Tag Archives: newspapers

All the News That’s Fit to Tweet

Last week, The New York Times announced the promotion of Jen Preston (most recently of the now-defunct Times Regional sections) to social media editor for the newspaper. At first glance, this seems like a great move. Newspapers desperately need to catch up to the way communication and information sharing takes place nowadays, and having someone whose job it is to, I quote from the memo announcing Preston’s hire, “concentrate full-time on expanding the use of social media networks and publishing platforms to improve New York Times journalism and deliver it to readers” sounds like a giant step in the right direction.

The hiring was not without some awkwardness, such as Preston’s Twitter account only becoming non-protected in the hours after her hire (and purged of all previous tweets, if there were any). But Mashable raised the greater point of, what ultimate purpose will a centrally placed individual “in charge of” social media at the newspaper serve, especially when some reporters are already doing a great job at a more organic level in using social media? 

Consolidating social strategy and having one person direct operations could help, but only if he or she is socially savvy and open to feedback and new connections. 

The great thing about social media is that it is not a top-down channel, like newspapers have traditionally been. It’s not even just bottom-up. It’s everything from all directions, all the time. You can’t control that — once your carefully constructed video, blog post, article or tweet leaves the nest, it’s at the mercy of the social wilderness. You can study the phenomenon and react to it, but you can’t define or dictate it. It will be curious to see what Preston’s role evolves to become. Since the announcement, she has been doing lots of replying and retweeting, a bunch of listening and also attending presentations on Twitter given by her own colleagues. All good things.

Mike Volpe at HubSpot was a bit less allowing, calling the move a “misfire” and instead encouraging the company to empower its entire staff with skills in SEO and social media.

The whole point behind inbound marketing is that it is not some sort of bolt on to your existing company.  You get the best results when you re-think your business and business model, and involve the entire company. 

This sounds good, but like I said, the world of social media is all things from all directions, not top-down. You can’t shift from one to the other overnight, and if you do want to shift, it may make sense to have one person on hand to coordinate that transition. It may very well be that the ultimate NYT strategy is to equip every reporter with the new media toolkit (and many NYT staffers are already immersing themselves in social media — less clumsily than David Pogue, I hope) but in their current organizational structure, that is not going to happen organically across the board.

A Double-Edged Sword

But organizational commitment to social media can cut two ways. Both NYT and the Wall Street Journal are among publications that have provided social media guidelines to its reporters. Some of the WSJ guidelines are medium-specific, such as not to friend sources without editor approval, but a lot of them seem like common sense guidelines on not misrepresenting yourself and maintaining a professional demeanor. The NYT guidelines for Facebook dig a little deeper, getting almost philosophical about what exactly is a “friend” and talking about source-culling, but also present a lot of common sense rules like not editorializing if you work in News and not making the company look bad. A common element is not to discuss works-in-progress online. (Personally, I am iffy about such guidelines. My stance until further notice is to use your judgment and basic common sense — something the reporters who tweeted items from a newsroom meeting did not do.)

Some folks raise the question, though: do these policies inhibit the very functions that make social media communities so compelling and useful by, well, tightly restricting how social you can be? Jeff Jarvis brings up the point of collaborative reporting, and the great opportunity for newspapers (like Talking Points Memo has done) to tap the resources of the broader community to advance their reporting.

This mindset, of course, flies in the face of scoop mentality, of anti-citizen journalist sentiment and ivory-tower journalism. The editorial hierarchy is not built to allow reporters to be independent decision-making agents who can live-tweet, blog and friend at will. But maybe, at least in some respects, it should be.

What many print publications have failed to realize is that the age of the scoop is over. It’s not about who gets there first; it’s about who stays there best, and that outcome is not entirely in the hands of the publication. Like with Volpe’s complaint about Preston’s hiring, I understand Rome isn’t built (or un-built, in this case) in a day, but social media present intriguing opportunities to drop the wall a bit, even on a per-story basis, and bring the community into the process. I’d love to see that happen. 

(BTW I highly recommend this blog post by the Nieman Journalism Lab for good thoughts and links on all of the above.)

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Who watches the pressmen?

The Boston Globe published an interesting article about how newspaper pressmen are worrying about what the changes to the journalism industry mean for their jobs. It’s funny — I often think about the changes in journalism at the industry level, or about what it means for how reporters do their jobs. But, as with all great shifts, the cogs in the machines may suffer the most. Reporters can take classes and learn how to blog or shoot video and advertising folks can devise new strategies to sell ads online; it’s not that big of a deal, really. But for folks like the pressmen, there is no adaptation. There is no strategic planning or professional development. The future for their trade is narrow and dim.

I know slash-and-burn is the popular strategy as of late, but do newspaper companies have any responsibility to help the practitioners of these endangered trades? If they’ve empowered photographers to edit videos and reporters to get on Twitter or run a blog, why not provide some path for the pressmen? Or is this just the way things go, with natural selection playing out as it will in an evolving industry and that particular trade becoming more niche and more obscure? I don’t know. It’s a tough call.

Breaking News: You Might Not Be Around Tomorrow

Is it just me, or has there been a palpable lack of interest/outcry/fervor/what-have-you concerning the possibly imminent demise of The Boston Globe? I mean, people comment on articles (with mixed emotions, admittedly), and there are blog posts here and there, but I haven’t felt that “buzz” that usually permeates the air (actual and virtual) when a crisis is afoot. It’s weird.

With a midnight deadline looming, even on the Globe’s own site, the updated story about the ongoing negotiations is buried as the first link under the Business lead, way below the scroll:

Boston Globe management and its largest union are locked in high stakes negotiations as they pushed to meet a midnight deadline to reach agreement on millions of dollars in concessions from the unions, or risk the shutdown of the 137-year-old paper.

I mean, that sounds pretty dire, right? The story, of course, is leading on the Boston Herald’s site, and they also strike a pretty urgent tone:

Leaders of the Boston Globe press operators union say they are “gravely concerned” as the New York Times Co.’s threatened deadline to close The Boston Globe looms.

With just hours to go until the Times-imposed deadline of midnight tonight, the pressmen’s union had not reached an agreement with Times Co. management on the proposed budget cuts.

The Boston Phoenix’s Adam Reilly had a good piece in this week’s paper about the future of the Globe, giving an overview of the situation and impact of the paper’s demise. He touches on the rally held last week and really paints a sorry picture. First of all, rally? What rally? Apparently, this was the least publicized rally ever. Which goes to show how out of touch the folks in the newspaper industry are with the way the web works (as does the 39-year Globe employee who declared at the rally, “We want to get the whole story, not the tidbits from the Internet!”). Relatedly,I wonder how the blogger rally went?

(Also, note that their online petition is hosted on the union site, and is essentially an online form; there is no way for the public to gauge the momentum behind the cause.)

Basically, the impression I’ve gotten from the coverage is that the union is inept, the NYT Co. management is inept (since they flubbed the accounting that was an inherent part of their May 1 ultimatum, forcing the Globe unions to find an additional $4.5 million) and no one seems to care either way. I mean, is the Times threat that empty or that unlikely? Are people in denial? Does it even matter to anyone if the Globe lives or dies? I mean, I don’t have much insight on this. I’m honestly curious. Why the relatively weak reaction to this genuine crisis?

Maybe people are in the same state I am: half of me feels like the closure of the Globe is too ridiculous to happen, while the other half is almost resigned to it as an inevitable consequence of their failure to adapt. Call it corporate Darwinism. Sometimes, you need to blow up the model and start from scratch to survive, but the only strategy they seem to have is burning the wood to stay warm instead of making a raft to get the hell off the island.

Would the shutdown of the Globe create a void? Yes, of course, a tremendous one. Could it be filled? The fact that I can’t unequivocally say no, well, that means something. Maybe I’m just mad. I mean, they had a chance to get in on the ground floor of a partnership with Monster.com. That could have a been a game-changer, not just for the Globe, but for online classifieds and newspapers in general. Yes, it was the mid-90s, and the Internet was very new, but the communications world has been nothing over the course of history is not ever-evolving, and any self-respecting communications organization should have people on staff who are paid to see beyond the bottom line and the fiscal year, to chart the course for years and decades to come. If they had that person on board way back when, we might be in a very different position today. And I can’t help but hold that against them.

That said, while they’ve screwed up a bunch and let Boston.com become muddied by pageview-whoring and cash-grabs, they are a huge asset to the region. I truly hope that they not only survive, but find a way to innovate and thrive once more. And I hope that isn’t asking the impossible.