Monthly Archives: August 2008

Twitter, welcome to the mainstream

Hurricane Gustav has and will put Twitter in the spotlight like never before. There’s no better social media tool out there to mass communicate news – and now we have a big story to give it a boost.

CNN has been playing up its Twittering efforts frequently during the storm. CNN’s Rick Sanchez is leading the charge for them.

The Chicago Tribune is posting tons of great dispatches using GustavReporter. A Fox News producer, lineback, is reporting from the field, as is urbanreporter and probably several others in the media.

The American-Statesman’s DV jouranlist, Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon, is sending dispatches from his newly created account TrackingGustav. Statesman.com is posting Jorge’s Tweets with a link from the top of the home page. Biz Stone, one of the cofounders of Twitter, is following TrackingGustav. He doesn’t follow many people, so I’m guessing he’s interested to see what we’re doing with this powerful tool he gave us.

Besides the media, there are thousands of reports coming out from people across the Twitterverse.

I’m a journalist who thinks Twitter is a great tool and a Twitter addict who thinks Twitter is a fun program. For a while, I’ve thought that we were one breaking news story away from having Twitter go mainstream. This is it.

It’s about time.

Advertisements

2 Comments

Filed under journalism, Twitter

Independent bloggers on an MSM site

Part of my job at the Statesman is to make sure the reader blogging community is thriving. This is no easy task. I’ll explain why in a minute.

First, quick background: The Statesman was one of the first, if not the first sites in the country to host reader blogs on its site (and promote their headlines on the home page). We were one of Austin-based Pluck’s first customers when we began hosting blogs a long, long time ago (2005, haha). We have built a community of about 20 serious bloggers.

They’re great. They range in tone from the ever-informative Eugene Sepulveda to the ultra conservative “Nogirlemen” to the lefty former professor Bob Russell. We also have parenting bloggers, green bloggers, the chief meteorologist for the LCRA and more. We even had a 70+ first-time triathlete post her daily training regimen on our blog. One of my favorite Austin writers, Julie Brown Casey, is someone I discovered through our reader blogs. She has contributed several pieces to our Op-Ed page, and she just has a way of expressing herself.

I think that’s big value. Based on visits, they are an important part of our sites.

Another thing I do is recruit reader bloggers to cover big events. During Netroots, I had a conservative and a liberal blogger both attend with press passes and post their updates on their blogs. During the state Democratic Convention, I had two Democratic delegates post from the convention halls. Our chief political reporter, W. Gardner Selby, said he was amazed at the bloggers’ good reporting skills.

So, when the national conventions rolled around, Gardner helped me get in contact with some delegates to those conventions. I have a Democratic delegate blogging from Denver right now, and Eugene Sepulveda is also posting dispatches from Denver.

I’m lining up bloggers for the GOP convention as well. My biggest coup? Gov. Rick Perry has agreed to blog on our site from the convention.

The other benefits: We get a different perspective in our reporting and opinions. We have an active community (these bloggers all comment on each other’s blogs and encourage each other).

The negatives: Our blog topics are heavy on politics. And whenever there is an open debate about politics, there is ugliness. I’ve had to referee my share of fights. I’ve even had someone try to destroy the community by flagging abuse on a few bloggers’ posts to the point where the posts were disappearing (they reached a threshhold for abuse flags). It was annoying, and it eats up a lot of time to rectify. Also, since some of these bloggers are completely new to blogging, they’re taken aback by the negativity they can get in comments. It’s hard to console someone who feels like they were personally attacked. As journalists, we’ve grown thick skins over the years. It’s easy to forget how personally some could take this. And last but not least, Pluck pulls its blogs through a javascript call, so the SEO is horrible (nonexistent).

Overall, it’s a good experience. Before I took this job, I was the letters editor at the Statesman, so I was used to dealing with our readers a lot. I even managed to persuade a few of them to start blogging for us.

We in the media hate giving up control of content, and I don’t edit these blogs. I also don’t ban bloggers unless they are really breaking the rules. When we signed up to host blogs, I think we had a vague idea that we wanted a community on our site. Now that we have a community, I can’t imagine doing without it.

Do you read our community bloggers’s material? If so, what do you think? If you haven’t, check them out.

Leave a comment

Filed under journalism

The Statesman tide floods Twitter

As a newspaper, we started Twittering in earnest in June. Since then, we have expanded a little.

Here’s my unofficial tally (I could be probably am missing some):

@statesman – Official Twitter of statesman.com. I post on this feed mainly, with help from statesman.com staff when I’m out.
@austin360 – Official Twitter of Austin360.com. Gary Dinges, the site’s entertainment editor, leads the charge.
@bevobeat – Longhorn news. This is an RSS feed with occasional human posts.
@omarg – Our tech culture reporter. Has been Twittering longest in the newsroom. If you don’t follow him, what are you waiting for?
@broylesa – Addie Broyles, our food writer. She hosts Tweetups once a month to talk food. Mixes personal Tweets with beat-related material.
@taratrower – Mama Drama’s top blogger.
@davedoo – Williamson County bureau chief – mostly Tweets about Willco news.
@melaniespencer – design and style guru.
@lillyrockwell – business reporter who blogs about Whole Foods
@isadoravail – Williamson County reporter – mix of personal/business Tweets
@outandabout – Michael Barnes’ society Twitter.
@tplohetski – Our ace crime reporter
@sarahlindner – Features editor with a great Twitter touch.
@jvic – Morning crime reporter.
@suzhalliburton – Longhorns football beat writer.
@andreeball – Andrea Ball, who covers local charities.
@expat_aggie – Sue Whaley, Aggie extraordinaire who is also a copy editor.
@kdrobbins – Our golf writer
@crit – Our web developer.
@robquig – My personal Twitter
@robv – Our interactive graphic designer
@djroe – Features design guru.
@scottmladd – Lead news designer chiefly responsible for the cool print redesign we did a while back.
@archana – A-List photographer

And coming soon (you can start following now)

@360acl – Our ACL Fest Twitter account

@aaspreps – High school football Twitter.

2 Comments

Filed under journalism, Twitter, Uncategorized

Who is missing from Twitter?

Not many corporations or public officials have figured Twitter out yet. It’s probably too early for it to be too late, but it does make me wonder: Who do I wish would get addicted to Twitter? And I mean full-out, real-person, unable-to-do-their-regular-job because-they’re-tweeting-Twittering. I don’t mind the idea of Twitter filling up with corporations. Why? Because it’s easy to ignore them if you are not interested. It’s a different media that way. Spammers don’t even bother me because I don’t have to follow them.

Anyway, I compiled two lists here. Tell me your lists.

Who I think is doing it well – outside of local media, of course 🙂

@jasonsdeli

@popeyeschicken (done with great humor, too)

@zappos (though this is more like CEO soap opera than a corporate Twitter)

@delloutlet (and all of its sister Tweets and humans who are on Twitter to help out)

@wholefoods (started Twittering with personality just days after @statesman did. I find them to be a little heavy on the self-promotion.)

@johnculberson (U.S. House member who really spends a lot of time on Twitter.)

That’s not a very long list. And they’re mostly related to food. Who am I missing?

Here’s who I wish was Twittering:

* Apple (Customer service, new products, downloads, etc.)

* ESPN (I know, they have a feed, but I wish it were a human. Maybe one of their personalities?)

* One major sports personality (Tiger, you have time now!)

* One major movie star. Any major movie star. Wouldn’t that be a coup by their publicist and the movie studio to have someone Twittering from the set or from Hollywood parties? You listening, Angelina Jolie? 🙂

* Our local politicians, especially City Council members and the mayor, but also statewide officials. And it should be somewhat personal. I know @BarackObama has a lot of followers, but that isn’t the most exciting feed in the world. John Culberson’s feed is much more interesting.

* Rudy’s barbecue (just so they can offer me discounts on their extra moist chopped beef).

So, who would be on your list?

3 Comments

Filed under Twitter, Uncategorized

Twittering the news the right way

When I started Twittering as @statesman, I immediately looked around to see how this is being done. Surely, I wasn’t reinventing the wheel, right?

After a quick Google search, I found this blog by Erica Smith that keeps track of newspapers that Twitter. I was surprised to see that many newspapers had a Twitter account. What I didn’t realize right away was how many of them were doing it wrong. And, trust me, there is a wrong way.

I had been on Twitter for a few weeks before coming up with the idea of Twittering the news. I was just doing what nearly everyone else does on Twitter – chatting with a few friends using a personal account. Like most who use it, I became addicted. I enjoyed those tidbits from people’s lives. And I especially enjoyed the personal interaction that comes so naturally on Twitter.

So, I was amazed at how many newspapers were using Twitter as an RSS dump. They were — and are — taking all of their headlines and just dropping them onto a soul-less Twitter account. They don’t follow anyone — and they don’t get many followers, either. How boring is that? Who would follow a news site that just force-feeds all of its headlines onto Twitter en masse? Isn’t that missing the whole “social” part of social media? For example, the Minneapolis Star Tribune feeds apparently all of its headlines onto its Twitter account. It has posted more than 34,000 updates. Not to be too hard on the Star Tribune, but this has resulted in only a little over 130 followers (most of those must be bots and spammers, right?)

Instead, I aimed to be personal and friendly. The journalists at our paper do care about this community, and I wanted our readers to know that. I wanted readers to think of us as not only a news provider, but as a neighbor (which we are). I start every morning with a Tweet saying “Good morning” and I end every work day saying “cheers.” I respond to people when they ask me a question. I listen to feedback and adjust what I’m doing. Basically, I just act like myself. And it’s working.

In just a few months, we have gained more than 1,000 followers. Check out this positive feedback. These are not the type of comments we in the media are used to hearing these days.

I’m still learning. There are times when I think I overdo something (and I hear about it from my followers). The good thing is, there are some friends out there who are willing to offer advice. That brings me to one of my new friends …

Introducing Colonel Tribune

The guy knows Chicago

The guy knows Chicago

A few days into the @statesman Twittering, I checked back on Erica’s list of Twittering newspapers to see if there were any others out there that were doing it the way I was doing it. One stuck out –  @coloneltribune. The Chicago Tribune has a main Twitter account that pushes it’s headlines out there using Twitterfeed. But it also has Colonel Tribune. I noticed that Colonel Tribune uses Twitter the right way — he’s personal and responsive (and he happens to have a bigger following than the main Tribune feed).  The Colonel hand-picks stories that he thinks his readers will find interesting, and he is very conversational. The Colonel uses Twitter the right way.

The Colonel’s “good friend,” a Tribune employee named Daniel Honigman, recently wrote this guest column for Poynter about using Twitter for breaking news in Chicago. That’s great stuff that really shows the power of the medium.

I’ve also seen that power. My readers trust me and know I’m not some automated machine spitting out headlines. Therefore, they send me news. They let me know when it’s raining (big news here in Austin these days). They tell me when there’s a wreck. They even send me photos and videos from news events.

Established media no longer are the faceless corporations that tell you what is going on without listening. We can now hear your voices, too. This is the way citizen journalism is supposed to work. I can guarantee you that the next time big news happens in Central Texas, I’ll get a lot of help from my followers.

Despite the bad economic news in journalism, this is exciting. Social media is the life raft; we just have to grab it and hold on.

The Colonel has agreed to be a member of our panel at SXSW Interactive (if it is chosen) on Twittering the news. I’ve also invited Erica Smith. I’ve already mentioned Erica in two blog entries, so you can see why I think she’d be a great speaker. A few of us Statesman folks will also be there, including @broylesa (food writer Addie Broyles) and @omarg (tech writer Omar Gallaga).

Please vote for our panel and comment on it if you are interested.

The deadline to vote on our panel proposal is Aug. 29.

If you’re following us on Twitter, thank you! Come on by and say “hi!”

Cheers!

12 Comments

Filed under journalism, Twitter, Uncategorized

Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?

As you all know, it’s not pretty out there for print media. My colleague Erica Smith keeps track of the layoffs in our industry.

Through it all, the Statesman managed to avoid layoffs, buyouts and other ugliness. In fact, it was one of the few papers that had somewhat weathered the storm. Until now.

So, are newspaper operations doomed?

I read blogs, columns and trade publication opinions all the time that talk about how we’re all just rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.  They are either morbid or gleeful that the industry is in trouble (depending on the author, of course).

What I never read are solutions. And there are some.

That’s what has driven me to start this blog in the first place. I want people to realize there is hope out there. I don’t have all the answers, but I’ll share with you what I think can work.

As Bluto so eloquently put it, it’s not over.

In fact, most newspapers have MORE readers now than they did 10 years ago. In the late 1990s, when I arrived at the Statesman, we were in the midst of a campaign we called “Summit 2000.” The goal of the campaign was to reach 200,000 daily subscribers by the year 2000. We fell short, but just barely. Now we’re under 170,000 daily subscribers.

Sounds bad, eh? Well, this past Friday, we had 120,000 unique visitors to our sites (statesman.com and Austin360.com). 120,000 + 160,000= we’ve vaulted over that summit!

Of course, we have yet to find a way to truly capitalize on that. The online advertising competition is fierce. Print has been heavily reliant on classified ads since the first lost puppy ad was printed. Craigslist, Monster.com, etc. killed that.

I’m not an expert in newspaper industry business models. What I’ve posted here is pretty much the extent of my knowledge. I do know that there are some smart people out there trying to figure it out, and I think they will.

OK, I haven’t offered any solutions yet. I’ll do that in future blog entries. For now, let me just say that innovation can and is happening at newspapers. I have seen amazing change at the Statesman in just the past 20 months that I’ve been Internet editor. Our web developer and his team are so busy that they have a list of tasks to accomplish that would make your head spin.  That’s a good sign – that means there are some innovative ideas on the plate, and we just haven’t gotten to them all yet.

Believe it or not, I’m excited about the future of newspapers. Major changes will have to happen for us to get where I think we need to be. But I’m seeing those changes. The reason the Statesman is for sale is because Cox knows the paper has good value. I hope the new owners realize that the success is mainly due to the employees’ and management’s achievements and innovation.

There’s a lot of naysayers out there, both within the industry and on the outside. They say it’s all over – the battle is lost.

Me? I may be delusional, but I’m with Bluto: “Over? Did you say ‘over’? Nothing is over until we decide it is!”

Leave a comment

Filed under journalism

Starting to blog again

It has been a long time since I have blogged regularly, but I think the time has come. I Twitter all the time, but it’s time to say some things in >140 characters.

I won’t post things unless they’re useful. I’ll focus mostly on my trade (journalism) but I’ll also post whatever I find amusing.

To catch everyone up:

* I’m the Internet editor at the Austin American Statesman, which is for sale (anyone interested in buying?)

* I am the chief architect, I guess, of our Twitter strategy. I started with @statesman, but we have dozens of accounts now, counting all of our reporters.

* I’m hoping it rains in the next few days.

*  I’m waiting for the football season to fully begin.

There, that should do it 🙂

5 Comments

Filed under journalism