Twitter Me This

The AP’s new Twitter “retweeting” policy gets one thing right and one thing wrong.

The new policy updates the guidelines set by AP in July, which said that reporters could retweet material from “AP-branded accounts.” Now, reporters retweeting material without making it abundantly clear that they’re not in agreement with the original tweet—especially if that tweet offers some sort of opinion—will presumably get in some sort of trouble. (For examples of how to retweet under the new AP policy, head to Mallory Jean Tenore’s post over at Poynter.) The one new element of this that everyone (read: people in comments boards) seems to be railing against is the placement of the “RT” in any retweet. (The AP suggests placing it before a staffer’s written material, and not before the “@[TwitterName].”) This is what’s wrong with the new policy—but insofar as shuffling the placement of the RT is anything wrong, it’s a minor gripe.

But what is revolutionary about the policy, in a weird, kowtowing to traditional authority type of way, is the fact that the AP is attempting to impose some type of editorial judgment—albeit self-judgment—on the content its reporters choose to retweet. And while there is an argument to be made for such a policy stifling the flow of information or preventing staffers from tweeting pertinent information effortlessly, I think those arguments are mostly theoretical attempts at finding some avenue through which a criticism of the AP’s new policy is valid. By asking its reporting staff on Twitter to make it plainly evident when they are retweeting someone else’s opinion as opposed to someone else’s news isn’t some sign of journalistic muzzling/bucking tweeting conventions/apocalyptic downfall of the Interwebs.* (And it sure as hell isn’t the AP saying that its reporters aren’t allowed to have opinions, as some have suggested.)

If anything, it’s simply pointing out to staff members that their actions as AP reporters have ramifications that reflect both upon themselves and the organization, which is trying to be a credible news organization each day. Approaching social media with a level of decorum, both in speech and how you’re disseminating information, is a logical extension of that.

*I’m well aware that my own Twitter page says that retweets are not endorsements, with a “Duh” appended. (These damn kids!) There’s an entire argument to be had about whether retweets on Twitter constitute endorsements (some would say no, which would make any disclaimer such as my own completely pointless; but some journalists seem to think that retweets do constitute endorsements.) The argument here is whether the AP’s new policy is really stifling its reporters. I’m sure no AP staffers will get in trouble for retweeting that the Eagles are the best team in the NFL, for instance.

Social Media Tools … What’s It To Ya?

I’m contributing for the first time to the Carnival of Journalism discussion. This month’s prompt comes from Bryan Murley:

How do you decide to dedicate time to a new tool/platform/gadget? What is the process you go through mentally? And then later – how do you convince others to go through that process? And, last: How do you ensure that the tools you do adopt are used once the “newness” factor fades?

Given the vastness of the Internet wasteland that is social media, keeping track of and incorporating new social media tools can seem like a daunting task. Ultimately, I stick to one governing principle when it comes to social media: how will the respective tool improve (and make easier) my work as digital media editor for Urbanite magazine?

Much of the thinking associated with the position is focused on developing an online strategy that will draw readers to the website, keep their attention, and get them to click on other pages on the site. It’s a strategy hell-bent on cultivating an online readership of loyal fans (as opposed to “fly-bys“).

So, social media tools incorporated—and the manner in which said tools are used—all need to serve the same purpose: attracting readers. If I’m able to sketch out, either in paper or my own mind, the way a social media tool will accomplish that, then I add it to my toolbox. Facebook and Twitter—and, by extension, Hootsuite—are no-brainers, so to speak, when it comes to driving traffic. Add to that StumbleUpon, Google +, and Digg., Retweet Rank, and Qwitter are used because they allow me to gauge when most of Urbanite‘s followers are reading my tweets, which of those tweets are most successful (I submit that the arbitrary metric of retweets isn’t the best to base this off of), and which tweets result in people un-following Urbanite.

QR codes are used judiciously; I have one QR code linked to an Urbanite E-Zine sign-up list—which allows me to track just how many people actually use the damn code to sign up for our e-mail newsletters—and another linked straight to each month’s Issuu PDF.

SocialToaster, by far, is the one tool that makes perfect sense for my work. Essentially, it taps into the social networks (Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, and LinkedIn) of friends and followers of Urbanite, makes them “ambassadors” for the magazine, and then content we want pushed out is disseminated as normal updates on our friends’ and followers’ own networks. All of that is synced in with a dashboard that shows me which of Urbanite‘s followers have the greatest reach and most influence. (So, I can see, for instance, if a Tweet of an Urbanite article by “Mike” reached all 1,000 of his followers, as well as how many unique visitors to our site his one Tweet generated.)

In short, I use only the social media tools that will achieve the goal of driving traffic to our website. In the process, online engagement, online community-building, and brand management, among other things, are developed and maintained. If a tool can’t do that, then I don’t waste my time with it. It’s the same message I preach to others. Find a way to make social media work for you and your job; if you can’t find a justifiable reason to use a specific social media tool for your particular line of work (be that in advertising, marketing, journalism, and so on), don’t resort to using the tool for the sake of it.

Ch- Ch- Ch- Check it Out

No, this isn’t a post paying homage to the Beastie Boys.

I was away from the blogosphere for the entirety of last week, as virtually all my time was spent writing up web copy and doing troubleshooting for Urbanite magazine’s new Foursquare game, The Great Baltimore Check-In. It’s 89 places in and around Baltimore that we’ve picked. Eighty-nine places that we know are worth, well, checking out.

In the most unbiased-biased way I can put this: This is a Foursquare game worth checking out. Get to checking in, Baltimore.

And if you’re looking to eat up some time, consider some of these short reads, straight from the July 2011 issue of Urbanite:

1. Help Comes Tapping: Can an unlikely duo from the city’s local arts scene save the Edgar Allan Poe House?

2. Perfect Gentleman: Ken Himmelstein knows that some men just want a crisp white shirt.

Lessons from The Greyhound

Last week I finished my tenure as Editor in Chief of The Greyhound, Loyola University Maryland’s student-run newspaper. During my time there, I served as columnist, copy editor, news staff writer, Opinions Editor, Copy Chief and Managing Editor, all before taking over as Editor in Chief in April 2010.

I inherited a paper that completed the bare minimum to put out a print product every week, an aggravating fact given the extremely privileged position in which college newspapers nationwide find themselves. (They’re niche markets, for chrissakes–no advertising falling off there.) Our stories were stale; we covered lectures, and reports on campus events were boring re-tellings of what happened. Our website was stagnant and one-dimensional; it was, essentially, an article dump. We had no social media strategy, no policy on how often staff writers needed to contribute articles, no copy editing standards (no attention to fact checking as an integral piece of copy editing), and seemingly no interest in producing articles of feature length or quality.

In a year’s time, with the help of a dedicated and talented staff, we implemented significant changes at The Greyhound, including:

  1. A website redesign and relaunch, facilitated by College Media Network and College Publisher 5 content management system.*
  2. Social media presence–Facebook, Twitter–using HootSuite’s excellent dashboard interface.
  3. Ticket giveaways to concerts via our PR contacts at Rams Head Live! in Baltimore; we started off giving away two pairs of tickets to see The Roots.
  4. Full-page, color front pages, which effectively removed columns of text from the front page of our print product. (An aesthetic choice, admittedly, but one we made–despite the “tabloid” feel and association–because we didn’t think students would be more apt to pick up a large photo than columns of black and white text.)
  5. Several feature stories, in various sections of the paper, that broadened our content and coverage, and allowed us to view the print paper less as a round-up of the week’s events and instead treat it as a weekly magazine. (In other words, lectures were now online-only content, and we reserved paper space for more interesting, more in-depth coverage of other stories.) One such story, printed as an insert, was our Greyhound Guide to Baltimore.
  6. One of these feature stories, a profile on basketball player Jamal Barney, was subsequently picked as a Mark of Excellence Award winner by the Virginia Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.
  7. Better management of our budget, a sore spot among Greyhound staffs of old. There was no soliciting or courting of advertisers; that ended this year, as we worked with our contacts at advertising “clearing houses” like Alloy Media to pull in advertising, in addition to our own proactive efforts to contact local businesses. (For instance, after reaching out to clothing store South Moon Under with a media kit, they began an advertising campaign with us.) Beyond that, we partnered with CampusAve to streamline classified advertising placement and to take the entire process online, which allowed advertisers to use their credit card to purchase ad space. (A first at The Greyhound.)
  8. Actual copy editing, with a Greyhound style guide outlining our house style.

I make these points not in a self-aggrandizing effort, but rather to highlight the opportunities college newspapers have to truly be laboratories of journalism. Like their professional counterparts, college newspapers oftentimes stay mired in the status quo, unwilling or unable to implement substantive, innovative change.

That has to end. The new Greyhounders coming in need to view the paper–in both its print and online forms–as an incubator for journalistic creativity and innovation…

It begins with putting a premium on your online content. Divide stories into online-only and print stories. Seek to publish at least one new article each day on the website. Hire bloggers who are feisty social media junkies to write online-only content. View the website as a means by which readers can be more involved in the campus conversation. This means encouraging people to check out the site, and then being open to commenters and engaging in dialogue with them.

Photos and videos. Rinse. Repeat. All digital cameras have a record function. Thirty-second video clips of live events go a long way in enhancing a reader’s experience; iMovie software is simple enough to understand, and it’s available in the Mac labs on campus. Photo albums–ones rife with photos, and not just three or four additional shots–should assist a reader looking to grasp a better sense of the surroundings in a particular story.

Everyone is a web editor. Everyone should be on Facebook and Twitter. Every editor should be running a section blog. Every editor–and all the writers–should take their cameras to each event they attend. The new “New New Journalism” places greater emphasis on having a conversation with readers. No longer can newspapers see their audience as people they are speaking to; social media and online commenting have broken those boundaries. Get online, and get to talking to people who read The Greyhound.

Take chances. Think of stories you want to cover, and then cover them. Working for a college newspaper gives you a unique chance to mess up and not ruin yourself professionally. That isn’t to say be unethical, plagiarize, or manufacture a story or information. But it is to say that you can try out various story ideas and see if they work. You’ll never learn otherwise.

Finally: have one editor learn WordPress, teach it to the other editors, and then make the switch. Because WordPress is open source, newsrooms have greater flexibility to create, manipulate, and transform their online operations, without the hassle of negotiating through a third-party organization. That, and WordPress is simple enough for everyone to use and infinitely more cost-efficient given College Media Network’s new pricing plan. Look for newspaper WordPress themes online, and let the gears start churning.

As pithy as this sounds, making the above changes isn’t going to easy, but it will be rewarding in the long run. Not only will you put out a better Greyhound, but you’ll cultivate skills on a level of creativity that is absolutely vital to the newsrooms of today.

And always remember: When the going gets tough, you can always keep drinking. If it’s spring, get the gin and tonic. In the fall, stick to Jack and Coke. And the winter? Hot toddy.

*While I’m on the subject of content management systems… After some slight technical upheaval with my blog here, I am back to posting. The post I promised for Monday will be uploaded tomorrow. On Friday, I’ll rant on what being a section editor at a newspaper means.