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The Survival of Newspapers Depends on Embracing Social Media – Pew Study Shows This Isn’t Happening

November 16, 2011 2 comments

The MSM 9000 - Turning Twitter Into a Glorified RSS Feed

The Pew Center Project for Excellence in Journalism recently published a study (“How Mainstream Media Outlets Use Twitter; Content Analysis Shows an Evolving Relationship“) showing that, despite its myriad applications, most newspapers just use Twitter as a way of regurgitating the content they’re already publishing on pulp or on their websites.  Megan Garber at the Nieman Journalism Lab rightly points out that this turns Twitter into “a glorified RSS feed.”

Pew Newspaper Twitter Use Study - Tweets During a Week

The results of the study are a good insight into why the newspaper industry has suffered such a decline in recent years; they still haven’t embraced social media in a meaningful way.  The particularly telling statistic was that during the one-week period when the Twitter accounts were observed, 93 percent of the tweets linked back to a story on the news organization’s website.

In fairness to the newspapers observed, most of them likely have a strategy that divides up the content and engagement among various different Twitter accounts.  For example, the Arizona Republic notes that @azcentral is the site they use for news and opinion (they reserve @arizonarepublic for interactions with the newsroom) and fortunately the Pew study methodology noted this.  The Pew study took this into account to an extent by measuring what was published by reporters that work for each paper.

One measure of an organization’s level of social media engagement (though admittedly it’s riddled with problems and much-derided by many social media experts) is Klout.  For what it’s worth, here are the Klout scores of the 13 news organizations measured (as of November 15, 2011).  By comparison, I’m not terribly influential and my Klout score is 54 – the highest Klout score currently is Justin Bieber (@justinbieber) at 100:

  • The Huffington Post (@huffingtonpost): 86
  • The New York Times (@nytimes): 86
  • ABC News (@abc): 83
  • The Wall Street Journal (@wsj): 83
  • The Washington Post (@washingtonpost): 82
  • Fox News (@foxnews): 82
  • CNN (@cnn): 81
  • MSNBC (@msnbc): 77
  • USA Today (@usatoday): 77
  • NPR (@nprnews): 76
  • The Arizona Republic (@azcentral): 63
  • The Daily Caller (@dailycaller): 61
  • The Toledo Blade (@toledonews): 46

Replicability?

I was curious to see if some of the non-traditional major newspapers also succumbed to this non-engaging practice of using Twitter so I took a look at the accounts of the St. Petersburg Times (run by the Poynter Institute) and a few of thedaily papers operated by the McClatchy Company, as well as the Grand Rapids Press.  My hypothesis was that they would have embraced social media (in this case Twitter) in a more meaningful way than the traditional for-profit newspapers which would show up in a higher volume of tweets and more engagement with individual Twitter users.

During the one-week period between November 8-14, 2011, these were the results:

Tweets Links to Own Stories / Others / Pct Klout Score
The St. Petersburg Times (@tampabaycom) 51 48 / 0 (100%) 47
McClatchy – Anchorage Daily News (@adndotcom) 100 65 / 15 (81%) 10
McClatchy – The Kansas City Star (@kcstar) 213 169 / 20 (89%) 58
Grand Rapids Press (@grpress) 50 49 / 1 (98%) 49
 Total 331 / 36 (90%)

As you can see, they were pretty much the same as the rest of the newspapers observed in the Pew Study; an average of 90 percent of the links provided were back to their own content.

What was interesting was that the period of time observed for the Anchorage Daily News was during a massive storm which dramatically changed the way the paper used Twitter. It was far more likely to retweet breaking news from other Twitter users, as well as link to other sites (such as the National Oceanographic and Aeronautic Administration – NOAA). This change begs the question; if it’s important to martial all information regardless of source during an emergency, why isn’t that the case during the regular news day?

Recommendations

Here’s some advice for the newspapers (for what it’s worth):

1. Acknowledge and Engage Followers:

While it’s certainly reasonable for any given news organization to tweet links back to its content, that shouldn’t make up the bulk of the tweets.  Twitter offers a unique opportunity to interact one-on-one with readers in a very timely fashion.  The organizations that use Twitter well participate in the online community and acknowledge their customers/constituents – speaking personally to them and sharing what they publish(by re-tweeting “RT-ing” them).

2. Embrace Social Media Conventions:

There’s an interesting phenomenon going on right now where news organizations are worried about re-tweeting content from other users because they fear it is perceived as an “endorsement” of the person (some go so far as to expressly mention in their Twitter descriptions that RTs are not an endorsement).  Be not afraid, journos!  RTs are only sometimes an endorsement, and if some of your readers are too stupid to note the difference – you probably don’t need them anyway.

Pew Newspaper Twitter Use Study - Use of Hashtags

What was particularly shameful was the lack of use of hashtags in tweets.  NPR didn’t use a single hashtag during the entire period they were observed.  That’s shameful.  Hashtags are signposts that allow people (and algorithms) to identify relevant content, and they facilitate discussion around a topic.  They should be a priority for any Twitter user to include whenever the 140 character limit permits.

3. Give Your Social Media Presence a Face:

By this I mean an actual face.  Of a person.  Not a logo, but a person.  Everyone knows that there’s a person behind every social media presence, yet most organizations conduct themselves on social media as though a giant machine is adding copy and triggering the “send” button.  Of the Twitter accounts measured, only five readily identified who was tweeting on behalf of the organization (The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The Arizona Republic, The Daily Caller, and the Toledo Blade).

4. Learn From Your Reporters:

In my experience, I’ve found journalists are frequently adept at using social media – Twitter in particular.  They’re personal, timely, and engaging.  They get social media conventions, and they’re not afraid to participate (even using Twitter to gather news and find interview subjects).  That’s one of the reasons why #JournChat (a weekly dialog involving reporters and public relations pros) is my favorite Tweet Chat

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A Case Study in the Declining Editorial Filter of the Mainstream Media

October 3, 2011 Leave a comment

People fond of a more traditional, fundamentalist definition of journalism are frequently critical of the idea of citizen journalism.  The criticism usually centers on the lack of editorial oversight in the content that is produced.  The “news,” they argue, is better and we should all bemoan the rise of citizen journalism and citizen reporting because there’s “no oversight” and that means more misinformation and a more poorly-informed public.

I’m an advocate for citizen journalism.  I think it can be every bit as good as traditional journalism if the right conditions are present.  I would also argue that the public can retroactively apply an editorial filter of its own to proof and vet content.  It’s just a matter of flipping the timing of the model. Read more…

CNN’s Craig Newmark Ambush a Great Example of Continuing Shift in PR/Journo Dynamic

August 30, 2010 Leave a comment

Journalists chastise public relations professionals for their lack of professionalism.  It’s not unwarranted; there are a lot of infantile, lazy, selfish, two-faced, disrespectful PR people running around.  Believe me, I know.

That lack of professionalism is a two-way street, though, and if it’s illegitimate for PR flaks to hide behind the demands of their clients – it’s also illegitimate for journalists to hide behind the demands of their editors or ad sales departments.  If we have to own all the crappy PR people – you have to own all of the crappy journalists.  Fair’s fair.

Amber Lyon Ambushing Craig Newmark

Case in point: a few weeks ago, CNN ambushed Craigslist founder Craig Newmark and tried to make him answer for the fact that sex traffickers/sex workers use the service to advertise their services.

It’s the equivalent of me sticking a camera in James Earl “This is CNN” Jones’ face to make him answer for the firing of Octavia Nasr.

There’s a tendency to cower before editors/journalists even when they’re in the wrong because they hold sway over the media (the old “never pick a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel” adage).  That dynamic is increasingly less true because “ink” is now free for everyone.

Both Craig Newmark and Craigslist CEO Jim Buckmeister did a great job taking CNN to the woodshed, knowing that a well-written rejoinder would get the attention of newswatchers on the web (and in the era of social media – any corporate blog has potentially just as broad a reach as CNN.com):

“You knew Craig was not in management or a company spokesperson, but setting CNN’s ethical code aside, you sidestepped company channels in favor of ambushing our semi-retired founder, complete with a misleading “set up” for your surprise questions. Now that CNN has aired your highly misleading piece dozens of times, mischaracterizing your stunt as a serious interview on this subject, and you’ve updated your “bio” to showcase this rare jewel of investigative journalism, you’re ready to try actually interviewing the company itself on this subject.”  (More)

CNN could have taken this story any number of ways that would have given it merit: they could have used it to launch a discussion about the insatiable appetite of the US (and other developed nations) for prostitution, or to have a discussion about the merits of legalizing prostitution in eliminating the brutal exploitation of women, but those directions are boring.  It’s far more satisfying to serve up a villain on a platter to face the self-righteous indignation of the mob.

Amber Lyon's Bio, Already Updated With a Gloating Reference to the Craig Newmark Interview

Amber Lyon's Bio, Already Updated With a Gloating Reference to the Craig Newmark Interview

As viewership of the traditional newsmedia continues to fragment, expect more desperation to retain eyeballs.  If recent history is any guide, that unfortunately means newsmedia will compete with more sensationalism instead of more quality.

The C-suite shouldn’t be afraid to use social media to fire back when fired upon; especially if an organization is already cultivating relationships with customers/stakeholders online.  Odds are you’ll have a direct link to more of your customers than any given news outlet (no matter how mainstream), and the credibility of the news media lately leaves much to be desired.

Sidebar I: One wonders if CNN is going to do a similar ambush of Luke Wilson; after all he’s the figurehead spokesperson for AT&T – and their wireless service was just as integral to facilitating the sample prostitution classified ad Lyon placed on Craigslist (and likely providing the wireless service to Lyon’s Nokia mobile phone that she used to take calls from prospective Johns).

Sidebar II: Also transparently feeble are the deliberate shots showing reporter Amber Lyon using her iPad to pull up Craiglist postings (read: we have iPads so we’re hip and tech-savvy! Watch us, key demo of 18-34 year olds – we’re off the chain in this m-fer, yo!). But I’m not the first person to have my lulz over CNN’s overreliance on tech…

CNN Clumsily Asserting its Tech Savvy With a Forced iPad Shot

CNN Clumsily Asserting its Tech Savvy With a Forced iPad Shot