The Battle to Integrate Twitter in the Newsroom

I know I’m not alone in this battle. And maybe use of the word “battle” is incorrect. But sometimes it sure feels like one. But there must be hundereds of newsrooms like mine where the reporters are slow to try new technology and often hold up their “Oh great, more work” placards whenever something new is introduced to them.

I can sympathize. For a mid-size paper, we really have a tiny newsroom. Five news reporters, two full-time photogs and three sports guys. We cover Central Nebraska. That’s a lot of ground to cover for eight people. And so I feel this huge burden of guilt whenever I want to ask them to use a new tool for getting the info out. I like my newsroom and the people who work it, and the last thing I want is to add to their workload.

But there are some tools out there that would either be minimal work, or perhaps even ease the workload. It’s just a matter of finding a way to make them understand that. Twitter is such a great tool. How cool would it be if we could tweet a breaking news story before anyone else? Just takes a simple cell phone text and wham-bam we beat the competition.

Or how about tweeting the scores from a local ballgame? Or texting/tweeting updates from a volatile city council session or high profile court hearing? Drive by a terrible accident? Send a tweet, let the followers know to avoid a certain intersection during high traffic.

It’s so easy. And so far, in my 4 years here, getting Twitter introduced and used by anyone other than me has been one of my biggest obstacles.

Ryan Sholin wrote an interesting article in which he says “…stop thinking about Twitter as a place on the Web, and start thinking about it as a platform for publishing.” I like that thought because it underscores one of the major problems in overcoming this obstacle: Twitter perception.

Twitter is a silly name. “Tweet” is a silly name for referring to the updates. It doesn’t sound professional. And when trying to explain the service to the newsroom, I get giggles everytime I say “tweet.” So the perception is that Twitter is just a flash-in-the-pan social media-whosit-thingie that will go the way of using Blogger to post news updates.

I’ll tell you who my biggest obstacle is, and that is our head sports editor. Nice guy, good writer, but looks upon the web as a denizen of basement-dwelling freaks who should come into the light more often. Nothing I say can change his mind, and so unless the order comes down from on high, I don’t think he’ll ever listen to me.

The rest of the newsroom… well, we have two reporters who have been willing to try new things, such as using the handhelds to grab video or even blogging (though one gave up blogging when his traffic dropped after we switched layouts and he couldn’t be featured as prominently as before.) The others seem indifferent.

Yesterday I sent an email to them asking them, again, to do what they can to check in on the comments their stories generate. One replied back asking me basically if I’d just do it for them and let them know when there’s a good one they can look at. I blinked a few times, and scratched my head. I think they missed the point.

But today, my publisher emailed them and backed me up (yay!) and also pimped the use of Twitter as something they need to be doing. After I fainted, I quickly threw together a quick Twitter For Dummies page and sent it to them in the hopes that the publisher’s email combined with the message that they must help us interact with our readers would get them interested in learning more about Twitter.

That was early this morning. It’s nearly time to go home now, and I haven’t heard a peep from any of them. And this is where I stand right now. I’m almost thinking that I should just set up Twitter accounts for each of them, go around and give them training whether they want it or not. I’m really frustrated. And I know I’m not the only one experiencing this problem.

If anyone finds their way to my little blog here who has any advice that doesn’t involve nagging the newsroom until they all hate me, I would greatly appreciate it. I can nag if I have to, but I’d rather not.

[UPDATE 081308] One photographer is now on his way to Twitterdom! he tweeted his first tweet this morning, and is set up to tweet from his phone. I asked his old friend and fellow photog, who is a regular tweeter, to give him some encouragment and help if he needs it so yay! I’m hoping for a domino effect here. While I was helping to get him set up, the other photog wandered in to watch and asked a question or two. Fingers crossed!

I think when the new/old videographer starts back up next week, I’m going to ask him to sign up as well.

Music Madness – Big Success So Far

Okay so it’s only day four of a six week tournament, and time will tell if we can hold our readers’ interest for that long (we did for Movie Madness, so it stands to reason…) but I’m over the moon about the results of the tournament so far.

As of this post:

  • Pageviews for Music Madness site: 5, 126 – Average per day: 583 – Today alone: 644
  • We’re up to 21 Twitter followers for @gimusicmadness
  • The 4th bracket closes tomorrow but all total so far, we’ve had over 1,000 votes in the polls, far exceeding the Movie Madness turnout.
  • We had a great turnout last Thursday for the Liveblog with the guys, so much so that they wanted to continue it on Friday (traffic dropped, but I think that’s because we didn’t plan and therefore pimp a second day of chat.) The discovery by our senior columnist that Cover It Live was so powerful and yet so easy to use had him dreaming up other applications we can use it for, so even if the turnout had sucked, that alone would have made it worth it. Anytime I convert someone in the newsroom to new things is a total victory for me.
  • We had some server stress the first day, (which was a good thing if you think about it 🙂 ) but WordPress is holding up magnificently, and handling large volumes of voting really well.
  • We sold three sponsors, so yay it’s made a little money!
  • The combination of print and online to make this thing work has been seamless thanks to good planning. Daily teasers in the paper, house ads and banners, Twitters, and blog posts – at least three of those options were completely free publicity (I don’t know if I can make that claim about print stuff, Do you count cost of ink and space on A-1?

The final bracket voting ends tomorrow at noon, and then I have a wee break where I’ll be building the polls for Round Two. It will be interesting to keep an eye on the interest level in the tourney, both in-house and from our readers. Six weeks is a long time.

And I can’t believe Van Halen’s “Jump” is moving on. I really hate that song.

Off and running!

A slightly bumpy start when it was discovered that the four guys featured in our liveblog for Music Madness were still working with Firefox 1.5. Yeah, I said 1.5. So Cover It Live wasn’t working for them. After a desperate plea with the IT guy to upgrade them to 3.0 (and a lovely little serenade from two of them who love having that version 🙂 ) the chat has been going strong all morning!

We’re in a slow patch right now as the guys, you know, do real work, which is good because I’ve got a million balls in the air trying to keep this going. Got a new sponsor for it, had to make a banner for them, they filmed a roundtable discussion yesterday that I had to get embedded, and of course, keeping the chat and twitter going.

Good thing I’m a Queen Multitasker.

But I’m very pleased with the results so far. We’re nearing 100 votes in the first bracket, the promotion we’ve done leading up to this is paying off (using Twitter, radio call-ins, house banners, and a spread in print.) And of course, the liveblog is a hoot. Still impressed as ever with Cover It Live – use it whenever you can – it’s free!

Oh happy day

I just spent a frustrating morning trying to fix a photo uploading problem for the photographers’ blog. It was a good frustrating though, because I’m absolutely thrilled that they are blogging, and that they came to me first and asked me to build a blog for them. I didn’t have to nag. I hate nagging. I love everyone in my newsroom, but sometimes getting them to explore the things they can do online can be… well, frustrating.

We’re down to two full time photogs and a couple of stringers now so the fact that they somehow find the time to put one of their fantastic photos up on their blog makes me feel all warm and fuzzy. Barrett especially takes the time to write nice captions, explaining why he took each photo and giving our readers a glimpse into the process of photography. It’s one of my favourite blogs in our stable. The idea for The Things We’ve Seen is that Barrett and Scott (and hopefully the stringers if they want) to have a place to post photos that don’t make it into print. When they cover an event, the take more than a few pics, and sometimes I’m sure it’s difficult to pick just one for A-1. or in the case of this photo, it was something they took on their own time for not other reason than it was pretty.

I’m hoping they enjoy blogging and don’t look on it as a chore. I think that’s the key – if you view it as a chore, then that’s what it will always be. I have a couple of reporters who take that tack and changing their opinion of it is a battle. But I have an editor who is blogging and is always telling me how much he enjoys it. He took up the idea of blogging when he decided to train to run in his first-ever marathon and the paper would track his progress in print, and he’d post daily updates. It’s working out really well, and he’s discovered that he likes the blog thing (oh, and he likes the running thing too 🙂 )

Fitting blogging into a busy schedule can be difficult. You either have to make the time for it, or you don’t. But! Blog posts don’t have the be novel-length. I’m the exception, because I can’t seem to shut up when I start writing, but even posting a link and a blurb about the link is considered a post. I wonder if a lot columnists who blog make this mistake by thinking a blog is an extension of their columns and therefore should be column-length every time. Not so! Look at Dave Barry’s blog. Most of his posts aren’t any longer than two or three sentences. In the time it takes you to text your significant other that you’ll be late for dinner, you could have thrown up a quick blog post.

And so it goes. Progress is being made in my newsroom, and hopefully it’s not a significant drain. judging by the feedback I get, it’s working well. Now if they would just talk to each other about how easy it is…

The best tools ever.

The best part of my job is being able to take advantage of some great tools to make my newspaper better. The two best tools so far have been Twitter and Cover It Live.

I’ve had a Twitter account set up for The Independent for some time now, and it’s been slow, but we’re getting followers now. I set up a feed to post latest headlines to it and I left it alone. I love stuff that runs itself. But now that our Twittership is growing, I want to bring it into the newsroom and have our reporters do a little microblogging. I’ve been using it every so often to pimp some promotions (not too often though, don’t want to get spammy) and now I’ve got a new account set up to promote a music tournament the paper is doing, where I will be tweeting music trivia and tidbits, as well as news about the tourney.

The Twitter thing seems to be taking off here in Nebraska as I just participated in a Q&A with the Nebraska Press Association who was curious about the use of tools like this. I hope it takes off around here. I noticed some of the local TV stations are on the Twitter bandwagon so that’s a good sign. I’ve gotten great feedback from readers about it as well.

And Cover It Live. How I love this tool. I want to take it out for dinner, it’s so cool. I’ll even pay. We’ll be using it again during the previously mentioned music tournaments, for weekly chats with the reporters and editors who are involved with it. I’m not sure if it will go over as well as it did when we liveblogged our redesign, but if even a few readers pop in to talk about some of the matchups, I count that as a success.

The best thing about these tools, and others like it? They’re free. F to the R to the EE. How can anyone not take advantage of these powerful mediums to improve their paper? How can any journalist not see the benefits? I read a lot of comments and blogs from the curmudgeon brigade wishing for the days of yore – but how does one make them open their eyes and see that their Online departments are there to enhance journalism, to strengthen it, to improve it and strengthen its reputation among an increasingly technologically savvy world?

Hi.

Sometime soon-ish, I’ll have this place finished. Eventually I hope to blog regularly about the goings-on and observations regarding life inside the newspaper biz. I don’t work for a huge metro and can’t speak to the things those guys are going through. I do, however, work in a mid-size daily (circulation around 23-24,000 covering 6-ish counties in Central Nebraska) called The Grand Island Independent.  I work as the web editor, a job which is contantly evolving.

I’m very big on social media and trying to find ways to bring reluctant newsrooms forward and help them succeed. I don’t believe in looking down on the print folks who put out a quality paper – even the ones who regard the website with disdain. I get frustrated by them, but I understand their frustrations too. It may be futile and idealistic, but I’m hoping to find a way to get them to evolve and succeed.

Anyway, enough about me for now. Back to tweaking the site.