Is social networking too social for news folk?

Would Lou Grant know how to use Twitter or Facebook to its potential?


One of my all time favorite TV journalism moments comes from “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” when boss Lou Grant is looking over a story that Mary had poured her heart into.  

As Lou reads the script, Mary nervously asks Lou what he thinks of it.  

“It’s cute,” Lou calmly responds.  

As Mary starts to gush and say thank you, Lou look up at her and gruffly booms: “I HATE CUTE!”  

It’s a great metaphor for how journalists have long been envisioned by readers: grouchy, anti-social perfectionists who always seem to have a bug up their ass about something. And as a veteran of 30 years in the industry, I can attest there is a certain amount of truth in that depiction. It’s not necessarily that journalists are naturally grouchy and anti-social, it’s more that they’ve been trained to be that way: The disinterested third party. The one who tells you the story. The professional cynic.  

That is why news executives with roots as editors and reporters have problems understanding the potential of social networking.  

As more news organizations are seeing former and potential readers embrace sites such as Facebook and Twitter, they have recognized a need to be a part of it. Unfortunately, the results have been simply turning their social media presence into embellished RSS feeds. As a result, most news sites on Facebook and Twitter are like a first date with a pompous ass. They talk way too much about themselves, and aren’t interested in letting you have a say about anything. Then they can’t understand why you won’t go out with them again.  

They’re missing the ‘social’ part of social networking.  

News sites on social networks must be more engaging with their followers. This means going beyond telling everyone what’s the cool story of the day or linking live to a press conference or major announcement. It means listening to your followers as well. The conversation needs to be two-way.  

But, as editors and reporters, we’ve been trained to be detached from the story, not be a part of it. As a result, most also become detached from their audiences as well. In order to make it in social media, we need to step down from the ivory tower and become an active participant in discussion and debate.  

Engaging your followers doesn’t need to be you saying “what’s up today?” on your post. For example, why not run a daily news events or trivia quiz on Twitter or Facebook? Or post a closeup of a notable landmark in your community and ask readers what it is? The first reply back with the right answer wins a small prize. Isn’t  building audience and loyalty worth a $10 Starbucks gift card every day?  

Advertising could tweet coupons for advertisers. Bring this tweet into our snack shop before 2 p.m. and get a free drink with your lunch order.  

Invite followers to post or tweet live from a local concert or key high school sports event. Make sure their responses are available for all to see. Conduct live interviews with notable people in your community, and invite questions and comments from your followers.  

Listen to your followers. Respond to a question from a follower — let them know you’re listening. On Twitter, if someone tweets a fact or news bit that would be interesting to your followers,  retweet them — even if that news is from a competitor. If you’ve built a good following, they won’t desert you.  

Above all, have a bit of fun with your followers. That’s what socializing is all about.  

This does mean that news organizations will need to commit manpower to their social network strategies. But, like all relationships, there needs to be a commitment involved. Ignore a relationship, and it goes away. Give it the basics and it may survive. Attend to and nurture a relationship, and it will blossom.  

And haven’t we said enough about ourselves?

New E&P owner’s ‘vital’ interest?

With last week’s purchase of Editor and Publisher by magazine publisher Duncan McIntosh, there was hope that the industry’s 126-year-old monitor could have a new life in helping the newspaper industry steer its way into calmer waters.

But after reading McIntosh’s comments in Folio, I have reason to think that may not be so. While the publisher may think the need for the journal is more vital than ever given the current state of the industry, there is apparently no plans to change the way it did business before it went under.

It looks like E&P’s new captain will keep the rudder pointed straight  And the rocks are closer.

Rising from the dead: E&P gets a second chance

It was nice to hear that Editor & Publisher, the 100-year-plus journal covering the newspaper industry that folded at the end of last year, was bought Thursday by Duncan McIntosh Co. and resumed operations immediately. The online version is up and running under the leadership of E&P veteran Mark Fitzgerald, and plans are to resume a monthly print edition beginning in February.

This is refreshing because, as I said last month, when the industry’s harbinger folds, does that become a harbinger for the industry?

Although E&P is back in business with a new owner, the real challenge now is to make it a viable, necessary tool for industry leaders and followers. After all, E&P’s first demise was not necessarily because of falling ad revenues in an industry suffering same, but it became irrelevant as the growth of online competition, such as Poynter’s Romenesko blog, took readers away. And although new features like the blogs written by Fitzgerald and staffer Jennifer Saba were good, they weren’t marketed well and became lost in the sea of media blogs.

If E&P is to survive its second life, it’ll need to be creative with new ways of distributing its content. Frankly, I don’t know of a single individual in my field who still has a subscription (I cancelled my 6 years ago after becoming a fan of Romenesko…back when it was still known as Media News).  Like the folks they cover, E&P is going to need to rely on new revenue models, because I don’t suspect Duncan McIntosh bought it with the idea to be its sugar daddy.

One idea would be to find a way to adapt the “E&Pinexile” blog written by suddenly unemployed E&P staffers. In the short time of their existence, they had build a blog that could easily rival the immediacy and credibility of Romenesko.  Then take these new ideas and deliver them in a format and timeliness that readers would be willing to pay a small price for. (An E&P iPhone app? Why not?)

E&P has been given a new life, which is good for it and good for the industry. Here’s hoping they can figure out how to stay healthy.

Focus on the core product

It’s refreshing to find others in the vast wasteland who are shouting the same thing as you. In this instance, Ty Ahmad-Taylor’s posting on what media companies are missing in developing audience doesn’t specifically target the  news industry, but his logic can certainly be applied to it .

The core product in the news industry is news – not newspapers; not television; not radio, not online. Those are simply methods of delivering the REAL product to customers. Customers have a preference for delivery, but what they are coming to you for is NEWS.

It’s amazes me why so many publishers fail to make this connection, and as a result come up with insane revenue ideas such as pay walls.