases in adoption amongst users 35-65. The fastest growing demographic on Facebook is still women over 55 – there are now nearly 1.5 million of them active on Facebook each month.
The biggest growth in terms of absolute new users over the last six month came amongst users 35-44. Over 4 million more US women 35-44 and nearly 3 million more US men 35-44 used Facebook in March 2009 compared to September 2008.
With Generation Xers and Baby Boomers joining social media at a rapid pace, it behooves news organizations to get a serious presence on Facebook ASAP. In addition, it’s time to start beatblogging. Our users are using social media. We must too.
Those who believe that social media is just for young, tech savvy people are wrong. Social media appeals to all kinds of people, regardless of age, sex and income.
43f Podcast: John Gruber & Merlin Mann’s Blogging Panel at SxSW — If you’re interested in starting a blog, this is a must listen. Gruber and Mann are two of the best bloggers around, and they discuss how to build an audience and what it takes to be good at blogging:
We talked about building a blog you can be proud of, trying to improve the quality of your work, reaching the people you admire, and maybe even making a buck (in a way that doesn’t blow your deal).
This podcast should be required listening for all news organizations thinking of getting into blogging. I’d make all of my beatbloggers listen to it. I’ve been blogging for years, and I found this podcast to be extremely useful.
Journalist bloggers need to become Internet marketers – This isn’t blasphemy, it’s the truth. If you’re not willing to market yourself, you’ll never become a successful blogger. You have to let people know about your work, get on social media, post on other people’s blogs and link back to yourself. That’s how it’s done:
When I started blogging, little did I know that I know that I’d need to become an Internet marketer. As a blogger, you need to let people know you’re there. As a journalist, that can seem weird. We’re used to be being behind the scenes — behind the notebook or camera — not out there telling people how great we are.
But if you want your blog to succeed, you need to become at least a bit of a marketer. Your colleagues may think it’s odd; but you need to promote your blog with friends, relatives, through social media, through Twitter, through any way you can think of.
Blogging your way into a job — Yes, personal blogs make people money, and ads aren’t needed either. I wouldn’t have this job without my personal blog. I’m not the only one with this story either. Tony Pierce wouldn’t be heading up the LA Times’s blogging efforts if he didn’t blog on his own time.
Not all the advice in this Forbes’ article is that good. You don’t need to keep your posts short. Make your post whatever it needs to be. That could be a list or a 2,ooo-word essay or it might just be embedding some video content. That’s what good blogging is about.
This sums up why every journalists needs a blog:
It’s a small amount of work that will likely impress recruiters and hiring managers, because it shows you to be enthusiastic and engaged with your industry. It also makes you look like an expert in your field.
But get a blog. It’s one of the best decisions of my life. Believe it.
Despite Recession, More Than 50% of Marketers Increase Spending on Social Media — You want to know why marketers are increasing spending on social media? Because it works! If you don’t have anyone dedicated to social media yet, you’re completely missing the boat.
Social media is a great reporting, journalism, public relations and marketing tool. And it’s free to join social media sites. It’s a cheap way to accomplish a lot:
Part of the reason for this increased spending is the low cost of social media tools. Compared with larger expenditures like advertising, social media requires much less investment. In fact, three-quarters of those surveyed who knew their budgets said they allowed for $100,000 or less for social media tools over a 12-month period.
Plus, social media is a great way to find out what the public is talking about. You do care about the public, right?
It’s not often that a journalist gets to design his own job description, but, with the ever-evolving landscape of online media, some journalists are not only defining their own job descriptions but they are also redefining what it means to be a journalist.
Andrew Nystrom of The Los Angeles Times has assumed a new role — one which he essentially created based on the Times’s need for it. Nystrom’s title is now Senior Producer of Social and Emerging Media.
“It is a new role,” Nystrom said. “There’s never been anyone at the Times before who’s been dedicated to social media.”
As a result, Nystrom is spearheading projects that utilize the Internet’s unique capability to engage with the Times’ readers.
The most developed social media outlet at the Times is blogging. Nystrom says that most journalists at the Times are enthusiastic about the blogs.
“I think we have forty-something blogs right now, and there’s people constantly asking for more, and they want their own blog,” he said.
Nystrom observes that the solo blogger format is not always the most efficient.
“We’ve actually scaled back the number of blogs and gotten more of a group blog format by topic,” he said. “We find that works better in a lot of cases to keep more fresh updates and not have to have people feel the burden that they have to blog daily.”
The Times also uses Twitter to interact more directly with readers. Nystrom said the paper began using Twitter in 2007 as a way to provide quick updates from reporters in the field during the wildfires in Southern California. The Times now has over eighty Twitter feeds that are constantly customized to accommodate reader feedback.
For example the content of the sports feed reflects the Times’s acquired knowledge that, on the whole, Los Angeles readers “just want to hear about the Lakers and Dodgers and don’t really care about football.” The near-instant feedback that the Internet allows for readers has shaped the information that the Times offers.
The information delivery methods that readers use also affect the way the content is presented.
“I think with the convergence of all these social media…people online can sort of curate their own news feed and have that delivered how they want it,” he said.
He mentions tools like mobile applications, texting, daily digests, ticker feeds, RSS feeds and third-party desktop applications and explained: “News readers, if they’re comfortable with the technology, can customize how they get their news and what format they digest it in.” With readers able to filter the news for themselves, the Times must offer the information in a myriad of forms. Nystrom said his role is “to continually stay abreast of the technology, what readers want, and what reporters and editors want and to experiment with new news delivery systems.”
Sometimes, Nystrom must spread the gospel, so to speak, of the ways in which new media can assist reporters.
He said he has to evangelize and talk to people — particularly to journalists who have not yet realized the potential of tools like Facebook and Twitter to interact with readers and to gather reporting tips.
“Somebody would say, ‘well I’m already on Facebook, why do I also need to be doing text? Or, what use is Twitter,'” he said.
In such cases, Nystrom says his job is “to get social media tools into the hands of more reporters.” Additionally, he suggests that a journalist’s responsibility is not necessarily to function on the “bleeding edge” of technology, but rather to use already-existing technology to better cover ones beat.
One way in which the Times has employed social media technology already in existence is through the L.A. Mapping Project. The project is an interactive map, the goal of which is to clarify the boundary lines of neighborhoods in L.A. Beginning with information gathered during the 2000 census, the Times offered an online draft of proposed neighborhood boundaries and then opened the site up to readers for comments.
Readers can also re-draw boundary lines to create their own maps according to what they think is accurate. Through this project, Nystrom says, the Times is “creating a community and civic resource that will be ongoing.”
He adds,”but we could never do that before by just publishing a flat map in the paper.” Eventually, the map will be licensed under Creative Commons for non-commercial, share-alike purposes; it will be served in a KML format that works with Google Earth. Just as importantly, the map will be an internal resource for the Times so that the neighborhoods referenced in the newsroom are clearly delineated.
Nystrom believes that the integration of social media into newsroom enhances reporting; ultimately, however, the driving principles behind the practice of journalism are the same.
“We really want to give people the same information that we’ve given them since 1881 every day,” he said, “but in whatever format that’s going to get us the broadest audience and is convenient for them as well.”
A reader e-mailed and asked this question: “Is it common for papers to require editor approval before blog posts go on the Web?”
Here is my response:
It depends on the organization and the journalist. Some organizations only require editing for certain journalists and beats. It’s hard to make an egregious error with sports reporting, for instance.
Even those that require editing for longer posts, usually would not bother for shorter posts. If a journalist can’t write 100-300 words without making spelling mistakes, being libelous or just being factually incorrect, should they really be employed as a journalist?
Most of the best beat bloggers we follow — all professional journalists — post live to their blogs without editors. BeatBlogging.Org’s posts go up unedited.
We’re hired to be professional writers.We should be able to write fairly clean copy that is spell checked, factually correct and isn’t libelous. Now, if I were working on a long post for several days at BeatBlogging.Org, I’d probably have it edited by Jay Rosen first. That kind of post, however, probably isn’t time sensitive.
A news organization cannot edit every post and piece of content and expect to succeed on the Web. Some content is simply too time sensitive for that kind of bottleneck. Most news organizations with blogs usually have at least a few bloggers that deal with beats that are very time sensitive.
If you don’t trust a journalist to write simple posts without mistakes, don’t give them a blog. Simple as that.
For everyone else, I’d allow them to write short posts that go up unedited. I would, however, make yourself or someone else available to edit longer, more in-depth posts when a journalist wants a second opinion. You don’t want to put your journalists into an uncomfortable position where they are posting content that they are not 100 percent comfortable with.
You’ll have a tough time being successful with beat blogging if everything has to get approval. In fact, I’d be shocked if that was a successful strategy. Can you imagine every little blog post, tweet, status update, etc needing approval?
Some news organizations would require longer posts to be edited. Others would not. Some bloggers simply don’t need someone editing all of their content to be successful (rather, editing hampers their ability to be successful). Others will want an editor to be available.
Ultimately, your news org will have to decide if there are certain kinds of content they want edited first. If the answer is yes, some content has to edited, then your paper will need to make someone available whenever to edit blog posts. A good blog cannot wait hours for an editor to get around to editing a post.
I also put this question to Twitter. Here are some of the response I got:
@joeruiz I have to read through the blog posts on our site before publishing. But my primary job is to check for libel and copy edit.
@damelemin For @qctimes and @quadsville staff blogs, some are edited, some not. Our EIC trusts reporters’ judgment. Short posts def not. Some [reporters] are not comfortable posting unedited content. For others, they only ask for edits when they want/need 2nd opinion.
@paulbalcerak Web content isn’t newsprint & can be fixed/edited any time.
@kimbui at my former paper, some required an editor, some did not, depended on the blog.
@debmarkham Since we hand pick our bloggers and offer them guidance, we trust them to post straight to the Web. (HamptonRoads.com)
What are the policies like at your news organization? Can journalists make blog posts without prior approval?