News Leadership 3.0

February 17, 2009

LA Times embraces, chases social media

Chris O’Brien returns with a guest post about Andrew Nystrom and The Los Angeles Times’ initiatives in social media

I’m pleased to welcome Chris O’Brien back to this blog. Chris, business columnist for the San Jose Mercury-News and leader of The Next Newsroom Project, has written about new roles and practices for newsrooms. Today, he interviews Andrew Nystrom, the new senior producer, social media, at the LA Times.

By Chris O’Brien

There’s been a lot written on this blog about the new jobs needed in the newsroom. Given the opportunities and challenges confronted by news organizations, it’s time to rethink the roles and types of people who work in a newsroom. Granted, in the current economic environment, that’s not easy to do. But it’s still a necessary investment.

And that’s why I was excited when I stumbled across Andrew Nystrom on Twitter. In late November, the Los Angeles Times announced that Nystrom had been appointed “senior producer, social media.” Nystrom had already been working at the for two years, most recently as Senior Producer of Travel.

The Times’ official announcement described the thinking behind his new role this way:

“We are using “social media” to describe sites and services outside of we can use to engage new readers, spread the word about some of our best work, and do a better job of listening to the larger conversation on the Web. Think about Digg, Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, YouTube and other sites that provide opportunities for us to share what we do and better connect with readers.”

That’s smart. Too often, newsrooms still get stuck trying to think about how to bring people to their Web site. They need to take the next step and push content and conversations out to where the community and audience are. It should be part of everyone’s duty in the newsroom to think about how to build networks of sources and readers, and how to get their content - their photos, their stories, their blog posts - out to those networks.

But that creates two challenges. First, a lot of folks need encouragement and some training to really engage with these new tools. And second, there’s so much content to push out, it’s easily requires one person dedicated to the task full-time. .

That’s what the Times has done. It’s worth following closely what the Times is doing online these days given their phenomenal online growth over the past year. The Times reported that its online audience grew 143 percent in the past year. “I just think it’s fantastic that the organization made this commitment,” Nystrom said. “I think it plays into the larger commitment we’ve made online.”

Nystrom said his new role evolved out of a lot of informal work he was already doing around the newsroom. “Every day, questions would come up in the newsroom about social media, and the bosses kept sending them my way,” Nystrom told me. “And so this kind of made it official.”

Nystrom and the online team sit in the main Times newsroom. He said his duties had rapidly evolved over the two months he’s taken on the new social media role. But so far, they fall into three main categories.

First, Nystrom helps to train his newsroom colleagues on these new tools. “There are plenty of people who are already using social media,” Nystrom said. “And there are some who have never heard of a lot of this. I’m certainly not thinking that everyone needs to be fully immersed in social media in our newsroom. I’m trying to think about who can benefit.”

Next, Nystrom acts as an internal evangelist, constantly looking for opportunities to wrap social media in reporting and storytelling. For instance, he helped advocate internally for using the sensational photo of the Hudson River plane crash taken by a citizen journalist on the front page of the Times and several other major newspapers.

Finally, Nystrom is actively listening to and participating in conversations taking place throughout various social media channels. He’s looking for interesting threads or information that can be brought back into the newsroom. And he’s listening for conversations about the Times and its coverage. “I’m especially looking at the conversation going on beyond our outlets, our Web site,” Nystrom said. “I want to find appropriate ways for us to participate.”

It’s too early to measure any direct benefits from Nystrom’s work. The Times’ online success hasn’t made the company immune from the effects of the crumbling economy, as its recent layoff announcement shows. And it remains under the umbrella of a corporate parent that is in bankruptcy.

But rather than using these as excuses to sit still, the Times has shown a commitment to experimenting and innovating. That’s example worth following.


the Times has shown a commitment to experimenting and innovating???
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Exploring innovation, transformation and leadership in a new ecosystem of news, by journalist and change advocate Michele McLellan.

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