Posts filed under 'Newsletter'

New Tricks: Live tweeting from the courthouse

Earlier this month, Austin American-Statesman reporter Steven Kreytak live-tweeted a local murder trial. The trial was emotional and at times painful because of the involvement of a child who had to testify about his mother’s death. Steven, who had never live tweeted a trial before, and was a light Twitter user before this trial, dove in. I asked Steven to answer a few questions for this newsletter because it was an interesting and successful trial use of Twitter as a breaking news tool during a highly competitive news story.

Below the Q&A, you’ll see some of my notes:

OMNT: Why did you decide to do this? Did anyone ask you to do it?

Kreytak: Around the time the trial started, the Baltimore Sun ran a story that said the Maryland Supreme Court was considering banning Twittering from courthouses. The story quoted a reporter from the Wichita (Kansas) Eagle who Twitters from court. I checked out some of that reporter’s posts and got some ideas for how to use Twitter as a court reporter.

At the time I thought to myself: A) I can do that, and B) Maybe I should consider doing that if someone is considering banning it.

I had set up a Twitter account months ago but never really took to using it. At the start of the Milton Dwayne Gobert trial I had about 50 followers. (I now have more than 125).

The most anticipated testimony of the trial was of the 11-year-old boy who was 5 the day that Gobert killed the boy’s mother. The boy was there and his testimony promised to be dramatic.

When the boy took the stand I filed a blog that he was testifying. Then I put a link to my Twitter page on the bottom of the blog. I really just made the decision to Twitter his testimony on the spot.

OMNT: How difficult was it to do? You not only live-tweeted, but you also blogged profusely and wrote stories for print. How did you manage?

Kreytak: In court I take some notes by hand and some on the laptop. Generally, because I type faster than I write, I type notes of opening statements, closing arguments as well as critical witnesses, like a defendant taking the stand in his own defense. The boy’s testimony was going to be critical so I typed it. I knew I’d want a lot of dialogue to put in the story.

So that allowed me to cut and paste sections of the boy’s testimony into Twitter. I may have missed some parts of his testimony that I would have had otherwise, but I got most of it.

When there was a break in testimony, I hurried and wrote a blog. I even wrote one once while the lawyers were discussing an objection at the bench. Usually these delays are frustrating but I managed to use them to my advantage.

As for the print stories, that came later so the blogging and Twittering served as a notebook for those stories. Now by the end of the day I was pretty tired from all of the blogging and Twittering, but not so much that I could not finish the day off with a print story.

OMNT: What was the response from readers? From your colleagues/supervisors?

Kreytak: I got great feedback from my colleagues/supervisors as well as readers. I also felt like many people around the courthouse — lawyers, private investigators, cops — were noticing my work more than usual. While I was covering the testimony I was fueled by watching as the number of followers I had increased.

OMNT: Would you do it again? What would you do differently?

Kreytak: I would do it again, but I would try to find more opportunities to send folks back to the Website and probably file fewer posts to Twitter.

OMNT: Did you see any personal/professional benefit to doing this?

Kreytak: The professional benefit is to assert myself as the authority on the courthouse. It’s great to feel like I am delivering directly to readers and can interact with them in real time. Yes, while live Twittering from court I responded to readers during brief breaks in testimony. And I got nothing but positive feedback. That’s a real psychological/emotional benefit in a time when online commenters love to beat you down.

OMNT: What tips or caveats do you have for the rest of the newsroom?

Kreytak: Pick your spots. The 11-year-old’s testimony was clearly riveting and so it was no doubt worthy of Twitter. But there are some really boring parts of any trial (public meeting, etc) and I believe that readers want us to distill those parts and not burden them with too much minutiae.


Rob’s notes:

First of all, I’m excited that Steven wanted to experiment with a new way of reporting, and I think he did a great job. Not only was he live-tweeting, but he was filing excellent, frequently-updated blog posts and in-depth print stories as well. As you all know, this is not an easy task.

And people did appreciate what Steven did. How often do you get this kind of feedback from our readers?

What Steven did:

Below, you’ll see a Twitter exchange from Steven in the middle of the sentencing phase. Note that he replies to a reader (@TheDrowElf) and links to his work online, in this case, his blog post:

Linking back to the site:

Steven’s point that reporters should link back to their news site is a good one. As a newsroom, the Statesman is doing some fantastic and exciting things with new tools, from live video to live chats to social media. The key is to remember to balance it all out.  If you put all of your content on Twitter or Facebook, but don’t link back to your site at all, you’re giving your content away, and cheating readers out of seeing all the detailed work you put into your publication.

To that end, balance pouring content onto Twitter with linking people to your reports and articles online as much as possible. You can go overboard with this (only sending out links to our sites without putting any content on Twitter). Give your readers some content on Twitter, but leave enough for them to want to go to your news site for more.

- Robert Quigley


NOTE: This is from a social media newsletter that I send out to the American-Statesman newsroom. You can read past newsletters here.

26 comments March 23rd, 2010

New Tricks: Using social media to listen

For those of us in the publishing industry, it’s kind of a “no kidding” statement to say that the vast majority of what we do is gather content and then push it out there through print and online means. However, there’s another side to being a journalist: listening. We listen to what members of the community are saying. We listen to city officials. And we listen to the competition.

One of he little-known benefits of social media is that the tools can be used to listen. You can use social media effectively even if you’re pretty sure you’ll never tweet a thing. Here’s how:

  • Through story comments. Though maligned (often righteously) for being the junk heap of the Internet, comments can offer some information if we listen. Don’t believe me that there can be value? Check out what American-Statesman Business Editor Kathy Warbelow has to say: “Readers sometimes know things we haven’t heard yet. Their comments have given up tipoffs on things like local layoffs — including recently at Dell — stores or restaurants opening or closing, the sudden stop of work on big construction projects — we heard about the big star riverside condo project problems from a reader comment — and sometimes about companies we had not known about.”

    Warbelow points out that sometimes comments are “maddeningly vague” and that e-mail addresses can be phony, but the business staff has been able to connect with enough people that she believes that “comments are good.”

  • Besides sending out Tweets, you can also use Twitter just to listen. It’s not a bunch of people saying they’re eating a sandwich … you can follow a select group of Twitter users who can help you in your job (politicians, sports figures, corporations and other media outlets come to mind). There is some good (free) software for that, including Tweetdeck and Seesmic Desktop. If your followers are just tweeting about sandwiches, drop them and find the right followers. There are plenty of informative people and organizations on Twitter.
  • Listen to what your Facebook friends are saying. Assuming you have some locals you have friended, you might hear some good tips. At the very least, you’ll likely get some good feedback on stories you’ve written.

Before social media, good journalists listened to what their neighbors were saying, what people were saying at the coffee shop and what city officials were telling them. Think of social media as a way to extend your reach.

- Robert Quigley

NOTE: This is from a social media newsletter that I send out to the American-Statesman newsroom. You can read past newsletters here.


Please post your thoughts as comments on this post. We look forward to hearing what you have to say!

22 comments February 18th, 2010

New tricks: Journalists and SEO – searching for the right balance

This is from a social media newsletter that I send out to the American-Statesman newsroom. You can read previous newsletter entries about audience and responsiveness to the community.

Searching for traffic

Newspaper copy editors spend a lot of time crafting the best headlines for stories, with particular attention focused on the front-page headlines. The reason is obvious: to draw readers into our content. On the Web, writing a good headline is just as important.

Thanks to detailed metrics, we can see exactly what draws people to our content, and we know that search engines bring in a sizable chunk of traffic on newspaper Web sites. Most of that traffic is not coming to the newspapers’ home pages but to individual stories, blog posts, videos and photos.

This search engine traffic is so valuable that there’s an entire industry, search marketing, built around finding ways to drive it. When you search for something on Google, it’s not sheer luck that you can find what you’re looking for – Google takes several things into account before deciding what content to put first. Search marketers work with companies and individuals to help them place better in the search engines.

Although Google’s algorithm for ranking stories is a trade secret, search engine marketers have figured out the major factors that come into play. One of them is including relevant keywords in headlines. When news broke recently in Austin about the local-favorite Cactus Cafe closing, could have written a headline online that said, “Longtime UT music venue to close in August.” Although there’s nothing factually wrong with the headline, it misses out on some keywords that would help people find that story when they search for it on Google, Bing or Yahoo. The headline Austin360 did use was “UT to close Cactus Cafe, end informal classes.” That has all the keywords we’d want: “UT” “close” and “Cactus Cafe.” Thanks in part to that headline, the story appears at the tops of the search engines today.

“When writing headlines, you all are the masters,” said search marketing expert Kate Morris. “I did not major in journalism in school, but many blog writers are told to look at journalists for ideas.”

We’re all headline writers these days, whether you’re writing a headline for your blog, for a photo gallery, a video or a story that’s going on A1.

Morris has this advice for writing headlines:

* Look for a balance between eye-catching and relevance. Don’t worry about trying to pack the headline full of keywords to the point that the headline is awkward, but also try to avoid something that’s clever but lacks any keywords.

* Focus on one topic. Morris says: “Going for “Michael Jackson” isn’t going to get you on the top for his name. But if you go for something like “michael jackson documentary austin show” – that focuses well, but may not have the best traffic. In the end, write for the end user, but keep keywords in the back of your mind.”

* Although we’re not limited in space the way we are in print, if a headline is too long, it might get cut off online in an awkward spot when displayed in search engines.

Link, link, link

Headline writing isn’t the only thing that helps us in rankings. Google’s algorithm also takes linking into account. Generally, more people linking to us helps our search engine “juice.” Linking out, surprisingly, also helps, Morris said.

“Linking out is becoming more important as time progresses,” Morris said. “Think of it as Karma. The search engines have noticed that the sites that link out are more relevant than those that keep traffic to themselves.”

Morris said it’s important to link out only when relevant, though. Don’t add 20 links to one article or blog entry – two or three is fine. A few more than that is OK if they’re relevant. “Ask yourself if you would read the story, if the links are interesting to you. We are all readers.”

We should also link internally, again, when relevant. Linking to one of your own past blog entries or another story on our site is good, but only if it makes sense to do so.

Search engines also look at the tops of storie sand blog posts to find relevant key words to organize and rank content. Morris points out that a good story will already most likely have the top keywords near the top of the story. So burying the lead online can be as much of a problem as burying it in print.

Overall, we’re doing pretty well, Morris said. “You’re more ahead of the game than you know.”

Click here to read a Q&A Old Media New Tricks conducted last year with Morris.

- Robert Quigley

24 comments February 2nd, 2010

New tricks: Know your audience – whether you’re on Twitter or in print

I recently started writing a social media newsletter for the Austin American-Statesman’s newsroom. I posted the first one, which was about responding to readers, here. Here’s the second one, edited slightly to make sense as a blog post.

Got a great question last week from a staff member:

“This may sound like trivia…. but, I’m wondering what posting on Facebook has received the most comments? People are always asking me…. what should they post to get a lot of responses?”

It’s not trivial at all. The answer is a bit nuanced, though, so stay with me:

Readers, of course, are all different and they consume their news in various ways. Based on my experience, however, I can stereotype them some based on the metrics we’ve seen:

* Print readers. They have some time to read in-depth stories and are looking for good investigative journalism and longer-form stories.

* Newspaper Web site readers. In general, they are interested intensely in local news (and Longhorns sports), and will click in droves on juicy crime stories. A lot of these readers come from the search engines to our site (not through the front page). On most days, the majority of the most-read news stories on are crime-related.

* Social media consumers. They are not as interested in the juicy crime stories as our average online reader. Several times, we’ve had crime stories that were pulling in big-time traffic online. However, when I’ve posted on Twitter and Facebook, those stories would flop. Instead, these consumers are seeking immediate-impact news that affects them personally. Since social media is a two-way communication tool, I’ve heard about it, too. Often, the only public responses I’ve received are, “Why do I need to know about that poor kid’s murder? Stop being sensational.”

Why the different responses based on medium? I think it’s because people who use social media began and maintained using the services because their friends and family are there. Social media is more “me centric” than the rest of the Web. They hang out on Facebook and share things that impact their own lives, such as their kid losing a tooth or the latest cute pics of their dog. Journalists who are pushing news are invading that territory. We’re welcomed as friends if we’re playing along – giving them news that is immediately useful to them. We’re annoying intruders if we don’t realize that’s what they want.

The staff member had asked about the comments, and I’m not dodging that – I’ve seen that the social media posts with the most comments also are the ones that are read the most, so they go hand-in-hand.

My advice: When you post on Facebook or Twitter about your beat, you should be sharing stuff that you’d otherwise share with friends (even if you didn’t work here).

Robert Quigley

33 comments January 28th, 2010

New Tricks: Responding to readers – we’re here and we’re human

At its essence, social media should be, well, social. Thanks to the progression of the Internet, what people want (even expect) these days is to be able to have a conversation with just about anyone at anytime. Whether we like it or not, this is how a lot of people now communicate. We are in the communications business, so it makes sense that we’d embrace it.

Responding to people encourages good dialogue (and good commenters) and is likely to make people more loyal to our product. I often get notes, through Twitter, Facebook or e-mail, from people who express gratitude that I’m listening and responding to their concerns and comments. People seem to think we’re a giant, uncaring media corporation. They’re pleasantly surprised when they get a real human response.

What you should do:

  • Respond to your reader comments. You don’t have to respond to every comment, but posting a response or two in a thread of comments, even if to just thank someone, is good practice.  Here’s an example from a marketing blog of someone doing just that:

Be sure to represent yourself as the author of the story or blog post, and be sure to not be sensitive or defensive.

  • For those on Twitter: respond to tweets. When people direct a message at you, either privately or publicly, be sure to give a response of some type. If you ignore them, they’ll be less likely to care what you have to say in the future.
  • Respond to comments left on your news organization’s Facebook fan page. It’s one thing to have the official response, coming with the official Facebook page’s avatar. It’s a step further to see a familiar columnist’s Facebook page responding to the question, giving some more authority to the answer. Jump in to help.
  • Respond to e-mails. E-mail is old-school social media, and if you’re a staff member, your e-mail is likely out there for the public to find. If you get a question from a reader, taking a few minutes to respond can go a long ways.

All of this sounds like it could be a major time suck, but a quick response or a short reply will often mean a lot to the reader who reached out to you.

18 comments January 25th, 2010


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