So much newsroom progress, still working on it

It’s been a long time since I’ve written about the progress of my newsroom with social media. Too long, really. When I started this blog, social media was in its infancy and getting reporters on board with it was like pulling teeth. Nine years and two corporate owners later, social media is now a company-wide priority focus for our digital strategy. It’s a good thing we’ve had exposure to it for so long because we’re in an excellent position to do some great work.

I’ve been promoted to something called an ‘Audience Development Editor’ and my primary focus is to find ways to grow our digital audience. An ‘Audience Development Coordinator’ has been added to the staff (which is basically just someone replacing me in my old job) who handles the day-to-day social posting.

I still work with the reporters to get them to post how I want them to – sometimes it’s still like pulling teeth to get them to come on board with what I need them to do. We have 5 news reporters and 3 sports reporters. Four of the news reporters have worked here longer than I have (I’m in my 12th year here) and entrenchment is one of my battles. One reporter is a fresh-faced, just-out-of-college who’s been steeped in social media for a long time and understands its importance. She’s excited about it. She enthusiastically sends me ideas for using tools like Storify and Spotify playlists and Timelines and sometimes I just want to weep at her excitement for these things I love.

A lot of times I feel like the entrenched reporters don’t take what I love to do seriously because they just don’t get it. They’ll tweet – because they have to thanks to orders from on high – but they’re not good at it. They don’t take any time to learn how it could benefit them.

So that’s frustrating for us.

Some of the things we’ve implemented to try and impress upon them the importance of all this social stuff:

  • Installed Chartbeat on two monitors in our small newsroom so everyone can see how our website is doing in realtime as well as see latest tweets/FB posts. – Successful.
  • Bought 2 iPads for the newsroom to use when covering meetings or other events. – They are not used enough.
  • Working on getting dual monitors for all of the reporters so that they can run Tweetdeck  during their shifts – So far 2 reporters and the city manager have the monitors. Only one uses it for Tweetdeck. The others just like the extra screen real estate.
  • My audience guy and I attend every morning reporter meeting and talk to the staff about our successes in gaining traffic (popular FB posts etc.) as well as share a social media tip every morning.
  • Facebook boosts for news stories. We had mostly been using our FB boost budget to promote revenue stuff like contests, but we had a corporate visitor the other day who said it would be beneficial to up the budget as much as we can, and start doing one-day-ish boosts of news stories that are doing well on social. So I’ve been doing that for the last week. Definite improvement.

I’m sure there’s more but I need to wind this post up. The tl;dr version of this post is we’ve come a long way but we still have a ways to go.

Learning valuable lessons in the newsroom

Yesterday, I learned a few things about the ever-uphill road of getting reporters on board with Twitter and/or Facebook.

Here is an email I sent out to everyone that, I swear, started off with just wanting to share a helpful link with them and keep Twitter in their minds:

This is an EXCELLENT resource for the newsroom and using Twitter to research, mobile tweeting, hashtags and more.

http://media.twitter.com/newsrooms

Some of you have Twitter accounts – even if you didn’t know it – and I have your login info and am available *anytime* you want to learn more about this important and really valuable tool. Come find me. And to those of you who don’t have an Indy Twitter account yet (like our awesome new photog), I’d be happy to get one set up for you.

Please consider learning more about Twitter and social media in general – I can sit with you one-on-one if you like. Lately, we are constantly getting scooped on Facebook and Twitter by other media outlets, and while I know it’s important to get the story for print, in today’s media, a breaking story is old by the time the reporter gets back in, writes the story and someone reads it before it’s posted online. Our readers are starting to turn elsewhere when something breaking happens.

Even just a quick tweet saying, ‘Accident at 281 and Webb – details online soon’ would help. We have to shift our thinking just a little bit if we’re going to stay relevant in the future. So that’s why I might seem a little aggressive in this email. I may go into nag mode until I get all of you using Twitter, even just a little 😉

I hit ‘send’ before I could talk myself out of it and for the rest of the day, I went from frustration to elation when one of the reporters I believed was the least interested in social media approached me and told me that her concern wasn’t the technology – it was that she felt she didn’t have access to the technology. Blew. My. Mind.

It’s something I bemoan a lot here. I believe every reporter should be provided with a smartphone – or at the very least, access to a smartphone to take out in the field when needed. We managed to get a Droid that is used by our online reporter/videographer and he often tweets as @girightnow when he’s out. And that is fabulous and that is a LOT more than some small newsrooms get. But some of my journalists are using Razr phones with no texting plans. I mean seriously. Razrs. And while it’s awesome that we have our online guy, we also need our beat reporters to be more involved in tweeting.

So we gave the Droid to the reporter going to a board meeting today to see if she could manage a few tweets – so far she is rocking it and I am over the bloody moon. As I talked with my boss about this yesterday, I learned that we need to make sure the reporters will actually use the technology before we go out and splash a bunch of cash on it. We’ve been burned before (I’m looking at a dusty Zi8 video camera we bought in hopes of having the reporters grab it and go all the time) and so this time, we’re not going to get all excited and get ahead of ourselves until we’re sure they are on board.

The last thing I learned was that our paper’s Twitter/Facebook follower count has reached 1/5th of our print subscribers. That doesn’t include our “audience reach” of course, just the hard number of current subscribers, but that fraction also blew. my. mind.

I think we are finally past the “I don’t get it” stage or the “Who cares what they had for breakfast” stage. We’ve moved onto the “I need the technology first” stage. They get that Twitter and Facebook aren’t frivolous and unimportant. Now they just need to learn how to use them to their advantage.

Today I have two three reporters tweeting – one who had never done it before, and one who usually has trouble getting it to work for him. Today is a good day.

This is an EXCELLENT resource for the newsroom and using Twitter to research, mobile tweeting, hashtags and more.

http://media.twitter.com/newsrooms

Some of you have Twitter accounts – even if you didn’t know it – and I have your login info and am available *anytime* you want to learn more about this important and really valuable tool. Come find me. And to those of you who don’t have an Indy Twitter account yet (like Matt, our awesome new photog), I’d be happy to get one set up for you.

Please consider learning more about Twitter and social media in general – I can sit with you one-on-one if you like. Lately, we are constantly getting scooped on Facebook and Twitter by Steve White and 10/11 and other media outlets, and while I know it’s important to get the story for print, in today’s media, a breaking story is old by the time the reporter gets back in, writes the story and someone reads it before it’s posted online. Our readers are starting to turn to NTV when something breaking happens.

Even just a quick tweet saying, ‘Accident at 281 and Webb – details online soon’ would help. Another example is at big press conferences – Steve White is livetweeting all the info from them now and by the time we get something posted, everyone already has the info. Maybe it’s my inner competitor talking, but I want our 4.100 fans and followers getting their news from us, not Steve. We have to shift our thinking just a little bit if we’re going to stay relevant in the future. So that’s why I might seem a little aggressive in this email. I may go into nag mode until I get all of you using Twitter, even just a little 😉

iPads in the newsroom

So my long wait is over and I have a shiny new iPad 2. Yes I am a bit of a gadget whore, but in my defense I did force myself to wait for the 2nd generation iPad and I’m glad I did. I love this bloody thing.

But one of the reasons I justified spending some hard-earned dosh on it was that I hoped it could potentially be useful at work. My publisher has been talking about trying to get a couple for the newsroom and for advertising and so I thought, if I have one and bring it to work with me everyday, it’s usefulness would become apparent.

So far it’s great at telling me the weather. And testing site designs and how they look on it. I’ve been able to show it off a little and everyone agrees it’s a pretty gorgeous little machine, but so many keep referring to it as ‘Steph’s toy.’

At home, yes it’s been something of a toy while I play Plants vs. Zombies on it or watch some Doctor Who on Netflix while I’m on the treadmill, and my goodness, AirPlay is a brilliant app. But here’s a few ideas I have for making this more of a tool at work as opposed to a toy:

  • Our mobile web reporter could use it to make submitting stories on the road easier than typing it out on the Droid.
  • Any reporter attending city council or school board meetings can take notes easily without lugging a laptop in and with a 3G iPad, no need to worry about available wifi.
  • Ad reps can eliminate the need for paper-wasting flyers and packets by keeping various presentations on the iPad to show advertisers.
  • Online demos and ad banner prototypes can be shown easily and impressively.

I would love to hear from other newsrooms out there that are either using iPads or thinking about it to find out how they’re being used or to get more ideas on how to use them. Comments are open- Russian spammers piss off please, I’m sick of you.

– written with the WordPress iPad app which is really awesome 🙂

Newsroom changes for the good

I’m really pleased right now. I will admit that for a few months, I had begun to despair because my newsroom stopped responding to change. I watched as other news services in the area clutched their smartphones with glee and began to outstrip us when it came to live tweeting news as it happens.

I won’t go into all of the red tape reasons we were dragging our heels because it doesn’t matter anymore. We no longer have a videographer. Now we have a mobile web reporter. Essentially, we turned our videographer into our reporter for the web. Do you have any idea how much I’ve wanted such a person in the newsroom? Not only that, but we worked out a way to get him a Droid X, taught him how to turn it into a wifi hotspot and now he can get out there, shoot photos and video and write a story for the web in his car, pop me a text and I can get it edited, photos/video added and have something online before any other news service around here can say, “I didn’t know about that.”

What this means for The Independent is we’ll have a fresh, regularly updated website all day long.I’m so excited I could spit.

Our new mobile web reporter has some learning to do, mind you. I want him to not rely on his expensive video camera all the time that requires a lot of editing/producing time and just grab some video with the Droid for a story that we can put in as plain old raw video. People click that stuff. They don’t need something slick and produced with transitions and title tags all the time. I want him to open up his UStream app and air it live while I embed that into a story and direct readers to it from Facebook and Twitter.

But he’s still learning how the phone works, and for now he’s doing a good job of getting out to stories we might not always cover because we’re shorthanded (like most newsrooms I know.) He needs to be able to find stories on his own now, but he’ll learn that too.  We’ll get there, and I’m so excited about this.

Not only that, I had a meeting last week regarding our direction with Social Media, which is my forté. I am not going to talk much about it just yet, but I will just say that my publisher is *extremely* taken with what the Journal Register is up to….

Newsroom travels back in time

My newsroom feels like it’s gone back in time about two years when I was really struggling to get everyone on board with social media stuff. I can’t remember the last time someone grabbed our spiffy Zi8 to grab some video of a breaking story, or hell, I can’t remember when I last had regular news updates for the web without asking for them or finding them myself.

We had a brief period of excitement when it looked like we might be able to finagle a couple of Droids for newsroom use and I had visions of live tweets from pressers and games and breaking stories. I had fantasies of reporters who finally had that big old light bulb go off when they saw how much their work is enhanced by using a Droid and how effective Twitter is at communication.

Well that got squashed pretty quickly in corporate red tape and well, we have no droids and my newsroom is once again too busy getting their stories in for print (and web, often as an afterthought) to fuss with Twitter. I’m back at square one and it’s killing me pretty good. I just don’t know if I can handle starting at the bottom of the hill again. I’m like the Sisyphus of Social Media. And in the meantime, I see our competitors leaving us in the dust because they’ve embraced it.

Let me just say here that I believe the staff here is phenomenally talented at what they do, and have been doing for years. They’ve got experience, great contacts in the community, they’re creative and they are some of the best. I just wish I could find a way that isn’t patronizing or insulting to reach them and switch on that light bulb so that they see what I’m trying to give them is another way to enhance their work, their careers, and at the same time, make a lot of it easier. I want to help, but instead I feel sometimes that I’m seen as a brick wall they can’t be bothered to climb.

Having said that, we still need a solution to the problem of regularly updated content for the web. We still need to be using Twitter and Facebook and Storify and every tool we can get our hands on to make my newspaper THE place to get your local news.

To that end, we’ve been kicking around the idea of just sending me out with the reporters to do that stuff. It makes sense in a, “Why didn’t we think of that before?” kind of way.  We’re not going to change minds in the newsroom by constantly hammering away at them. Ever been lectured by a parent? Ever tuned them out while they lectured? That’s what happens in a newsroom – well mine at least. So let’s just do it ourselves. I’ve been live-tweeting stuff for years. I can juggle my iPhone, various apps (hello AudioBoo!), cameras and finesse wi-fi in the strangest places. So let’s stop moaning about a newsroom that doesn’t “get it” and just show them. They can still whip out their pencils and digital recorders and write their stories when they get back, and meanwhile, I’ll have continual updates going out instantly, and then Storify them when *I* get back.

I will either piss off my comrades, or they will get to see how this stuff works in action and maybe have a light bulb moment.

Does your newsroom have a Breaking News plan?

At The Independent, we’re trying to come up with a breaking news “mobilization” plan to put into place that takes into account our tools (cameras, phones, other recording equipment), our software capabilities and reporter abilities.

What? Why haven’t we done this already?

Well, it’s not like we don’t know how to cover breaking news. We do that pretty well. But it’s time to create a plan that includes social media and some staff that our 140 year-old newspaper is still getting used to using.

For example, we’re ditching our cludgy, GL-2 cameras that require tapes and take two to three hours post-production and switching to Kodak Zi8s with external microphones. We will eventually have three or four (more if we can get them) of these available to the newsroom and we will train and expect our staff to grab them when heading out on a story. Not every story will need video, but the reporters are the best judge as to which stories WILL require video to enhance them and it needs to become second nature to them to remember to grab a camera. We’re lucky to have a couple people in-house who can take that video, edit and upload it for them, but in my opinion, reporters would be smart to learn how to do this themselves. The Zi8s and Moviemaker (or iMovie) are really all you need to get something online quickly.

Our recent experiment with live tweeting has taught some of us how to use an amazing tool like the Verizon Droid to manage a whole new kind of news story. We can’t afford to buy our reporters each a Droid, but we *might* be able to invest in at least two that will be designated for newsroom use. In my wildest dreams, I want every reporter to have a Droid (or iPhone, but those aren’t available here) because I still believe they are one of the best tools a reporter could have in their arsenal. So, I’ve been tasked with coming up with a Breaking News plan that goes from news tip to the very last update. I’ve found a few suggestion online, but it’s pretty sparse. So I’m going to try my luck again with a little crowdsourcing and ask, maybe even beg for advice and suggestions from my fellow awesome journos.

  • Do you have a plan?
  • What do you include in it?
  • Who do you include in it?
  • Do you post all updates within one story with timestamps or post multiple stories each time there is an update?
  • Do you have someone “corral” all incoming information?
  • Do you flow everything through an editor before anything gets posted?
  • Do you post “as-is” and make corrections later?
  • How big does a story have to be before this plan goes into effect?
  • How do you handle the front page of your site? (Does the template change etc.)
  • Do you have a general plan or do you tailor it to your organization? Which is best?

Any help would be much appreciated. Comments are open! 🙂

Real-time success! A Live Tweeting Update

Today was one of those days that makes you remember why you love this business so much. And if ever a case was made for every reporter in every newsroom having a smartphone, today was it.

When I walked into the newsroom this morning, the publisher was talking to the city editor and our temporary mobile journalist about a call he’d gotten from a local high school. His son attends the school and they were informing parents about an apparent shooting threat. They told parents they could keep their kids at home or come pick them up if they had already been dropped off. Heavily armed police officers were guarding the school and calls were starting to come into the newsroom from panicked parents.

Since we are on Day Three of our live tweeting experiment, our intrepid journo with the Droid headed up to the school to see what he could find out. As soon as he arrived, the information started flowing right onto our front page. And it was an awesome sight to behold. He was able to get in and speak to the plethora of parents who had arrived to pick up their kids and find out more information from the police and school officials.

The next thing I know, I’m getting a flood of Facebook friend requests (our Twitter updates flow to our Facebook page) from people following the story on our website. When they held an impromptu press conference to assure parents their kids would be safe to come back to class, Jack used Qik on his Droid to send it live as it happened. When it ended, I was able to embed the video right into the full story another reporter wrote when all the excitement died down.

We were able to tweet – as the words “the suspect has been arrested” as the words were coming out of the Administrator’s mouth, flowing it to our site and thus making our leap into real time news. It was incredible to behold and the best part is the entire newsroom, from my usual ‘bah humbuggers’ to the ones who’ve embraced it, could finally see all of this in action.

I think it’s one thing to talk about the Hudson River landing and Twitter’s role there, or Twitter’s role with Haitian relief to these folks, but it’s simply not going to “sink in” until they can see it in action locally like they did this morning.

It’s been an awesome morning. I will stipulate that by also saying I am terribly glad nobody was hurt and that the threats never came to fruition. My daughter graduated from this very school only last year.

Yesterday, we held an impromptu meeting to discuss some issues with this experiment and to see what could be improved. Some lessons from that – and from this morning are below:

  • How can we flow images and video to our own site instead of sending traffic away to Twitpic or Qik? – It can be done, but it’s clunkier than simply using the tools built into apps like Twidroid or Tweetie. I think we’d have to build an app from the ground up, which is beyond our ken. And Barbie.
  • Will a non-Twitter user understand how to disseminate the information we are sending into our Juitter extension? Does it become confusing to follow when the latest tweets are on top? – I think today proved that this really isn’t an issue. I have yet to hear from anyone who was glued to our coverage today complain about the order in which tweets arrived.
  • Reign in the ‘casual observations’ such as “I’m moving on someplace else” or “Bob left the room”. – When reporting news on our front page, we should keep it to the news and leave off the ambiance a little. This is fine for regular tweeting, but maybe not so much on our front page. I haven’t decided whether I agree with this yet. Still pondering.
  • In today’s big news story, when reporting real-time, avoid phrases like “I’m hearing that ….” and reporting rumors. – I’m of two minds on this. I can see that a newspaper reporting ‘I spoke to a lady who says her kids tell her students carry guns to school’ might give credence to false information. On the other hand, one of our reporters said that when you’re reporting live on the scene, the rumors become part of the story. I can see that. I think it’s a very fine line, though, between ‘just the facts’ and reporting the mood and observations of a scene like that.

What do you think?