News Leadership 3.0

July 30, 2009

Social media: Expanding horizons of traditional news organizations

News executives who participated in KDMC’s social media class offer takeaways aimed at their peers in the news industry

As Knight Digital Media Center’s class, “Using Social Media to Build Audience,” wrapped up last week, several of the faculty remarked on how far leaders of the 10 participating news organizations had come. They took a 10-week online class, then received one-on-one coaching for specific projects and we wrapped up in Los Angeles July 19-21 to finalize plans. Those plans range from developing content to engage young people on mobile phones and Facebook to becoming an aggregator of blogs and news sites in their communities. Buying into the value of linking outward to the content of others and the need for content to find people where they live online were two threads that I saw in many of the projects, which I will write about as they launch in the next couple of months. In the meantime, I asked participants to highlight one or two ideas that they wanted to share with their peers—editors, online editors and revenue executives at traditional (newspaper) organizations. Here’s a sampling:

“We need to take a hard look at what is ‘in our DNA’ that’s preventing us from moving forward at the pace we need to. On both the news and business sides, we need to go back and have frank conversations about this concept, which Paul (Gillin) framed very well.”—Sherry Chisenhall, editor, The Wichita Eagle.

“We need better company-wide strategy on using social media to build audience (outside our project). We’re doing just about everything mentioned as a good idea, but in a scattered way and not consistently. Among those ideas: using social bookmarking sites and tools, working on SEO in headlines and tagging, defining guidelines and expectations on facebook and twitter, and so forth. We can probably get better results with a more coherent and better-communicated Bee strategy.”—Melanie Sill, editor, The Sacramento Bee

“Social media strategy is different and changing at a more rapid pace than any other form of strategy. People are looking to get news and information from a plethora of sources and it is our responsibility to provide those services to readers before someone else does. As ad executives, we cannot be scared to go after new horizons of revenues; we cannot afford not to! But we must keep in mind our approach and ideas have to be fresh and innovative. We must learn how to sell the value of social media to our customers and relay to them this is not just another fad. We’re still bringing our audience to our advertisers, that’s not even the issue. We’re just doing it in a different format.”—Hector Sabido, retail advertising manager, Waco Tribune-Herald

“We need to maximize (social media channels) early and often, and during the growth spurt. It is just too easy of a way to extend the brand not to do it. We will have the opportunity of permeating our message in places and to audiences that we may not be reaching through traditional means.”—Anthony Cuffie, sales managerr, Philadelphia News

“We need to further foster blogging by featuring the higher quality blog posts and bloggers. This will probably be some combination of staff editing and reader ratings.”—Dan Easton, Victoria (TX) Advocate

“Legacy media is risk averse, and career print journalists tend to be perfectionists motivated by fear of failure. We have to embrace the Silicon Valley notion that failure is a badge of courage. We’ve got to stop fearing change and failure and start pushing the envelope with innovations. If we fail, fail fast and then move on. and then label it an “intelligent failure.” But we have to embrace change and modify our entire corporate-industry behavior. We’ve got to stop over planning and over analyzing and turn our battleship into a speedboat.”—J. Todd Foster, managing editor, Bristol (VA) Herald Courier

“The energized, smart and talented newspaper leaders at the session showed how much life we do indeed have left in our industry. Self-appointed Internet experts have a vested interest in devaluing what newspapers have created—wide and deep community connections that can’t be replaced easily. As we dive headlong into the digital now, we’re reminded it’s still about the relationships we have with our audience and advertisers. USC professor Patti Riley wrapped up the session well by reminding us that leaders offer a vision and hope.”—Chris Cobler, editor, Victoria Advocate

“The most profound, yet most liberating moment came in a private conversation with Arturo Doran (CEO of ImpreMedia Online). He said we have lost the breaking news franchise to the 200 million cell phone users with cameras on their phones. That has huge implications for allocation of my staff and for my ability to devote resources on innovation.”—Carlos Sanchez, editor, Waco Tribune-Herald

“The key is to not only push content out, but to also engage with folks in two-way conversations. The big AHA moment in that discussion: the conversations in the future may not be on our websites with blogs and comments on stories etc. that generate page views to monetize, but more likely will be where the community is having the conversation on Twitter or FB or some other social medium. The conundrum that results from that:  how to resolve the inherent conflict that exists since most of our for-profit, corporate media companies are focused on building our audience on our sites to grow revenue.”—Maria DeVarenne, editor, The Riverside (CA) Press-Enterprise

“Strengthen our strategy for getting the word out about our content. This is about more than RSS feeds. We need to press for links to our content in a variety of ways. This include efforts to establish our headlines on other sites (by offering widgets to install), as well as including headlines with every story we publish. The latter helps lead the search traffic deeper into our site.”—Rick Thames, editor, Charlotte Observer

“If you thought the media landscape has changed rapidly over the past decade and a half since the advent of the World Wide Web, strap yourself in for an even faster ride with social networking media. Twitter and Facebook are today’s hot commodities, and there’s probably another “next big thing” just around the corner. No matter who emerges and survives as the king of social media, legacy media companies need to have a strategy for extending and evolving or mutating their brands in these new areas. While mass media will remain in some form, the marketplace of today and tomorrow is fragmented. No single approach will suffice to define success in the 21st Century. Whatever timetable you’ve set for new ventures should be shortened and begun immediately. There’s no time to waste. ”—Dan Day, managing editor/online, The Modesto Bee

“To make the most of the many social media tools out there, you must find ways to integrate them into every aspect of your newsroom - disseminating news, gathering news, finding sources, taking the temperature of your audience, etc. And not every social media tool will work in every area of your coverage - Facebook might work for entertainment, but not for high school sports. Twitter might work for politics, but not for education. There is a lot of trial and error involved in finding what works, but if you do it right you will end up with a more engaged and responsive audience.  Hopefully, that will eventually translate into more revenue, but there are a lot of challenges in explaining the value of social media ads to advertisers. However, we had the same challenges in the early days of news Web sites, have made progress there.”—Robert Long, new media editor, The News Journal

“To get started, you can and should dedicate at least one person to establishing and/or furthering your social media efforts.”—Carl Esposito, publisher, Bristol Herald Courier

“Using social networks isn’t all that much different than the way journalism has always been done. Yes, there’s fancy jargon and some new metrics, including very specific knowledge of how people are interacting with you. But, in the end, newspaper organizations are uniquely positioned—we’ve got a great brand image in our communities, the talent in our buildings and the ability to process information into news quickly. And you don’t need to re-invent the wheel—best practices on how to use these networks are being refined every day. How to get started? You already have—somebody in your newsroom knows more about Facebook or Twitter or MySpace or fill in the blank than you do. Turn to them for advice. Sign up for the social networks. Model the behavior by using those networks. Go out on google and search for what you need to know. Twitter has just released an excellent introduction to twitter for businesses—download it.”—Steve Gunn, editor for innovations, Charlotte Observer

What resonates for you in these takeaways? What would you like to know more about? Let me know in the comments and I’ll follow up.


social bookmarking sites and tools, working on SEO in headlines and tagging, defining guidelines and expectations on facebook and twitter, and so forth. We can probably get better results with a more coherent
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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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