Carole, editor of the Roanoke Times, had prompted the Sunday post with a tweet from a meeting of the Associated Press Managing Editors. She responded in a comment to the original blog post. But, recognizing that the comment will not receive as much attention as the original post, I wanted to call attention to it in a separate post. She put a lot of thought into her response and I thought it deserved more attention than blog comments sometimes get. I also wanted to respond to it.
I should note that I will respond here within the text of her comment, so if you’re interested in this, I encourage you to read her full comment first, rather than starting with the back-and-forth here.
To summarize my Sunday post: Carole tweeted that all the APME board members had Twitter accounts. Since I had documented the weak Twitter presence of top editors, including the APME board, last year, I was pleased at the news and even wanted to take a little credit. But when I examined their Twitter use, I saw that most still aren’t actively engaged in Twitter. I emailed Carole and two other APME leaders, inviting them to respond.
I should note that the Roanoke Times has long been a leader in digital journalism, for which Carole certainly deserves a share of credit.
I also want to stress that I want to be more than a scold on this topic. Midwestern editors who want to learn how to use Twitter effectively (and get a lot more innovation help) should come to the Mid-America Press Institute’s seminar Innovation and Managing Change in the Newsroom Feb. 13-14 in St. Louis. I will lead a workshop on Twitter.
Carole’s response follows, with my responses in italics:
Steve, I believe this is a case where 140 characters didn’t tell the whole story. I should have followed my post with an asterisk (and frankly I would have appreciated a chance to reply before you posted, because I’m not down with the whole blogosphere credo of “publish first, correct later”).
I knew that it would take some time to respond, and while I welcome the response, I don’t have anything to correct and I wanted to post in a timely fashion. I have attended board meetings and knew that it would take a while to respond. I was sure of my facts about APME board members’ use of Twitter (which Carole does not challenge). I did hedge that I didn’t know exactly who was at the board meeting, so that was accurate, though imprecise. I speculated correctly that the 27 people surveyed at the meeting about Twitter use might include AP employees (the APME web site, I noted, listed 26 board members).
And I will add that I am down with the conversational, episodic nature of the blogosphere. My original post stood on its own. The facts were solid and the opinions were mine. While I think fairness demanded inviting Carole and other APME leaders to respond, I don’t think I needed to wait for those responses to publish. My intention all along was to continue the conversation when someone from APME responded (and I will be happy to continue the conversation further when and if others respond).
Please consider this, then, the text that goes with that asterisk. First, let me talk about the numbers.
I counted 27 in the room Sunday, but that included at least three Associated Press executives. There may have been more and I may have miscounted. My bad.
2) So I resurveyed the room Monday. We had a smaller group, as some editors left early and the AP executives in the room changed.
3) In the updated survey, 17 of the 20 APME board members present raised their hands when I asked if they had a Twitter account in their name or a pseudonym. I didn’t ask if they had an active account because I believe that’s not the only barometer of Twitter awareness (more on that below).
4) All 20 said their newspapers had Twitter accounts, often multiple accounts pushing out a variety of streams with breaking news, sports and politics, etc.
I am quite sure this is the case. I had already seen many of their Twitter accounts and saw more on Sunday while I was seeking accounts for editors I couldn’t find using Twitter search. However, I can say that several — not sure if it’s most — of their sites don’t have Twitter directories, making it easy for users to choose which news feeds or staff feeds to follow. Most did, though, at least have a link to their primary Twitter account easily visible on their home page.
5) Eighteen of the 20 either were on Facebook or used a family member’s account. Again, this might be under an individual’s name or a pseudonym.
6) It’s too bad you didn’t discuss Facebook usage more. Personally, I use Facebook a lot more and I doubt I’m alone. My Twitter use is for very specific reasons – promoting our newsroom’s content and then “covering” events such as journalism gatherings. In that way, I’ve used Twitter as my own reporter’s notebook, jotting down interesting points from a speaker and then conversing with others tweeting at the same session.
Carole does use Twitter effectively in those two ways. I would encourage her to expand her Twitter use and would encourage other editors to start out using Carole’s approach.
My post focused on Twitter, rather than Facebook, for four reasons:
- I think Twitter is more valuable for journalists than Facebook (which is also valuable).
- I am quite sure more journalists understand Facebook and use it effectively, so I felt less curiosity about the APME board’s use of Facebook.
- I had noted the board’s use of Twitter last March. I had no similar comparison for Facebook. My point was to document the increased use of Twitter.
- I have advocated for editors to learn more about Twitter and to lead their staffs into the Twitterverse and I wanted to see what sort of progress we were seeing in that direction.
But besides debating numbers, I believe your post misses a big point. Yes, Twitter is a social medium and some might rightly argue that to understand it you need to interact with it. Keep in mind a few points, however, given this particular group of people:
1) As editors, whatever we put out there on social networks carries a great weight because we are representing the institution’s top leadership. Yes, we want to connect with readers – but we also need to think about the image we leave with them. That’s been the foundation of my paper’s social networking guidelines; you can’t leave the office at work.
First, I have noted before that Carole’s staff has developed a thoughtful social media policy. For editors considering a policy on staff use of social media, I recommend the Roanoke or NPR policies as good models.
While I agree with Carole that editors should tweet thoughtfully, I don’t accept this as an excuse for failure to use Twitter.
I did not survey this group as to why or why not they have Twitter accounts but are not active. They could likely fall into that huge group of users who signed up and didn’t “get” Twitter. Or …
2) As editors, they’re very busy people. The layoffs and staff reorgs of the past year have prompted many of us to take on new duties and (speaking for myself) also spend a lot of time reading blogs about pay walls, tablets, mobile and such. Can we afford the time to tweet all day? You might argue that we need to make the time. But …
Yes, as I noted in my post, top editors are intensely busy people. I never suggested, nor would I, that a top editor should tweet all day. But a top editor should tweet a few times every day. And when you use Twitter effectively, it helps you catch up on all those blogs Carole mentioned. I suspect lots of editors find their reading about pay walls, tablets, mobile and such by reading the Romenesko blog on Poynter (I used to as well). I get a broader, fuller picture of writing about the industry by using Twitter. You can use a tool such as Twitter lists or Twitter Tim.es to point you quickly to some outstanding reading on the industry that doesn’t show up on Romenesko. As I noted in my post Sunday, Twitter can become a huge time suck. But it doesn’t have to be. I am planning a post soon on Twitter time management. On my busiest days, Twitter takes up just a bit of my time and can actually save me time.
I have been involved in layoffs and staff reorgs in the past year. Those are hugely time-consuming and discouraging. I know my Twitter use waned when I was in the midst of them. You can’t really tweet, “Deciding who stays and who goes.” I also know that editors always make time for what’s important. And mastering Twitter and other social tools is vitally important.
3) I would say you don’t need to be active on Twitter to understand it. As journalists, we are observers. There’s much to be learned by lurking on Twitter and especially using Twitter as a search tool, making it as much a part of our online routine as Google. For the past few months my newsroom has been talking about how invaluable it is as tool to listen in to conversations happening around breaking news, whether it’s a massive interstate pileup, an historic snowstorm or a hostage situation. At Monday’s APME meeting, AP executives themselves outlined how they now have specific people monitoring social media in this way, mining it for burgeoning news stories and eyewitnesses. You don’t need to be tweeting about what you ate for breakfast to understand the immense power Twitter gives us as journalists.
There’s that what-you-ate-for-breakfast cliché. It’s as relevant, accurate and meaningful in a discussion of how journalists should use Twitter as the liberal-media cliché is in a discussion of how The Gazette or the Roanoke Times cover politics. I have never suggested that editors should tweet about their breakfasts.
I agree that you can learn a lot about Twitter by observing, lurking and using it as a search tool. You also can learn a lot about driving by observing from the passenger seat or the sidewalk. But if you want to truly understand driving, you have to get behind the wheel, turn the key, feel the machine respond and manage the multitasking of hands, feet and eyes on the road. Same with Twitter. Editors who delegate Twitter responsibilities or think they can direct an effective social-media strategy from the passenger seat or the sidewalk are not serving their communities, their staffs or their organizations well and I will not be bashful about calling on them to slide behind the wheel and learn to drive.
All those breaking news situations Carole mentioned — the massive interstate pileup, historic snowstorm and hostage situation — can be covered using search. But following people in your community (and having them follow you) enhances your ability to cover those kinds of stories, and to be the first to learn of them. That was one reason I noted how many (in most cases, how few) followers APME board members had.
I won’t stop at arguing here, though. Here are five non-breakfast suggestions of ways for top editors to tweet (presuming you’ve built up a following in your community):
- When that big story breaks, ask your tweeps if they know anything about it and suggest a hashtag to use.
- When that big story breaks (or when you publish a big enterprise story), tweet a link to your coverage (even if you have a news twitter feed, you may have different followers; and some people who follow news feeds scan past them sometimes and pay more attention to real people).
- If you’re having a debate in the newsroom between Story A and Story B for tomorrow’s lead story on Page One, ask the tweeps what they think.
- Ask your tweeps now and then what stories you’re missing in their neighborhoods and their interest areas.
- I decided to throw in a breakfast example anyway. If you’re invited to be the speaker for a Rotary or Optimists breakfast (top editors get such breakfast and lunch invites often), you might tweet that morning that you’re on your way and what you’ll be talking about.
You can write all five of those tweets in 10 minutes or less. And they will be 10 of your most productive minutes that day. You can post some of those tweets on your iPhone or BlackBerry while you’re waiting for a meeting to start and not really cut into your day at all.
I should add that I am delighted that AP is starting to realize the value of Twitter for covering breaking news stories. I can recall at least two instances I have documented, an earthquake and a plane crash, where AP was among the examples I used of professional media lagging behind Twitter on breaking news stories. If someone from APME or AP would like to fill me in on some examples of AP reporting enhanced by Twitter, I would be delighted to call attention to those examples in future blog posts.
4) And finally, as a once very cranky and overworked mid-level newsroom manager, I would have wondered about my boss if he/she was posting on Twitter all day with navel-gazing indulgence. I would ask myself, shouldn’t that always-busy boss be giving me some more face time instead?
Carole is exactly right that the cranky and overworked mid-level newsroom managers (I believe that’s redundant, by the way, at least the overworked part) watch the top editors closely. She is wrong, though, to suggest that I think editors should post on Twitter all day with navel-gazing indulgence. If you post the kinds of tweets I have described above, the middle managers will start to understand the value of social media and start to use it effectively, too. If, on the other hand, you use your busy life as an excuse for failure to try new tools, middle managers will model that behavior, too. And either way, they’ll wish they could get more face time.
Thanks for giving the opportunity to reply.
Thank you, Carole, for your candid, thoughtful response. I am glad you took note of the APME board’s increased use of social media. I credit them and you for heading the right direction. But you, they and I still have a long way to go.