I enjoy watching journalists grow and learn about our profession. I recounted last month how Lisa Fernandez of the San Jose Mercury News tried live-tweeting after a webinar I led on using Twitter to improve your journalism.
Lisa tweeted and emailed recently about another lesson she learned about engaging with the community:
Lisa’s email to me last week told the story:
Each December, most reporters at the Mercury News avoid editor Mike Frankel, who has a gleam in his eyes as he hunts for the perfect Christmas story.
It may sound weird, but I actually love these hokey stories; they’re usually filled with hope and silver linings. So when “Frankel,” as we call him, came by my desk this year, he told me that he was upping the ante. He pitted me and two other reporters to find him the front-page story to run on Christmas morning. He’d buy the winner the lunch of their choice.
The competition was on. And I pulled out all the stops. Of course, I was prepared to use gum-shoe, old-fashioned techniques, like, uh, calling sources. But hoping to get results quickly, and also to branch out to potential new source avenues, I crowdsourced.
(As an aside, I must tell you that I hate all lingo, I especially hate social media lingo, and crowdsource is a word high on my yuk-list. To help alleviate the pain of the word, I liken “crowdsource” to “putting out a fetcher,” yet another journo slang word.)
Anyway, I put out a fetcher/teaser/call-to-action/call-it-what-you-will on the Merc’s Facebook account. And I tweeted to my followers and to the Merc’s followers that “reporter Lisa Fernandez is looking for the perfect Christmas story, something heartwarming, but not too schmaltzy. She’ll know it when she hears it.”
The “crowd” in this case, turned out to be one guy, the only call I received. It turned out to be a firefighter, whose friend had read the Merc’s Facebook page, and told him to give me a buzz. The call was a winner. The story, about firefighters surprising a disabled man with a tricked-out tricycle, ran on the front page on Christmas.
And I just enjoyed a nice restaurant lunch, complete with my favorite salmon skin sushi and futomaki, with Frankel this week.
I welcome the skepticism of veteran journalists such as Lisa who look askance at new tools such as Twitter and new terms such as crowdsourcing. I make the same point often in workshops, that a key task for reporters is finding the right sources for stories. Crowdsourcing doesn’t always work. But it often works and it’s usually worth a try. Even if you get just a single response, as Lisa did, sometimes you’re just looking for the right source.
If you’re a veteran journalist who’s learning some digital skills and overcoming some skepticism, I’d love to share some of your experiences as well.