John: First, perhaps you can tell me your background, and your role at the News and Record?
Michael: I’ve been a journalist for 16 years (public safety reporter and assistant city editor), including about 7 years on the online side in newspapers. My role now is to manage the team that maintains the content on all of the News & Record’s Web sites. I am an employee of the Interactive division but sit in the newsroom, helping them to understand our digital goals and how they can help.
John: How does the paper use social media for content delivery?
Michael: We push our content through several main social channels, mainly on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. On Twitter, we created the @GenlGreensboro account last June to be a hub for all things Greensboro. The idea – taken from Chicago’s ColonelTribune – is that if you are on Twitter and live or work in Greensboro, that you’ll want to follow this account to stay in the know. We push links to our N&R content but also content from our competitors – anything that we think people in Greensboro might want to know about. The General also interacts with people who Tweet questions about the city or the newspaper. Reporters, editors and others at the paper also have social media accounts to push their own content, and we maintain @NewsandRecord as a feed of all the news content we publish to the site.
John: How do journalists use social media for story sourcing and story development? Do you use any social media monitoring tools for data analysis?
Michael: It varies by reporter, but most in the newsroom have some type of social media presence. They are using it to connect with sources, either interacting with them directly to ask questions or following them to get story tips. Some reporters use it to find sources, either posing questions about a story they are working on or looking for witnesses to some type of event or controversy. Others use it to extend their “brand” – for example our reporter who covers retails and writes about bargains uses a branded account to keep up with local and national businesses and to push his own content. For Twitter, several of us who manage multiple accounts use HootSuite to monitor clicks. We also track page view referrals each month from social media sites to our sites using Omniture’s SiteCatalyst.
John: How do journalists balance the pace of the newsroom and the need to write stories with engaging the wider community?
Michael: I’d say we are still trying to answer that. We have a policy that reporters and editors are asked to respond to questions and engage the community in the comments section of the articles that they write. A handful also maintain blogs on our main news site. One of the issues I’ve received many questions about is whether journalists should maintain separate work and personal accounts on Facebook. We have several in the newsroom who are uneasy about pushing their personal activities to some of the sources that they follow. And there has been some debate on Facebook about becoming a fan or liking certain groups (I’ve always thought its OK, just be consistent).
John: Do you have any guidelines for social media engagement for your journalists, and what support do you give them?
Michael: No set guidelines, though our general ethics policy for the newsroom also covers social media. Mostly, it’s common sense. For the newsroom people who want help on creating an account, we walk them through setting it up and answer questions that they have. We’ve had several group training sessions in recent months, both to answer questions and to brainstorm some new ideas.John: What do your readers think of your social media involvement?
Michael: I’d say it’s been positive. We’ve had good feedback and click-throughs via @GenlGreensboro, so I think there is enthusiasm about that effort. Our goal is to deliver our news where people are, whether it be in print, traditional online or via Twitter on a smart phone (for example). One thing we’ve definitely learned more about in the past year is that the audiences and their interests vary by social media site. What we do on Twitter I don’t think would translate directly onto Facebook, and vice versa. And obviously YouTube is its own thing. So it’s important to us to deliver different types of content on the different channels.