Posts filed under 'Old Media Interview'

Old Media Interview: Erica Smith, journalist and social media industry watcher

Erica Smith is a journalist who works for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch as a designer for print. Despite working in print, she has carved herself a spot online through the Web sites and blogs she maintains. Probably her two most-popular running features are a comprehensive list of newspapers that Twitter and a tally of newspaper layoffs and buyouts.

Erica Smith

“I spend too much time online,” she said. Among her Web efforts are a tally of newspaper layoffs and buyouts, newspapers (and individual journalists) who use Twitter, and headlines that start with “man.”

Official position at paper:
Now: Designer for the dead-tree edition.
Soon: Web designer, building maps and graphics and fun things like that.

What role do you play at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch when it comes to Social Media or the Internet in general?

I update our Facebook page, do some Twittering (usually for breaking news) and have a blog for the Weatherbird. I play with maps and data. And I push others to use Twitter, Cover It Live, blogs, video and other social media as part of their jobs.

What’s your take on the newspaper industry? Can it be turned around? How?
If I knew how how to turn it around, I’d be rich. (I’m not rich.)

The newspaper industry is in trouble, but I don’t think this is the end. The focus is just confused right now. For a long time, newspapers forgot they were a business. Now they’ve remembered and focused solely on the business part. We’ve got to find a balance and a way to reach our audience. That’s going to take some experimenting; sure, there will be a few wrong turns on the way, but there will be a lot more right turns.

What’s the history of
Graphicdesignr started about a year ago when I wanted to re-learn (and learn) some Web skills. I’d had an anything-goes blog for a few months so I gave it a narrower focus, added it to and started playing. Now the site is home to two blogs and my portfolio.

When and why did you start keeping track of Newspapers that Twitter?
That project started back in December; the first numbers were posted in February. The Post-Dispatch (@stltoday) had just started Twittering. I wanted to see what other papers were out there, and what (and how) they were doing. There were 55 Twitter accounts (23 papers) on that first list. On Nov. 1, there were 793 Twitter accounts. There will be even more on the December list.

In compiling this list, what has surprised you the most?
How quickly it has grown. What a difference it makes when publications interact with followers. And the number of accounts that are dormant, but still gain followers. People are reaching out to those publication and being ignored.

What type of feedback have you received from within the industry and outside of it?
Feedback has been great from the start. Since the list started, people have sent me new newspaper Twitter accounts every month. We’re journalists, we like data. And we like to see ourselves succeed. Even non-journo Twitter enthusiasts comment and link; perhaps because there aren’t (well, weren’t — there are getting to be more) many ways to measure Twitter.

How do you keep up with all the work that goes into keeping the numbers up-to-date?
It takes a few hours to go through and track down numbers on the 1st of every month. Everything is set up in a spreadsheet, so that makes it easier to organize. Another hour or so to format it, pull out the numbers of the “winners” and “losers” and it’s done. I add Twitter accounts as I find out about them — usually every two or three days.

Why is social media important in general? Why is it important than the mainstream media embrace it?
Social media has a lot of power, and it shares that power with anyone who wants to participate.

Politics aside, look at how the Obama campaign used social media. He used every kind of social media I can think of, and used most of them very well. The viral nature of the campaign, the layers and personalization let strangers connect, built a community and empowered both individuals and the community. Of course, it’s not a perfect approach — social media typically appeals to younger Web surfers. Older voters may feel left out; more traditional marketing reaches them better.

There’s no reason mainstream media cannot learn from, adopt and adapt those same practices. And then do more and do it better.

If your media outlet isn’t using Social media, what three things should you do in the next week?

1. Sign up. Not for the company — for you. Join Twitter. Join Facebook and LinkedIn. Join Digg or Mixx or StumbleUpon or Reddit or Delicious — or a couple of them. Join Google Reader or Bloglines or any feed reader and subscribe to a couple of feeds. Friend and follow people, interact, share. I guarantee you’ll learn new things, and come away with a great link, story tip or idea every day. Find what works for you. Find what you think would work for your publication. Those are the things you can take to the powers that be to show them the usefulness and need for social media.

2. Blog. See if you can start a blog for work. (If they say no, start one on your own.) Find your niche, something that you can offer a unique perspective on. Web videos? Technology? Photography? Video games? Sports teams? Cooking? Pets? Celebrity gossip? Bicycling? Beer? I know there’s something there. Cultivate and promote your blog (start with the social networks you joined). Look for other hidden talent at your paper, and get them involved in blogging.

3. Play and plan. There are all kinds of fun things on the Internet; explore. When you hear of something new, see if you like it/can use it. Take a look at how you use the Internet and how you get news. Ask co-workers how they use the Internet and how they get news. Ask friends, parents, relatives, strangers. Come up with a plan on what your publication could do, and push your editors to try just one of them.

Thanks, Erica! We’ll go back now to obsessively reading your blogs.

Know an old media fogey we should consider for a Q&A? Please comment below or message us on Twitter.

6 comments November 10th, 2008

Old Media Interview: Travis Hudson, Dallas Morning News Web editor/producer

Today’s Q&A is with Travis Hudson, the Dallas Morning News‘ newest hire to the paper’s interactive team. Hudson is only a year out of college from Kansas State where he received a print journalism degree.

Travis Hudson

Though his focus in college was in print, he worked for Gawker Media as a blogger for Gizmodo and Jalopnik. He also occasionally contributed to Deadspin and Kotaku. He has also written for NBC Universal, PC World and more.

What’s your official position at the Morning News?
Editor/Producer II is the official title, although people have also given me the unofficial title of “Alternative Audience Acquisition Specialist.” I was brought on here to pioneer alternative audience projects driving people to through social media, social bookmarking, social news and any other non-traditional way of delivering content including SMS, podcasting and more.

What are your unofficial duties?
I work directly with the team of Web producers at, so I do take on regular Web production tasks like maintaining the home page.

What role do you play at the Dallas Morning News when it comes to Social Media or the Internet in general?
I am the man in the trenches when it comes to our social media efforts executing the day-to-day work. Luckily, our entire Web staff (and especially our Deputy Managing Editor of Interactive, Anthony Moor) is very interested in making the DMN an active participant in the social media landscape, so the support is definitely helpful.

How has your past life as a non-mainstream media blogger given you perspective on this industry?
It’s interesting because I’m getting to experience complete spectrum of the industry. Newspapers have been around forever and blogs have only taken off in the past five years or so. I like to think that my perspective into the world of blogging on such a high level can help On the other hand, the traditional world of print journalism is giving me more insight that can be used in my efforts to further expands The Dallas Morning News’ online efforts.

What’s your take on the newspaper industry? Can it be turned around? How?
It’s an interesting area. On one hand, nothing will ever replace holding and reading real piece of newsprint, but on the other hand, keeping major-market newspapers afloat is becoming an increasingly tough task. Once the middle ground connecting the Web and the newspaper is better defined and discovered, I think things can be turned around.

How does the @dallas_news Twitter account work?
The @dallas_news Twitter account is the main account for The Dallas Morning News. I have full control of it most of the time and I usually populate it with stories that people would genuinely find interesting and want to read. I use it to keep people up to date with weather, traffic, sports and more. I like to consider it a personality-driven account, and it has received positive feedback for being so. I also follow many, many people in the DFW area and beyond to provide our newsroom with potential leads and tips. I also operate a breaking news/top headlines twitter feed @dallasnews_top. It’s used for breaking stories only. Many of our reporters are beginning to create their own Twitter accounts specifically for work to keep up with leads and share stories.

What have you and your paper learned from it?

It’s as much of a two-way journalism tool as a content-delivery tool. Sure, it’s great for getting some of the best content from out to the Web, but what’s even better is keeping up with the community with this tool. It’s a great way to find unexpected sources, tips and even pictures with Twitpic, TwinkleShots and more.

What other social media initiatives have you or the Dallas Morning News in general taken? What successes and setbacks have you seen?
We’re taking a look at everything and anything, which can be a very timely task. Facebook and Myspace are two places where we think The Dallas Morning News can really get a foothold quickly. We’re interested in iTunes, social news communities and more. One of the first projects was launching the Twitter initiative, and I think it’s been really successful thus far. It was the easiest and quickest to launch and is growing exponentially every day. In regards to setbacks, there’s generally only one, and that’s time. There’s so much out there in the social-media landscape and only so much time available.

What do you think newspapers need to do in the next year or two?
Newspaper and Web need to explore ways that the two can help each other in this volatile world. There are so many potential ways for the two entities to help each other, and those ways need to be explored and tested for the better of the industry and product.

Why is social media important to you? To your newspaper?

It’s the future of not just journalism, but content delivery.

What three things could a major metro paper do in the next year to connect more with their communities?

1. Focus on brand awareness. Life isn’t just about getting X number of clicks. It’s more about becoming a brand name for content delivery in the community and beyond.

2. Engage the readership for content above and beyond the annual recipe contests, letters to the editor and more. Everyone in the world has a blog and loves to be heard, who’s to say a newspaper isn’t a good place to engage the average reader.
3. Break out of the traditional newspaper mold any way possible.

Thanks, Travis; we appreciate your time and expertise.

Travis can be reached here.

6 comments November 3rd, 2008

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