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

November 18th, 2008

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.

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Entry Filed under: Newspaper,Old Media Interview

  • Pingback: Stephanie Romanski » Challenges of a smaller newspaper

  • http://newmedianotes.wordpress.com Carlos Virgen

    Great bits of information/advice. I just discovered Stephanie on Twitter which led to her blog, which led to this blog. That's how it works. I am in a very similar situation as her. I am online manager at a small paper in Southeastern Washington.
    I've been trying to integrate many of the tools she mentioned. Initially, it was a slow go with some hesitation on the part of many in the newsroom. However recently I have seen a significant change in attitude. Primarily due to some “successes” we've experienced.
    We recently relaunched our blogs with better promotion, new blogging platform and renewed dedication from the bloggers. The result has been a significant increase in traffic. We covered the recent election using blogs (written by staff as well as community,) liveblogging (we used Ustreatm.tv,) and Twitter. We got a great response from the community as well as within the company. All of this I believe has led to people in the newsroom being more willing to embrace some of these tools.
    Reporters have recently joined Facebook, Wired Journalist and one has even expressed a desire to use Twitter. These have all been little victories for me.
    And we've got an upcoming redesign and I may use Stephanie's idea of liveblogging the launch to get feedback from readers.

  • Pingback: Old Media Interview: Aron Pilhofer, interactive guru, editor at The New York Times | Old Media, New Tricks

  • http://www.nextedit.com Online Website Editor

    thanks for covering Stephanie, I like her a lot.

  • http://sweethomeimprove.com Sweet_Home_Improvement

    What a useful post here. Very informative for me..TQ friends…



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