If you’ve tried to instigate change within your newsroom, you’ve probably heard some exasperated staff members say something like this: “They keep asking us to do more with less!”
From their point of view, this is what “change” often sounds like:
Not only do you have to do your old job (well), now you have to write stories for the Web, which you didn’t have to worry about even five years ago. Of course, you now have to blog – regularly. And shoot video. Don’t know how to shoot video? You’ll figure it out. Edit the video when you’re done, too. Even the intern knows how to do that, right? Oh, and we need all of this quickly — as in now — because our Web audience is gone after 5 p.m. By the way, you should try Twitter and live chats, too.
It’s not hard to see why they feel like they’re being asked to do too much, is it?
Here are three tricks to help spur that change without sparking a mass exodus of talent out your door:
1. Train them well. There’s nothing that makes extra work feel even more burdensome than not knowing what you’re doing. If you’re asking print reporters to shoot video, identify people in your newsroom who already appear to have a knack for it and have them work with those who do not. Pay for a multimedia expert to come in from outside for training if possible. Editing video is tough. Don’t foist that onto someone without some serious training. If your broadcast news reporters are being asked to write print stories for the Web, bring in a writing coach. Your city’s newspaper might even be willing to ship off a wordsmith adviser for a day in exchange for a video trainer.
2. Pat people on the back when they do the right thing. I once had an editor who never gave positive feedback. When I complained/whined a little that I wasn’t getting any positive feedback, he wryly said, “We expect good. I’ll tell you when you screw up.” That management style didn’t work then, and it certainly won’t work now. Even if you’re not the person’s boss, if you catch them writing a great blog post or starting a good Twitter account, send them an e-mail saying how great it is. CC the top bosses. Telling people they’re doing the right things goes a long way, especially considering the current business climate. Also, make a big deal out of successes. When a staffer’s blog receives a lot of comments, send a note out to the newsroom linking to that entry. Explain why community involvement is good. When you get a news tip through Twitter, let everyone know that is where you got it. When the video page views go up, have the money people stand in front of the newsroom and give a cheery report about the growth in that part of your site. People are more likely to take on new things if they see the tools work.
3. Lead by example. Whatever position you are in, show you mean business by making changes yourself. Write a blog, even if it’s not for your publication. Start a Flickr page and invite people to tag photos from a company gathering. Join Facebook, Twitter, Friendfeed, etc., and use them. It lends credibility to your preaching.
Even your organization’s biggest anti-change die-hards know by now that we’re not going back to 1995. Don’t just talk about change — do something to make it happen.
If you’re trying to do social media in your newsroom, you’re probably looking for an easy way to explain it to your newsroom, and more importantly, your supervisors. They’ll probably have questions like:
- What are the benefits of social media?
- Why should we interact with our audience?
- I just don’t get it. Where can I start?
That’s what Old Media, New Tricks is for. But sometimes, a picture — or in this case, a video — tells 1,000 words.
In case you haven’t seen this, we give you “Social Media in Plain English.” Enjoy.
Romanski joined the newspaper business just over four years ago. She says that some of her coworkers are “fond of saying I haven’t had time to become ‘jaded’ yet, which is fine with me.” She says journalism is “in her blood” — her parents worked in everything from radio, to newspapers, to television.
Official position at the paper:
I am the Web Editor for the Grand Island Independent in Nebraska.
What are your unofficial roles?
Social Media Advocate is the big unofficial one right now. I also back up our videographer by producing and editing video when needed. I’m also working on becoming a sort of liaison between our online department and the newsroom.
What is the culture like at a smaller paper when it comes to change?
I can’t speak for all small papers, just my own. I’d classify it as “wary” of change. “Fairly resistant” would be another way, because it has been somewhat of a challenge to coax people to try something they might regard as just a fad (I’m thinking of Twitter in this instance.)
What has been your most effective tool for instigating change?
I was very excited to talk to everyone in the newsroom about tools like Twitter and Cover it Live. I was invited to talk to them at a meeting about these tools. Instead, I spent almost the whole meeting defending the tools and hearing, “We have no time.” That’s the usual argument.
What I am discovering is that I just have to keep talking about it. I can’t force them to try Twitter. I can’t make them interact with readers if they’re dead-set against it. But when I’m sitting in the morning budget meetings, I can ask them for stories I should tweet for the paper’s Twitter feed. I can ask my boss to add our Twitter follower count to the weekly manager’s notes the whole plant receives. If I hear a reporter coming in working on something breaking, I tell them they should tweet it — or ask if I can tweet it. If I hear something cool on Twitter, or hear about a big breaking story on Twitter, I make sure everyone in my vicinity knows the info came from Twitter. If I make it sound like an everyday part of my own job, I figure eventually it will get absorbed. They’ll get curious.
To sum up, I just don’t shut up about these tools. It worked this way when we were struggling to get some bloggers in-house to put on our site. It just wasn’t happening. So, a couple of us in Online began our own. I started blogging about TV I was watching, and my coworker began a music blog. We pimped them online where ever possible, and we started getting a little traffic. Our sports guys would blog occasionally, but once we put together a page that linked to the blogs we had, it began to grow. Our blog section is still small, but it’s better than having none, and we have grown to include several community blogs.
Tell us about some of the new tools you’ve used and what success you have found:
My two big success stories have been the liveblogging tool from Cover it Live and Twitter. I discovered Cover It Live while looking through one of my favorite sites, wiredjournalists.com. I checked it out and loved it immediately. I couldn’t wait for a chance to use it. The chance came when we had to launch a redesign of our Web site. I decided to open up a liveblog/chat and talk to the readers as they checked out the new site.
They gave us invaluable feedback which allowed us to find bugs quickly and fix them, streamline our navigation for readers who were having difficulty and most of all it gave us *and the readers* immediacy. They loved it, and so did we.
We next used Cover It Live when we ran a six-week music tournament to find Central Nebraska’s favorite song. We held weekly chats with the four guys responsible for coming up with the bracket. It was another hit.
Finally, we recently had a fairly big story break when a large group of Somalian Muslims walked off their jobs and marched to city hall to protest their inability to pray at the appointed times during their holy month. This was a controversial story for days, and I opened a liveblog and invited our readers to talk to us about it. It was so busy that I couldn’t close the chat until nearly midnight, and I had to reopen it the next day.
With Twitter, I had been using it personally for a long time when I decided to open a feed for the paper. That was in November of 2007. Initially, I set it up with an RSS feed spitting out our headlines automatically every so often. Some readers liked it, but our follower list didn’t grow very quickly.
I did, and could not be more thrilled with the results. We had 95 followers at the end of August. We have more than 350 now, and it grows every day.
Is there a tough learning curve for you? How do you keep up with all the changes?
I’m a fairly quick learner and throwing myself into learning a new tool or program is fun for me. I do my best to keep up by following industry news and blogs (don’t ask how many RSS feeds I have in my Google reader. it’s frightening), follow a whole lot of smart, talented people on Twitter, and one of the best things I ever did was join wiredjournalists.com.
What’s on the horizon for The Independent? What do you think needs to be done?
We have a lot of ideas for liveblogging – setting one up with the top state sports reporters and let Nebraska Cornhusker fans chat with these guys for 30 minutes before or after a game is one idea we’re kicking around. Weekly chats, liveblogging events, we’ll always put one up when a big story breaks.
As for what needs to be done … we have to embrace the Web more than we do.
What three things would you tell small and mid-sized news operations to do immediately to increase their social media presence?
1. Start a Twitter feed for your paper, manually tweet headlines, use Twitter Search to find people in your area and start following them, and finally, interact with your followers.
2. Sign up with Cover it Live and find a reason to start holding live chats.
3. Join WiredJournalists.com
Thank you, Stephanie, for doing this. You give great advice for any news organization.
An employee is showing off his avatar on a “virtual life” island where he does virtual business. The catch is that his innovation doesn’t make any “real” profits. The boss, in avatar form, berates the employee by saying, “The point of innovation is to make actual money.” The employee sheepishly says, “My avatar doesn’t know how to do that.”
This commercial is funny, but if you’re pushing social media at your organization, you’ve likely had a serious conversation that follows that same theme. If you haven’t, it is coming soon. Your “island” might be your efforts to build a Facebook page, write a blog, get a Twitter presence going or build up credibility on Digg or Mixx.
You don’t want to sound foolish when that question comes up, so here are some answers you could use:
Question: “Making any money on your island?”
This effort is more about marketing our brand than a direct dollar-for-dollar payback. If we do this right, our brand is seen as a part of their lives. Besides, these social media tools are (generally) free. We have little to lose by trying.
If we don’t do this, then we risk becoming irrelevant. This is the way people are communicating at an increasing rate, and we are in the communications business.
This can be used for good customer service. Social media allows for us to respond to customers swiftly and effectively. It’s hard to measure the effect of good customer service, but it is easy to measure the effect of bad or nonexistent customer service.
It’s not about making money right now, but this just might make money in the long run. If we don’t plant our flag now and learn to do this the right way, we’ll be behind the curve.
We can reach an entirely new audience for our product. That’s the holy grail, isn’t it? With the economy the way it is, now is the time to try to reach out to new people.
Just don’t say, “My avatar doesn’t know how to do that.”
If you’ve managed a community that allows commenting or hosts other types of user-generated content, you’ve seen it. Behind the shield of a screen name, the ugliest parts of society sometimes is on full display: racism.
Recently, community managers across the country have had to decide whether to zap or keep comments about Barack Obama that could be considered racist, but the issue comes up often in online communities.
There are no hard rules on this. Each community manager (and organization) has to take a lot of these on a case-by-case basis.
Here are three guidelines that we offer, but we’re interested in hearing how you’ve dealt with this:
1. If there is an clear racist word or phrase in the content, the material is toast, the user is banned and you move on with your life.
2. If the user walks the line by using code words, it’s a little muddier. You might be misreading the author’s intent. Often, it helps to grab a coworker and show him or her the material. Usually, though, your first instinct is the correct one. If you decide you have a racist on your hands using code words, warn or ban the user.
3. If the user is not clearly being racist, but you might be sensitive to a topic (e.g., the person is against illegal immigration strongly, and you see that as being racist because of your own stance), try to get a second — or even a third — opinion. As a community manager, it is still your right to nix any material, but if you come down too hard on the offender, you’ll lose credibility within your community. A heavy handed manager can kill a community.
If you’re a community manager, how far do you let people push the envelope?
You’ve heard the news! You can get some massive traffic and buzz to your stories through social media. But unless you’re Chris Brogan, Guy Kawasaki or even Rick Sanchez, you don’t have a ready-made buzz machine.
How can you get traffic? Social bookmarking sites, of course, like Digg, Mixx, StumbleUpon and Reddit. Here’s how you can get started:
1. Sign up for Digg, Reddit, StumbleUpon and Mixx. Try using the same user name for each, just to maintain consistency. (Also, check out niche sites like Tip’d, which is a site just for business stories.)
2. Once again, fill out your profile. Completely. You don’t have to say you’re with a mainstream media organization; just don’t lie about it if you’re asked.
3. Start browsing, but don’t submit anything just yet. The way to get noticed is to leave smart comments on people’s posts.
4. If you can, find the site’s search function and do a search for your news outlet.
5. Befriend people who submitted stories from your site. But before you do, check to see the last time they submitted. There’s no use becoming friends with someone who hasn’t been on the site in over a year.
I will admit, this can be a time suck if you’re not careful, but it’s good to make yourself known to the community. Don’t worry about building up a power profile on each, but it’s good to become part of the conversation.