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Archive for March, 2009

Update: The lists of editors using Twitter have been updated since the original post. Most recent update, Friday, March 13, at 8:02 p.m. CDT. Check back for further updates.

I seek the help of journalists who read this blog for two webinars I will lead next month on using Twitter for journalism.

(For those who find Twitter and my interest in it tiresome, this would be a cue to find something else to read.)

If you’re using Twitter, I would like your answers to any or all of the following questions (and links to the tweets and/or stories in question; especially if we’re not already following each other, please include your user name in your comment):

  • How have you used Twitter to get suggestions for story ideas?
  • How have you used Twitter to gather information for breaking news coverage?
  • How have you used Twitter to gather information for enterprise or feature coverage?
  • How, if at all, have you verified information you gathered using Twitter?
  • How have you used Twitter to connect with sources?
  • How, if at all, have you verified identification of sources you found on Twitter?
  • How have you used Twitter feeds on your blog or web site?
  • How have you used Twitter to attract audiences for content you have produced or edited?
  • How else have you used Twitter?
  • What problems or challenges have you encountered using Twitter as a journalist?
  • What ethical issues concern you as you use Twitter and how have you addressed those issues?

If you are (or know) a top newsroom leader who uses Twitter, I would appreciate your (his/her) help in the webinar. We’ll talk offline, but please contact me so I can tell you what I have in mind.

I have to say that I have been disappointed that more top leaders of news organizations aren’t using Twitter. Not that Twitter is the cure-all for what ails the news industry. It’s not. But it’s a valuable tool that journalists should be using and the resistance to using Twitter is a symptom of our industry’s slow pace in adapting to change.

Twitter is not something that you understand and appreciate immediately. You have to venture beyond your comfort zone and spend some time to figure it out. Too many busy leaders (including me, too often) won’t risk the discomfort or take the time to change, whether it’s about Twitter or about transforming our business.

As annoying and burdensome as email, cell phones and many web sites can become, you would be hard-pressed to find a journalist now who doesn’t use email or visit the web several times a day and only a small percentage of us don’t have cell phones (I have two, a fact I’m not proud of). These are tools you have to use. But how many of us resisted them when they were new?

When I worked for the Omaha World-Herald in the 1990s, reporters didn’t have email or Internet access at our desks. I had email and Web access at home for four or five years when I left the World-Herald in 1998 to join the Des Moines Register and that was the first time I had web access at my desk at work. (I think we got email shortly before I left, though it was a cumbersome system.)

I returned to the World-Herald two years later and then I had to insist in negotiations for my new job that I would have web access right at my desk. We had an institutional prejudice against innovation and digital technology that came from the top and permeated the entire organization. Some staff members (on occasion myself included) had some success using digital tools and showing the possibilities, but the institutional inertia held us all back.

More than two years after I left the World-Herald the second time in 2005, the biggest Omaha crime story in many years broke when a young man opened fire on shoppers and workers at the Von Maur department store in Westroads Mall. I was in Miami at the time and immediately wanted to follow the story online. I knew my colleagues would do an outstanding job covering the story. I hear that they did an outstanding job in their print coverage. But I never saw a single word or image of the coverage because I could not get into the World-Herald’s web site. I tried dozens, if not hundreds, of times that day and the next and couldn’t get in. I ended up following the story on television other news sites.

One of my favorite news industry blogs, Alan Mutter’s Newsosaur, ripped my old colleagues for their failure to deliver immediate digital coverage. I knew that many colleagues in the newsroom busted their tails to provide immediate coverage, but the company was paying the price for the longtime institutional resistance to change.

I’m  not saying Gazette Communications doesn’t have some digital problems to work out. We are working hard now to improve the reliability and performance of GazetteOnline, though I was pleased and relieved on my first week on the job, when our site could handle the surge in traffic during the Cedar Rapids flood (from about 110,000 page views daily to more than 1.6 million).

We are developing a culture of innovation and it comes from the top, with Chuck Peters, the CEO, who was pushing the same vision of innovation this week at the Newspaper Association of America’s MediaXchange as he pushes to his staff. Among the journalists, this priority of innovation has to come from me. Several younger staff members who take to new digital tools more readily are racing ahead of me, but my heavy use of Twitter and constant talk about new tools and techniques sets an important pace and tone.

So in this webinar on Twitter, I want to recognize other newsroom leaders who are using this tool and setting the pace for their staffs. Who are top editors using Twitter? I know of only a few who are very active. Most that I could find are fairly new and don’t update often or have many followers. Here are the Twittering top editors that I know of (note how sharply the activity drops off after the first three):

  • John Robinson of the News & Record in Greensboro, N.C. (one of the most active Twittering newsroom leaders, with 440 followers and 1,393 updates).
  • Chris Cobler of the Victoria Advocate in Texas (162 followers, 1,410 updates).
  • Kirk LaPointe (1,394 followers, 1,244 updates) and Valerie Casselton (217 followers, 31 updates), two of several Vancouver Sun editors using Twitter.
  • Gerry Kern (a recent convert who is on the board of my former employer, the American Press Institute) of the Chicago Tribune (252 followers but a newbie with only 35 updates).
  • Melanie Sill of the Sacramento Bee (57 followers, 61 updates). 
  • Monty Cook of the Baltimore Sun (169 followers, 34 updates).
  • Rick Thames of the Charlotte Observer (190 followers, 233 updates).
  • Jeff Thomas of what I call The Other Gazette in Colorado Springs (74 followers, 389 updates). Jeff is one of several editors of Freedom Newspapers whom I encouraged to try Twitter when I was training and consulting for Freedom at API; the next four editors here are from Freedom, too.
  • Steve Fagan of The Monitor in McAllen, Texas (56 followers, 89 updates. Steve, you haven’t tweeted since January; let’s get with it.).
  • Marci Caltabiano of the Brownsville Herald (38 followers, 415 updates).
  • Cyndi Brown of the Daily News in Jacksonville, N.C. (40 followers, 256 updates).
  • Glen Faison of the Porterville Recorder in California (3 followers, 60 updates).
  • Lyle Muller, my Gazette colleague and successor as editor (83 followers, 29 updates).
  • Robyn Tomlin of the Wilmington Star News in North Carolina (397 followers and 490 updates, but Twitter silence since February).
  • Alexandra Hayne of the Daily Tribune in Ames, Iowa (23 followers and 50 updates but 61 followers and 389 updates on her personal Twitter feed).
  • Mitch Pugh of the Sioux City Journal in Iowa (49 followers, 261 updates).
  • Steve Thomas of the Quad-City Times in Davenport, Iowa (31 followers, six updates).
  • John A. Nelson of the Danville Advocate in Kentucky (17 followers, 23 updates).
  • Bill Watson of the Pocono Record in Pennsylvania (27 followers, 36 updates).
  • Steve Mullen of the Bakersfield Californian (64 followers, 82 updates, silent since November).
  • Bob Davis of the Anniston Star in Alabama (90 followers, 131 updates).
  • I am pretty sure I have forgotten a few that I follow and I will add them as I think of them or as you remind me.

I know more editors with primarily online responsibilities (Kurt Greenbaum of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Damon Kiesow of the Nashua Telegraph, Kevin Sablan of the Orange County Register, Chris Krewson of the Philadelphia Inquirer, Logan Molen of the Bakersfield Californian,  Marissa Nelson of the Toronto Star, Anthony Moor of the Dallas Morning News and Jack Lail of the Knoxville News Sentinel come to mind) are pretty active with Twitter, as you might expect. I welcome any of them to contact me if they want, but the list I am trying to assemble will be editors with top responsibility for the full news operation. That would be people at the editor, executive editor or managing editor level (even if they have taken on non-traditonal titles like conductor). So if you are or know of such a person on Twitter, let me know and I’ll compile a full list. I’m hoping it will be larger than I expect it to be.

I also will be leading a webinar soon about liveblogging, and I’ll post some questions seeking help for that webinar soon.

I welcome your answers to the questions above in my blog comments or directly by email, phone (319-398-5814) or Twitter direct message. I also welcome criticism from Twitter haters who didn’t heed the warning above and have read this far. But your comments are welcome on my most recent previous blog post about Twitter, where I published nearly all the critical comments I received. If you want to be critical here, at least address the questions above, because I will keep the comments on this post focused on the issue at hand.

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Here is my Monday column:

When I was editor of The Gazette, people would frequently send me complaints, suggestions or praise dealing with advertising or circulation.

I had nothing to do with the matter in question, but I still felt responsible for responding to people who went to the trouble of contacting me. My response was to thank them for their feedback and to explain that I was not responsible for that particular issue but that I was forwarding it to the right person, who would address the matter.

I will be doing a lot more of that, because some changing roles in our changing organization will result in more confusion among the public, for a while at least. Lyle Muller has taken the role of editor, though it’s not the same role as when I was editor. And I have taken the role of information content conductor, which isn’t the same as editor or as any role in any media organization. (I explained that new role last week in my blog and will write more about it later in the column and blog.)

Lyle is responsible for editing and production of The Gazette, the newspaper that nearly 180,000 adults read each day in Eastern Iowa (more than 220,000 on Sundays). If you have suggestions, praise or criticism about The Gazette, you should call or write Lyle. He is ultimately responsible for the changes to The Gazette that you will see starting Tuesday, though the changes are the result of a companywide planning process in which I was closely involved. (To share your reaction to those changes, we ask you to e-mail feedback@gazcomm.com or call (319) 398-8333 or 1-(800) 397-8222.)

Unlike other newspaper editors, Lyle doesn’t supervise a single reporter or photographer. The reporters and photographers still work for me. However, we’ll simply call them all journalists now because they will perform more roles than they have in the past. (I’ll explain more about those new roles in the coming weeks.)

It has been clear for years that newspaper companies needed to transform their organizations. We were structured for decades as newspaper factories. Though we staffed our newsrooms with skilled professionals who became experts at specific tasks such as reporting, photography, editing or graphic arts, we were focused on producing a manufactured product each day. We had strict production deadlines and the amount of content we could publish was determined by the space available, which was heavily influenced by the price of a raw material, newsprint.

Reporters and photographers always gathered more information and images than their newspapers published.

As newspapers started publishing content online, we had to change some of our work in the newsroom. We added new positions specializing in operations of the web site. We started publishing breaking news online. We published new kinds of content, such as videos, blogs and slide shows. We started covering some events live as they happened and interacting live with the public. We also started niche products such as Edge Business Magazine, Hoopla and IowaPrepSports.com.

But our organization remained structured and focused primarily on the newspaper product.

We have decided that we can best meet the challenges of the future by changing our company completely. We will have an independent organization which I lead focused exclusively on developing content from our professional journalists as well as from the community. We will publish this content digitally without editing and without the limitations of products. Another organization will plan and edit products, such as The Gazette and GazetteOnline, using content from my organization as well as others. As editor, Lyle has one of the key leadership positions in that organization.

We will tell you more about our changes as our transition to the new structure continues. You will see some of the changes first in our coverage of sports, starting soon.

Please tell us what you like and what you don’t as we make changes. And don’t worry if you tell Lyle or me about something that isn’t our responsibility. We’ll pass your feedback on and make sure the right person responds.

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Reluctantly I must tell you that Leonard Pitts was clueless when he wrote about Twitter.

One of the highlights of 2008 for many of us in The Gazette newsroom was the October day when Pitts visited. He was speaking in Iowa City and I asked him if he would swing by Cedar Rapids and spend some time with our staff, talking about writing and journalism and the issues of the day (it was the week before the election). He graciously agreed and we had a delightful time. He has long been one of my favorite columnists and I now consider him a friend — the way you call someone who was friendly to you a friend, even if you only met once or twice (I actually met Pitts earlier at a conference in Wichita).

So it is with some regret that I write here that Leonard Pitts didn’t do his homework when he dismissed Twitter as a waste of time. (more…)

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