December 15th, 2008
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.
Entry Filed under: Old Media Interview