Posts filed under 'Old Media Interview'

Old Media Interview: Dan Schneider, Denver Post online news producer

A few weeks ago, I wrote about my experiences creating single-topic Tumblr blogs. This got me thinking about news organizations using Tumblr, and what they’re getting out of it.

Dan SchneiderDenver Post social media news producer, was kind enough to talk about the paper’s Tumblr blog, its goals and just how unique its Tumblr readership is.

-Daniel B. Honigman

_______________________

When did you start the Denver Post’s Tumblr? What prompted you to do so?

We started our Tumblr in April of 2011, in part because we were aware of some other news Tumblrs, and in part because we’ve been pioneers on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, and other social platforms and wanted to continue that trend of experimentation.

What do you see as the purpose of the Tumblr? Do you post the same stories you post on either Twitter or Facebook?

For us, Tumblr is about reaching an audience that we think is unlikely to find us otherwise. While lots of Tumblr users are on Facebook, they may not be as engaged on Facebook as users who aren’t also on Tumblr. Also, there’s less crossover with Twitter (our other truly strong social effort) than with other services. Add that to the demographic uniqueness of Tumblr and we suspect that a sizeable fraction of our readers on Tumblr aren’t finding our news any other way. In part it’s a brand-building effort — getting our name in the consciousness of those who might not see it otherwise. In part it’s an effort to keep our foot in every door that might eventually be a thoroughfare for our brand.

How often do you post? How do you decide what to post?

Mostly I post when I get the chance. Sometimes it only happens a few times a week. I try to let Tumblr guide my choices. I’m a Tumblr user myself, though mostly a student of its phone-photography stars, so I’m somewhat in tune with the tastes and trends of Tumblr as a whole. Along with that, I’ve asked our Tumblr readers what they’d like us to post on Tumblr. I try to choose things that I think have a possibility of viral growth, and things that are relevant and timely and of potentially national or international interest. And I try to mix it up and not just post the same types of things over an over. While I’ve been doing this for most of a year, I feel I’m still in a learning phase with trying to pick content that will get a lot of notice and engagement on Tumblr.

What do you know about the folks that are “loving” or re-blogging your Tumblr posts? Are they local? How much overlap is there with your followers/fans in other networks?

We know that a lot of locals follow our Tumblr. I’ve visited hundreds of their own Tumblr pages and seen where they’re from, what they post and reblog, etc. We know there’s a lot of spam/robot/junk accounts, too, just like on Twitter. We suspect that the overlap is less than with our other social efforts, and other studies indicate that Tumblr users seek out news on the web elsewhere less than average.

What kind of traffic are you getting from Tumblr referrals? Are people clicking through? Does it compare yet with what you’re getting from, say, Facebook, Twitter or Reddit?

I can’t give you any specific numbers on the traffic Tumblr is generating for us, but it’s modest. The click-through rate is not amazing, but the payoff is still good. In my opinion, it’s still worth the efforts we put in because the clicks through are generally high quality (time on site, pages per visit, etc.). It does compare with Reddit, but still lags behind Twitter and far behind Facebook.

Do you have any plans to expand your Tumblr presence? (e.g. create other blogs, single-topic blogs, reporter-specific Tumblrs)

We have two Tumblrs right now; we don’t have any plans to create new Tumblr blogs that the online team would be responsible for, but would be happy to help reporters or section editors that had an idea for Tumblr.

All in all, how would you evaluate your Tumblr experience? What have you learned from using it?

I’d say my Tumblr experience has been great. We’ve picked up a few good news tips from Tumblr and had some great response to things that didn’t have a lot of news value or success in other arenas. I’ve definitely learned more about picking news people will chuckle at and pass on out of the stream, and I think I’ve learned a lot about our Tumblr readers and their news habits (Brian Stelter’s “the news will find me” quote comes to mind) that will be increasingly characteristic of all our readers as social and mobile gain ever-increasing speed in their dominance of digital content consumption.

A lot of folks are starting to look at Pinterest as well as a way of clipping articles and photos to share with a slightly different community? What are your thoughts on news organizations using Pinterest? Any preference to stream vs storyboard-based lifestream platforms?

We’ve had a hard time, like many news organizations, thinking of a way to get value from Pinterest with news content. The majority of opinions I’ve seen agree with the notion that it would be good for features departments — your food critics, travel writers, fashion editors and so on — and I think that’s probably right, at least for now. I definitely think it’s a platform to experiment with, and I’ve been thinking of ways we could ‘break in’ to that network from our newsroom. With news consumption where it is, the industry as a whole should be embracing every possible avenue, in my opinion. My personal preference, if you’re comparing Tumblr to Pinterest, is a Tumblr-style platform. That has to do with how I use it and what I expect to be sharing, though. Pinterest has a tendency to look cluttered to me, but that hasn’t stopped me from spending several long sessions digging through the pins and even repinning a few things.

 

2 comments February 24th, 2012

SXSW panel: The Rise of International Social Media

I’m honored to be included on a panel that is part of South by Southwest’s new Tech Summit, which is open to all SXSW badge holders and has an international flavor to it. The panel, which is scheduled to be at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday on the sixth floor of the downtown Hilton, will focus on how social media is changing the landscape outside of the United States.

David J. Neff, an Austinite who uses social media for social good, is going to moderate the panel, which also includes Tolly Moseley, a tech-savvy book publicist, and Kate Schnepel, who in on the board of Wildlife SOS, an Indian rescue organization.

For my part of the panel, I’m going to:

  • Discuss whether Malcolm Gladwell is correct in saying that social media is almost incidental when it comes to the changes we’ve seen in the Middle East
  • Talk about the evolution of the media’s coverage of the Middle East situation, thanks to a combination of social tools and old-fashioned journalism
  • Show off some examples of media organizations that are pushing the envelope in their coverage of the Middle East

For those of you who aren’t leaving on Tuesday (or just coming in for the music portion of the festival), drop by and add to the conversation.

- Robert Quigley

Add comment March 15th, 2011

A Q&A with Mr. Potter, a story commenter with attitude

I can say with confidence that every site on the Web that enables comments has a few commenters who … let’s just say they come off as a bit cold. Statesman.com has a few of its own, including a strongly opinionated guy who speaks from behind an anonymous handle and a movie character’s mask.

His name is “Roadgeek,” and his avatar is Mr. Potter, the heartless villain from “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

Roadgeek has contributed nearly 2,000 comments to Statesman.com in two years. Many are within our rules, even if a bit harsh at times, but some have gone over the line. Here’s a recent one that was deleted by the Statesman staff:

“Oh, boy. Poor women who had no business having babies they couldn’t afford to pay for in the first place are now having the care of their crotchlings subsidized by my tax dollars. All because the Catholic Church is having qualms. Happy days are here again.”

Andrea Ball, the Statesman’s charity beat reporter, says he frequently comments on her blog, and one day a comment he left hurt her feelings, so she reached out to him to see why he is so personal in his attacks. Through e-mail conversation, she softened him up some to the point where she now jokingly calls him her BFF. Roadgeek, for his part, was surprised not only that a reporter would reach out to a commenter, but that reporters at mainstream media sites even read comments. Andrea wrote a guest post on Roadgeek for Old Media, New Tricks.

I agreed to keep Roadgeek’s anonymity for this Q&A, though he told me he lives in Austin, and his public profile says he’s 47 years old and a male.

Why the name Roadgeek, and why Mr. Potter?

Roadgeek is a tribute to my hobby of traveling; I don’t fly but instead drive everywhere I go. I chose Mr. Potter as my avatar because he is easily recognizable as a minor American icon, and because much of what I say sounds as though he might have said it himself. Although he carried his greed and cruelty to others to an extreme, some of the values Potter stood for such as thrift, accountability, personal responsibility and social order no longer seem to be fashionable.

Have you ever considered using your real name? If not, why not?

I admire those who use their real name in commenting, but due to my employment situation I would probably never be able to do so. Were I to be outed I fear my career would suffer irreparable damage. At the very least, exposure would result in a nasty interview and counseling with our Ombudsman/Diversity Coordinator. Many of my comments would not be considered politically correct even by the most relaxed standards of social intercourse in 2010.

How close is Roadgeek’s personality to the personality that you project in face-to-face interactions? Is Roadgeek the real you that’s bottled up or more of an exaggerated version of you?

Roadgeek is a good bit harsher in public than I am, but it’s important to remember that Roadgeek is a reflection of my id; he says what I am thinking. He may seem more exaggerated than would seem normal, but he is unfettered by social restraint; his candor is shocking to those who have been trained to suppress their innermost and rawest thoughts. Roadgeek and Mr. Potter do indeed represent many of the values I hold dear, although for the sake of social cohesion I keep a tight leash on my id when I am around others. Don’t we all?

How much time do you estimate you spend commenting on stories each day? How many days a week?

I comment on stories every day of the week, as I am a voracious reader. However, I don’t spend a great deal of time commenting; perhaps 10 minutes a day. I do enjoy going back and checking for responses to my comments, as I enjoy the back-and-forth between other readers. I also enjoy reading the criticism of my comments. I have to confess that I learn a great deal from criticism; not everyone who disagrees with me is a fool.

What sites do you regularly read and comment on?

I read and comment on the San Francisco Chronicle, Beaumont Enterprise, Dallas Morning News, the Austin American-Statesman, the New York Times and the Washington Post. Interestingly, although I follow nearly 150 different blogs I comment on them very rarely. I think that may be because I grew learning to read and interact with a newspaper. Newspapers are what I am most comfortable with in terms of commenting.

What is your opinion on journalism and mainstream news Web sites? Are we too thin-skinned?

The MSM is very definitely too thin-skinned. I have a very low opinion of journalism and mainstream news web sites. I very firmly believe that journalists today allow their personal political ideology and agendas to clutter their journalism. Most journalists today also have a strong sense of wanting to improve and save the world; they see journalism as a way to act on that sense.

The MSM saw themselves as a gatekeeper of all that was fit to know; they saw themselves as arbiters of which knowledge was important and which was not; what things and events were irrelevant and what was not. The Internet set the public free, and professional journalism is still reeling. The Internet also has also empowered unconventional sources to act as substitutes for traditional media; John Edwards turned a supermarket tabloid into a respectable source of information, and the MSM has only itself to blame for allowing that to happen.

The fact that there has been such a dramatic realignment in news distribution in such a short period of time has been very hard on the conventional MSM, especially newspapers and magazines. The increasing irrelevancy of the MSM has made journalists very defensive about the quality of the work they do, and even what sort of work they do. Editors and reporters now get instant feedback on what’s published, and they don’t always like it. Not at all.

I sometimes glean quite a bit of extra information from the comments that isn’t covered in the story itself. Knowledgeable readers with some connection to the story or some additional insight will comment, adding to my reading experience.

What should news sites be doing when it comes to interacting with the public that they aren’t doing now? Should we engage with readers more in the comments section?

I definitely think journalists should engage with readers more; some papers have already started doing this. Your compatriot Andrea Ball will sometimes respond to comments by leaving another comment, and Mizanur Rahman of the Houston Chronicle routinely engages commenters on his Immigration Chronicles blog.

The MSM is ignoring a powerful new electronic tool, commenting, by posting a story and disregarding the comments. I think that if a paper invests the resources to create a story, and comments are critical of the story for whatever reason, then the paper needs to defend and stand by the story. Immediately. Some give-and-take with commenters could actually help the paper, and would certainly result in more page-views and clicks, which are life and death to a website. Immediate responses from reporters or editors could only help to build respect for a newspaper.

There is quite a bit of talk about either requiring people to use their real names, pull comments off sites completely or moderate them strictly because of abusive language and hateful personal comments. Cutting off that pipeline doesn’t seem like the right answer to me, but it’s frustrating to try to keep things from spinning out of control. What responsibility do commenters have to behave, if any, and what should news web sites do to keep things civil?

Commenters have a complete responsibility to behave and be civil to others. I’ve had comments deleted many times from different websites, and it’s a matter of pride to me that the deletions never occurred due to my using profanity or attacking another persons religion or sexuality. I’ve also never said anything libelous in any comment I’ve ever made. Many commenters simply do not understand how to be civil to others, and it shows. I understand the problem unfettered commenting can create for newspapers, and I simply do not have an easy answer to the problem. I understand that it’s difficult and costly for a newspaper to keep someone on staff to moderate comments, and I would really prefer to have them be unmoderated. I enjoy being able to say what I want to say.

Statesman reporter Andrea Ball says she’s developed a “BFF” e-mail relationship with you because she reached out. How did that interaction go, and should more reporters reach out the way Andrea did? What is the benefit of that?

I enjoyed chatting with Andrea via email, and in doing so we each learned a good deal about the other. I feel other reporters should engage their readers in this fashion, although doing so certainly presents somewhat of a risk to the reporter. Andrea took a chance, and it worked out well for her. We each learned a great deal about the other, which can only be a good thing. When the readers learn more about the reporters they tend to, I think, have a little more faith in their reporting.

Have you ever been banned from a site?

After the Fort Hood Shooting last fall I observed how ironic it was that, in the middle of one of the most heavily fortified and armed military facilities in the world, none of the killed or wounded soldiers were carrying a side-arm that day, and that it took two civilian police officers to bring down the shooter. Further, I wondered how was our military supposed to defend us when they couldn’t even defend themselves? This was apparently too much for the Houston Chronicle. I have not been allowed to comment on their site since then.

I suspect the banning stemmed from my challenging the established narrative flow of the story. The narrative was dedicated to the brave, heroic soldiers who died while serving their country. All I did was ask a question which immediately popped into my mind; why didn’t anyone have a side-arm? I posted the same comment, as did others, to the AA-S site; the comments were initially deleted before commenting was simply shut down. All a question of narrative, I believe.

I don’t use profanity. I don’t attack religion or the sexuality of others. I’m never abusive towards others. My comments get deleted simply because I say out loud what others are thinking. I say the things that get left unsaid in today’s oh-so correct don’t-want-to-offend society. My comments too often take aim at targets which have become sacrosanct in today’s dialogue. It’s become taboo to point out that blacks seem to have problems with standardized tests or that blacks have a much higher crime rate than other groups or that Hispanics have a much higher rate of DWI or that perhaps soldiers on active duty really should carry sidearms or that women really don’t seem to have an aptitude for engineering or the sciences and the list goes on and on …

Anything else you want to add?

I’ve noticed that different sites seem to have different commenting policies and I find that interesting. The AA-S is actually very quick to delete comments it finds offensive, as is the Houston Chronicle. The Beaumont Enterprise, interestingly enough, has very broad standards regarding commenting, as does the Dallas Morning News.

- Questions for OMNT by Robert Quigley

27 comments August 30th, 2010

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

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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

Old Media Interview: Gowalla CEO Josh Williams

Mobile social game startup Gowalla has only been around since October, but the Austin-based company pulled in $8.4 million in venture capital in a tough market. Why? Because what Gowalla does is not just a game – it might be the next way we communicate. The next Twitter.

This Q&A is with Josh Williams, the CEO of Gowalla Inc. and a co-founder of the company.

Josh Williams, the CEO of Gowalla. (Credit: Keegan Jones)

Josh Williams, the CEO of Gowalla. (Credit: Keegan Jones)

OMNT: Please explain what Gowalla does, for those of us who are not addicted to “checking in” to locations. Why would someone participate?

Williams: Gowalla is a location-based mobile social network (the kiddies who make up acronyms are calling these things LoMoSo’s) that encourages people discover and share places with their friends. We use the GPS and other location services in smart phones to help people find nearby locations, “check in,” leave a comment if appropriate, then share that update with their friends.

It’s like a updating your status on Facebook or Twitter, only in the case of Gowalla you are sharing the place you’re at as well. It’s a remarkable way to meet up with friends, share your favorite places or learn about nearby hotspots you might be unaware of.

You could even think of Gowalla as a digital passport rewarding users with beautiful icons each time they check in. We see these “digital collectibles” as a bit of a game encouraging people to remember to check in.


How many active users does Gowalla have and what is the growth like?

Our month over month growth is north of 70 percent. I’d prefer to steer clear of specific numbers for the time being though.

Mashable’s Pete Cashmore said Foursquare, Gowalla’s chief competition, is “next year’s Twitter.” Do you believe that location-based social apps have that potential? Why?

Yes, I think location is the next big thing. We’ve been chasing this Holy Grail for years, but only now—with ubiquitous location-aware devices such as the iPhone — have some of these dreams become reality. The next several years are going to be a coming out party for this space.

What separates Gowalla from your main competitor, Foursquare? Is there room for two big mobile location services?

Gowalla’s strength is in our community. We have the most remarkable group of folks who have now created and shared over 400,000 unique locations in nearly every recognized country and region around the world. I believe that Gowalla, and the care with which it is crafted, resonates with people everywhere.

The reality is that location is going to be a massive space with many players fulfilling diverse needs. I believe the verdict is still out on whether or not there will be “One Check In to Rule Them All” but we’re working feverishly to ensure Gowalla is always improving based on the feedback from our community.

How does/will Gowalla get revenue? Do the locations (restaurants, bars and coffee shops, etc) see any benefit, and if so, what?

We’re already working with established brands who are excited to partner with us to experiment with location-based product placement within Gowalla. We’re being careful to ensure these brands uphold the “ethos” of our product and what it stands for. As these experiments yield measurable results you’ll begin to see the fruits of our partnerships become a revenue generating product.

Users can push out their “check ins” from Gowalla out to Twitter and Facebook. There has been criticism that many of those posts are mundane and annoying to people who are followers and friends. Is there a way to make those push notifications more interesting?

In their current form, I agree that push notifications tend to be very simple, even dumb, in their implementation. We have lots of room to improve here, adding context and relevancy to these notifications, while only pushing them to you when they’re truly meaningful. It’s an interesting problem to solve, but we’re up for the challenge.

Outside of its own application, what is Gowalla’s social media strategy?

If we build a quality product that brings happiness and meaning to someone’s life, then they’re going to share it with their friends. That’s our social media strategy.

The established media seems to have missed out on either partnering with or usurping sites like Yelp and Tripadvisor for user reviews. Do you think there is there a place for mainstream media when it comes to mobile apps? How could local news organizations leverage platforms like Gowalla and Foursquare?

I do think there is a place for mainstream media and brands, but I am concerned that the decision makers that be look at location like the next big gold rush without truly understanding the space. Just like Twitter, there’s going to be folks who leverage the technology in remarkable ways while others attempt to sell snake oil. It’ll be important for mainstream media to keep an open mind.

However, I do think news outlets will have an interesting opportunity to learn more about the people and places that surround them. Where are people going today? Is there a storyline? Could be very exciting.

What’s next for Gowalla?

We’re working hard to release native Gowalla applications for Android, Palm and Blackberry devices. Getting Gowalla into the hands of more people is our top priority.

What’s next for location-based social networks?

I think we’ll see a variety of established internet players attempt to hop into the game with varying degrees of success while the younger companies like ours drive innovation forward. Our goal is to make a product that is useful, serendipitous and focused on enriching the lives of our community.

Note: After submitting these questions to Williams, a major player did hop in: Yelp. On Jan. 15, Yelp announced a change in its iPhone app that lets people check-in to locations, much the same way Gowalla and Foursquare do. I followed up with this question for Williams:

Yelp just jumped into the fray, offering in its latest build-out the ability for users to check in to businesses, much like Gowalla. What are your thoughts on Yelp as a competitor?

I think Yelp’s foray into the space is certainly a validation of what we’re doing. Ultimately the presence of other well known players is driving us to build a more compelling, innovative product. We’re excited.

Thank you, Josh, for doing this interview. Best of luck.

Team Gowalla. (Credit: Brooke Raymond)

Team Gowalla. (Credit: Brooke Raymond)

19 comments January 22nd, 2010

Old Media Interview: SEO specialist Kate Morris

There are few things that can affect your site’s traffic (in a positive or negative way) as much as whether your material is optimized for search engines. Search Engine Optimization (or SEO) makes good stories rise to the top of Google. Without it, your work can be buried.

Journalists generally are not experts in SEO, so we should turn to people who know what they’re talking about. One of the best, in our opinion, is Kate Morris. Pay attention: What she says can make a big difference for your site.

Kate Morris

Please give us a short bio.

I have to talk about myself? Okay, it all started on a windy night … oh, short huh? Well when it comes to internet marketing, I got started as an intern working in paid search for BusinessSuites, a client of my then marketing agency employer. I worked with Apogee search as an intern afterwards and soaked in all I could about SEO. I’ve been in-house in multiple places since then working in general marketing, PPC, and SEO.

Where do you work and what are your official duties?

I have settled as the Director of Client Strategies at New Edge Media, a Dallas SEM agency. It’s here that I get to really focus on SEO, PPC, Social Media, writing and educating/meeting people.

What is search engine optimization?

Search Engine Optimization to me is the science and art of molding a website to entice customers to buy, search engines to index and rank, and partners to engage. It’s a blend of technology and art. Coding on one side and usability on the other. I consider both to be integral parts to SEO.

How did you get into social media? Don’t tell it it’s just because of SEO. (Joke.) Are there any problems with being an SEO expert and trying to do social media?

Well first off, I never consider myself an expert. I rather see myself as a jack-of-all-internet-trades. I think SEO experts in their pure form (technology-based more than marketing) might have a hard time getting into the social media space because it more about marketability rather than technological modifications. What I do believe is that most people who are considered “SEO Experts” are really internet marketing experts at heart and would have no problems moving into social media. Understanding the intent and needs of the end user is the basis of all marketing.

Now, how did I get into Social Media? Being social. (Hey, I didn’t say because of SEO.)

How does Google PageRank work?

First off let me say that people really do need to take PageRank with a grain of salt. PageRank does not indicate how well your site will do in the rankings. Rather it gives you an idea of what Google deems as the importance of your site to their end users. So major sites like Google, Yahoo, The Chicago Tribune, and Austin American-Statesman are highly relevant to a wide base of users. If you are in a niche business, don’t think that having a PR 4 is bad. In a niche, that is actually really good. And in all this remember that what we see (Toolbar PR) can be largely different than the number that Google uses internally.

Let’s talk about link strategies. What are some basic, basic SEO rules of thumb your typical overworked news producer can abide by?

Rule #1 – Use your in-house writers, ask for specific stories.

Rule #2 – Link between properties. You own these high PR sites, use them! But only do it where it makes sense. Otherwise it’s a form of linkspam.

As far as news site structure, which sites have the best SEO consistently?

I am slightly biased, but the Statesman and Tribune do a fantastic job of site structure. I’d love to hear from other properties and why they like theirs better. But really, I am rarely on whole news sites. I rather pick up stories from social sites and gadgets.

Going to blow up your spot a little bit. Not too many folks know about the rel=”nofollow” tags, but it’s one of the most powerful tools in SEO. What is it, and how does it work?

Rel=”nofollow” tags are something that Google started to recognize a few years ago as a way for people to link out to sites but note that they didn’t place any trust in the site, therefore restricting the link juice. This was largely for use with blogs when people left comments and linked back to other sites. Owners couldn’t keep up with how many sites were being linked back to, and this was a way to say “we are not sure what’s there and don’t vote for the relevance to what we are talking to on the referring page.”

It still is used that way to this day, but can also be used — Matt [Cutts] don’t shoot me — to sculpt a site’s navigation. Sometimes there are pages on every website that are not relevant to search results, but are linked to from the most popular page. About Us, Login, and Terms of Service are all examples of pages that people want to see but are not relevant to product searches.

Are there any rules of thumb when it comes to tagging content? In fact, when this interview is posted, how would you tag it?

The tags I would add are: kate morris, seo, social media, nofollow, news, new media, pagerank. I take what I figure people might be searching for and this might help. Kinda like categories, but more keywords.

Tags added, thanks! Any other pointers for our readers?

For those people working in old media I would say use what you have. You have content, relevance, and traffic built in. Those are the top three things that any business online works for. It is what every SEO wants at the start. Old media has that. Use it to it’s full extent, but be smart about it. Don’t let SEO interfere with your writing, but educate your writers. Let them write the content for the readers, and let SEO perfect the code and tags. Blend the two worlds and you will come out on top.

31 comments February 9th, 2009

Old Media Interview: Ryan Osborn, producer, NBC Today Show

A couple of months ago, I started exchanging Tweets with @TodayShow, and I wanted to know a bit more about the persona.

Ryan Osborn is a producer at NBC’s Today Show, and he gets social media. As he works in a broadcast newsroom, Ryan faces a completely different set of challenges than what most newspaper folks face.

Ryan Osborn

Please tell us a little bit about yourself.

I always thought that I would be an English teacher but after graduating from Vanderbilt University in 2001, I got a job as an NBC Page (like Kenneth). After giving tours of studios and working on assignments all over 30 Rock, I was hired to work at the front desk of Today in 2002. I became a producer in 2007.

What are your official duties?

I am a producer at NBC’s Today. My official duties are different everyday but most often I work a late shift and contribute to the breaking news coverage on our broadcast.

What unofficial roles have you taken on?

I twitter under the alias of @todayshow.

What prompted you — and the Today Show — to take the social media plunge? What made you decide to get on Twitter?

Beyond the obvious answer of being one part of a big media company trying to connect with an audience in several new ways, my own interest in Twitter goes back to SXSW. I heard a lot of buzz about the technology while at the same time I had no clue how it worked. I remember thinking it was a great tool for local media and a cool way to create a discussion online while also making no money. My initial thought was it might be a useful way to connect people that come down to our plaza everyday. I think that holding signs up for cameras on Rockefeller Plaza is a similar impulse to twittering. However, for several different reasons the idea never happened. In the meantime our marketing team had started an account that was updated automatically by Twitterfeed. I remember reading it and thinking that it was a robot. So when our show traveled to Beijing to cover the Olympics, I thought it might be the right opportunity to start posting manually. After talking to our executive producer, Jim Bell, I began posting.

Do your co-workers and bosses get what you do? How do you explain it to them? Do you even bother?

I am really lucky because Jim has been very supportive. I think I also benefit from his wife being one our closest followers. You have to remember that while Twitter has gone mainstream among tech saavy crowds, it is still really confusing for most to understand. I try to explain it to my co-workers as much as possible. I have learned a lot from following Jim Long (@newmediajim) who is a cameraman for NBC News in our Washington Bureau. He was way ahead of his time.

A lot of news-related Twitter accounts are just that: news driven. @TodayShow, however, seems to have the role of promoting its show and, even more so, its talent. Where do you balance? Do you have a rule of thumb?

My biggest concern and something I am most aware of is that I never want to give the impression that I am talking for or trying to be the voice of Matt, Meredith, Ann, or Al. I try to promote things they are doing and their segments on the show but my rule of thumb is only post stuff that would be appropriate for the broadcast.

Something like the Today Show seems like it has enough penetration so that people know what it is. What’s your main goal of being in the social Web?

Getting to be a part of the Today brand is an honor and it has been exciting to see our followers respond. However, I also feel a lot of pressure not to screw it up. My main goal is to connect with our viewers and help share what I believe is some of the best content on the web. Yet I would be lying if I didn’t say that my other goal is to get a few more clicks at www.todayshow.com

The golden rule in broadcast television has been to never, ever mention the competition. In the social space, mentioning your competition and linking to other good content is the norm. How do you balance the two on Twitter? Do you think it will ever be possible for a major broadcaster to mention or link to competition, either online or on the air?

This is a tricky question and not sure how to answer it. Our show does an incredible job of covering it all every morning. It hasn’t happened yet where I have felt the need to link to any of our competition but if the time comes I would do it. We are all part of “the link economy”.

What are three tips you have for folks in mainstream broadcast media looking to use social media?

1) Don’t rely on Twitterfeed. In my mind, it is the equivalent of spam. It is harder work to post manually, but you will quickly start seeing results.

2) Don’t listen to critics. You are going to hear a lot about how these sites lack business models and are a waste of time. Right now that is a fair point but now is the time to start figuring them out. Create a killer account that will make everybody look good.

3) Have fun. This is something I want to improve on our account. The audience online is smart and can be intimidating. Try to make them laugh and you can’t go wrong.

_______

If you have any questions for Ryan, please feel free to post them as comments below. He’s also on Twitter.

10 comments January 12th, 2009

Old Media Interview: Amy Vernon, super-Digger, editor

Amy Vernon

We’ve decided to flip the script on you this week a bit. In our last couple of posts, we’ve spoken about Twitter quite a bit.

This time around, we’ve brought in someone who understands a very different, very fruitful part of the social Web: bookmarking sites.

Amy Vernon gets it. She’s AmyVernon on Digg, and it’s fairly easy to find her elsewhere on the Web. As a former editor of the Lower Hudson Journal News, she found time in her daily routine to figure out how to drive tons and tons of traffic to the site.

You can, too. You just have to work at it. A lot.

Please give us a short bio.

A native of Long Island (don’t hold that against me), I wanted to be a starving novelist, until I figured I should probably find some way to make a living and settled on journalism (joke’s on me, eh?). I got my BSJ from Northwestern University in 1991 and went on to work at The Miami Herald as a reporter, the East Valley Tribune as a reporter and then editor, and then The Journal News first as education editor, then metro editor of the Rockland edition.

Right now? One of the newly laid off journalists who are so common these days.

What are your official duties?

As metro editor, I was in charge of the local news report for Rockland County, which accounted for a quarter to a third of The Journal News’ total circulation. On the website, LoHud.com, the Rockland news index page consistently got nearly as many or more page views than the Westchester index page, despite Westchester having triple the population. I also created and administered a local news blog, Inside Rockland.

I also was education editor, responsible for keeping track of the biggest education trends and handling large data dumps each year from the state Education Department.

I contributed to four blogs at various levels — the television blog, Remote Access (I covered several shows, including “24″ and “Battlestar Galactica”); Ice Cream is Not for Breakfast, where six moms wrote about the challenges of feeding our children; the education blog, The Hall Monitor; and Inside Rockland, as I mentioned.

In addition, I was the blog “super user,” with administrative access on all blogs to help all bloggers continually update their design and content.

What unofficial roles did you take on?

The blogging role was officially unofficial. It started out as something I did as I had time, but grew into more of a permanent part of my job. I created widgets for blog and news page content; helped other bloggers find content in the course of my work on social media sites. I also was one of the newsroom’s go-to people with technical issues, on the blogs and elsewhere — for example, I was one of six people chosen to train our newsroom on a new publishing system seven years ago.

I also was the resident expert — the only expert, actually — on social media.

How did you get started on social bookmarking sites like Digg, StumbleUpon, etc? What lessons have you learned along the way?

My first experience with all these sites was through my coverage of the television show “Jericho” for our blog. The show was canceled after one season on CBS, but had an extremely dedicated and stubborn (in a good way) viewership that basically forced the network to pick it up again for an abbreviated second season.

A couple of times, the “Jericho” fans had what they termed a “Digg Day,” when everyone would go online and Digg all the Jericho-related articles they could, to get more attention for the show and the fans’ efforts.

I had absolutely no idea what they were talking about, but being a fan as well as a blogger, I dutifully signed up for a Digg account and promptly dugg everything on Digg that was about the show. I dugg stuff that was months old to hours old. I was beyond clueless.

After that, I noticed that other fans would pass around the URL of my posts about “Jericho,” asking everyone to Digg it, to gain more attention. Sounded cool, so I started submitting other blog posts to Digg. And getting absolutely no Diggs whatsoever, naturally.

The biggest thing I learned was that social media is just that — social. You can’t just submit something into a vacuum. You have to link up with other users and check out their submissions. You have to randomly look at other content on the site and digg/stumble/etc. other people’s submissions. Why would people check out your submissions if you don’t check out theirs?

The other biggest thing? Don’t submit your own stuff. Major social faux pas. I had no idea when I first started, but I learn fast.

What sites do you like? Which do you think people shouldn’t bother with?

I like sports, so I like ESPN. I also like local news sites. There’s a lot of great content on local news sites that are of broad interest, but people don’t tend to go to them unless they live in that specific geographic area. I also know that I’m definitely reading anything subbed from Popular Mechanics, Cracked or WebUrbanist, though those are probably the hardest sites to find new content on, as Diggers tend to watch them like hawks and submit anything new within minutes of it being posted.

The sites I like the least are the ones that republish content from other sites but are submitted to Digg or the others instead of the original publisher, such as Huffington Post. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind when I see a submit from HuffPost that’s original content. But too many stories are submitted on Digg that are reprints from original sites. There are other sites like that, too — Gizmodo, i09, for example — that have lots of good, original content, but too much of what gets subbed from them is their republished content. They give credit where credit’s due on their sites, but when submissions from them go popular, they’re the ones that get the traffic, not the original publisher.

I’m talking about Digg more than anything else, because it’s the 800-pound gorilla, and because I use it more than anything else. But I’ve grown to really enjoy StumbleUpon and have finally begun to understand Reddit. With SU, I could sit at my laptop and just hit Stumble! over and over to find great new sites and content.

Do your co-workers and bosses get what you do? How do you explain it to them? Do you even bother?

Very few, I believe, really understood what I did. When I pushed along a LoHud submit once someone subbed it, folks at my news org knew I’d ensured its popularity. But I don’t think anyone realized how much work that actually took. I’d worked for months on the social aspects of the site before I’d gotten to the point that I could easily help something get popular on Digg. Some at my workplace seemed to believe all it took was to sign up for an account, submit something and poof!

The few people who knew anything about the social media sites seemed to like throwing the names around, but didn’t have any real presence on any of them. A couple of times, I was asked to write up an SOP (standard operating procedure) on how to work on Digg. My attempts to explain that it’s not so simple as that didn’t really seem to interest anyone.

Do you submit stories just from LoHud.com? What’s your rule of thumb?

At first I did, not realizing that was a big Digg no-no. Of course, I tried to choose articles that really would be of broader interest — for example, a woman who died after eating mushrooms she’d picked by the side of an interstate. As I got to know people, people got to know the site and once LoHud was subbed more often, it got subbed more often, if that makes any sense.

How can reporters benefit to being in this space? Can you honestly say that LoHud.com has a bigger profile now that it’s been bookmarked on Digg?

First off, reporters can benefit, because once you are perusing Digg, you really see the stories that catch the public eye. And you can also improve what you’re doing sometimes. For example, someone had submitted a database of NFL players’ salaries. At the top of the database on the site, there were two huge pictures that made it so you had to scroll down just to get to the drop-down for the database. Diggers complained about it, I noticed that, and passed along the word.

Something like LoHud seems incredibly local, and lots of mainstream publications are looking to build local audiences. In your experience, can one build a local audience through bookmarking sites?

I ran into several people who either lived in the local area or had lived in the area or had family in the area. You definitely can build a local audience through bookmarking and social media.

What are three tips you have for anyone in mainstream media looking to get involved on these sites?

1. Remember that it’s all about the social aspects. Don’t expect anyone to Digg, Stumble, whatever if you don’t reciprocate. Doesn’t have to be a Digg-for-a-Digg, but if you never Digg anything from one of your “friends” submits, why would that person continue to look at and Digg yours?

2. Generally, don’t submit articles [or] posts from your own site. But if [and] when you do, make sure they really are of broad interest, not something super-local that no one outside your small area would be interested in.

3. Seek out the best content to submit; don’t stress if it’s from your “competition” – in the end, MSM is either going to sink or swim in part because of sites like this. Submitting from any originating news source is a good thing.

You can find Amy on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook. She can also be reached at amy.vernon.digg [at] gmail [dot] com.

29 comments December 15th, 2008

Old Media Interview: Aron Pilhofer, interactive guru, editor at The New York Times

Aron Pilhofer

For our last Old Media Interview, we spoke with Stephanie Romanski of The Grand Island Independent in Nebraska.

We’re now going from the smallest of the small — perhaps Grand Island isn’t the smallest place ever — to the biggest of the big.

You know all of the data that goes into, well, everything you see from The New York Times? Aron Pilhofer is the guy responsible. We asked him a few questions.

Please give us a short bio/official title:

I am the editor of Interactive Newsroom Technologies at The Times, which means I run a small team of developer/journalists here in the newsroom. I’ve been involved with managing the group since we started it a little over a year ago, but it’s been my official day job since January. Prior to that I was a reporter on the computer-assisted reporting team at The Times. Before that I was database editor at the Center for Public Integrity; a statehouse, municipal and projects reporter for Gannett and on the training staff of Investigative Reporters and Editors.

What are your unofficial duties?
We’re a small team, and relatively self-sufficient in terms of the technologies we use (Ruby on Rails, Flash, Amazon EC2 and, soon, a spot of Django). So we all have to do whatever needs to get done, in order to get things done. Sometimes that’s glamorous tasks like data entry, or managing servers. Sometimes that’s waking up at 3 a.m. to fix a misbehaving application (which happened often during the Olympics). And on good days, I get to code! My official duties include a lot of meetings and managerial nonsense I tolerate because the rest of my job is so darn much fun.

The Times is well known for its visualizations. What are some key ingredients for a powerful interactive graphic? What kinds of responses have you received from readers?
Last bit first: The responses from readers run the gamut as you can imagine. One thing I will say about New York Times readers is they really, really pay attention to what we have out there, and when you have something wrong, they let you know about it. Fast. In no uncertain terms. Of course, they’re equally responsive when you do something right.

After Super Tuesday, we got gobs and gobs of email from readers praising our coverage, which was extraordinarily gratifying since it was for us maybe the scariest project we’ve worked on, including election night. That was the first big test of my group, whether we could pull off a major, clutch project, so it was pretty scary.

In terms of what makes a powerful interactive, I think it depends on the story, obviously, but the best ones I believe are the ones that are truly … interactive. That term is widely used to describe a lot of web features whose level of interactivity is limited to the user clicking on a button and watching things move around the screen. That’s absolutely a form of online story telling, but it’s not interactive in any way, shape or form.

So, the ones that work are the ones that call to action (like Word Train or the one we launched Tuesday, If You Were President), or the ones that provide readers a way to probe and investigate on their own. One of the first (and still very best) examples of this is our Casualties of War interactive. Using a very simple slider interface, users can see trends that otherwise would be hidden or obscured in a sea of data. It’s still one of the best examples of the form. Our election night maps, of course, are also tremendous. Both of those projects were collaborations with the graphics desk, which I can say is easily the best in the business.

Actually, come to think of it, collaboration is maybe THE key ingredient to what makes a powerful interactive. One of the great things about our newsroom is that it is unusually collaborative, and most of the projects you’ll see involve multiple desks: us, the web newsroom, computer-assisted reporting, our multimedia group and our graphics team. We all bring something different to the table, and that’s how good ideas become great interactives.

Which three NYT interactive graphics are your favorites?

I’m in an election mood, so:

- The house maps from election night [are] something close to magic.

- I also thought the pop-up dashboard was a huge hit. (Click the image link just to the right of the photo)

- And I liked [the] word train, which was very un-NYTimes-ish.

How much do things like that cost generally, and what’s the ROI?

Gotta punt on this: I have no idea on either score. We are a news desk, so what we do is motivated by journalistic goals. That isn’t to say that our stuff doesn’t draw significant numbers, and doesn’t “sell.” It absolutely does. It’s just that I don’t have a whole lot to do with that beyond letting our product people know what’s coming up. And that’s the way it should be.

Are there any free or open-source products out there that small-town newspapers can use?

Everything we use is free and open-source. Our platform is Ruby on Rails backed by Mysql databases running on Ubuntu servers. The cost here isn’t software, or even hardware, which is relatively cheap these days through hosting companies like Amazon EC2 (on the high end) or Slicehost (on the low end). The price most news organizations (and it’s not just small ones) seem reluctant to pay is for people — developers like the ones in my group who can build the infrastructure to support the rich, deeply engaging web features that so many people love about our site.

It seems that some pretty major news organizations have built on-site social networks: There’s TimesPeople, the Journal Community and the NPR Community. What are your thoughts on news organizations in this space? Are on-site social networks the future for news?

Well, the person to pose this question to is Derek Gottfrid, the absolutely spooky smart developer/renaissance man behind TimesPeople and TimesMachine. He will give you an earful on the subject.

To my way of seeing it, the answer is yes. But as a means, not an end. We’re not building FaceBook on the Times, and that’s not something people really want anyway. What it does show is how the Times‘s view of the web is changing, and how we’re starting to approaching the web on its terms, rather than trying to bend it to ours. So, viewed that way, it shouldn’t be surprising to see us embracing the web more fully than in the past: data, documents, multimedia, community, RSS feeds, blogs, APIs, etc.

TimesPeople itself is not the future of news, but as part of a larger transformation from “newspaper” website to just plain website, it is.

We’ve seen more and more New York Times reporters get on Twitter. What does it take to get them in the space? Have these reporters been able to develop a rapport with readers? Any success stories yet?

Honestly? I have no idea. I follow/am followed by a couple Times folks, but I really don’t know whether they are using it for work or not. I guess I have to come clean and admit that I only very recently discovered the appeal of Twitter, which I used to think was kind of silly. But I don’t know that I could go a day without it now. It’s like writing headlines to your friends in real time, so, what’s not to love for a newspaper guy like me? I’m probably the best success story I have for you there. Sorry.

What three things can newspapers do to be more like the Times — in a new-media sense, of course.

Wow, big questions. I’ll give you three high-falutin’ answers:

1. Invest in your website. This is the time to bring in as many talented coders as you possibly can and now is the time to let them experiment with new approaches and new models. Sadly, many news organizations seem to be doing just the opposite. You can’t outsource innovation or buy it off the shelf, but that’s what a lot of news organizations are trying to do. It’s puzzling really.

2. Change how you think of news. Jeff Jarvis wrote an amazingly on-point blog post recently in which he argued that the atomic unit of journalism is no longer the news story, and he’s absolutely right. I’m not ready to go as far as, say, Adrian Holovaty and call every data point… news by definition, but I do think that journalism will increasingly involve more than writing and reporting. It will be about the aggregation and curation of information, and news sites will be more and more centers of authoritative information. Authority is one of the rarest commodities on the web, and we have it is spades. We as an industry need understand that, and follow that idea to its logical conclusions.

3. Get the journalists thinking more like developers, and developers more like journalists. Ask any print journalist you know how a newspaper gets produced, and chances are they’ll be able to tell you in great detail how copy flows from the reporter’s fingers to your front stoop in the morning. Now, ask them how that same copy gets onto their website, and chances are quite good they won’t have the first clue. Is it any wonder so many news websites look, feel and read like print on the web?

If the web is our future, we either need to master the medium ourselves, or embrace those who have, or both. By no means am I suggesting The Times is anywhere near close to that point, but we have taken several important steps in that direction. Sadly, those baby steps place us far, far ahead of the pack. There is time to change, but, again, few media organizations seem willing or able.

What’s next for you guys? Where do you see the biggest growth potential for The Times?

I can’t speak for the entire organization — there’s just way way too much going on. But for my little group, 2009 is going to be about community and about enabling the journalist to be more of an aggregator and curator as I mentioned above. In part, that was the motivation behind the DocumentCloud, which is a joint grant proposal I wrote with Scott Klein and Eric Umansky of ProPublica for the Knight News Challenge. That project, if we’re lucky enough to get funding, will enable everyone to treat documents like structured data. It’s a project I’m pretty excited about.

The other big focus for us this year is on community. We have a couple of projects (which I can’t really talk about) that will build on TimesPeople in some new and interesting ways.

Thanks, Aron.

Aron has also agreed to answer a couple of YOUR questions. If you’re one of the first few to post your questions as comments on this story, he’ll (most likely) respond.

26 comments December 1st, 2008

Old Media Interview: Stephanie Romanski, Web editor of The Grand Island Independent

Sometimes, smaller organizations are able to embrace change quicker because of the lack of red tape. At the same time, working as a Web editor at a small paper has its own challenges.

Stephanie Romanski

This Q&A is with Stephanie Romanski of The Grand Island (Nebraska) Independent, a newspaper with a circulation of about 20,000.

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 think I was reading a post by the awesome Erica Smith in which she mentioned that the Austin American-Statesman had set up a special Twitter feed for Hurricane Ike, which yielded phenomenal results for them. I think I sent a direct message on twitter to Robert Quigley of the Statesman, and he very graciously gave me some advice: Get off Twitterfeed and tweet yourself.

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.

You can contact her on Twitter, of course, at @stephromanski.

5 comments November 18th, 2008

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