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May 21 2013

14:00

At The Miami Herald, tweeting’s about breaking news in the a.m. and conversation in the p.m.

miami-herald-old-building-cc

Have you ever tried tweeting at a major news organization? How often have they responded or retweeted? Probably not often — and that corresponds to the findings offered by a GW/Pew study of 13 major news organizations which found “limited use of the institution’s public Twitter identity, one that generally takes less advantage of the interactive and reportorial nature of the Twitter.”

So when I went to The Miami Herald as part of a much larger project looking at newsrooms and news buildings, I was pleasantly surprised to find it, like some other newspapers, has actual people manning Twitter — breaking news “by hand,” interacting with readers, and having a genuine public conversation over the main @miamiherald Twitter account, with its 98,000 followers. (Aside from Twitter, The Miami Herald is making ample use of its Facebook account, posting new stories once an hour and relying on feedback from the 46,000-plus audience for stories and tips — and as an extension of the Public Insight Network pioneered by American Public Radio.)

In Miami, Twitter takes on two distinct modes during the day — in the morning as headline service and in the afternoon as conversation. “In the morning, we try to get the audience between 6 and 8 a.m. on Twitter and on the website,” says continuous news editor/day editor Jeff Kleinman, who says he wakes up at 4:30 to begin monitoring the news.

Kleinman uses Twitter to break news — whether or not it’s on the paper’s website. “We want to be first,” he noted, as he quickly dashed off a tweet about a boat fire in front of me. More often then not, though, there will be a link to a short two-paragraph story begun on the website. But not always.

Miami still remains a vibrant and competitive news marketplace with three local TV stations chasing breaking news, the Sun Sentinel, and even blogs getting in on niche action. So in the breaking-news morning environment, “If something happens, I’ll put it up on Twitter, I’ll write or have the reporter write two quick grafs on the homepage with italics that say ‘More to come,’” he said. “We’re constantly updating over Twitter and on the website as news comes in.”

There’s less time for conversation, but Kleinman is especially careful to do one thing: retweet what his reporters are offering from the field to the wider audience. “We’re not there, but they are, and Twitter is often the fastest way to say what’s going on,” he noted. So while the reporters have their own followings, their work gets amplified to a larger audience.

Take this example of breaking news:

BREAKING: RT @waltermichot: Neighbors gather at scene of one shot and transported 5644 NW 4th Ave. twitter.com/WalterMichot/s…

— The Miami Herald (@MiamiHerald) May 2, 2013

Walter Michot, a former photographer who prowls the city with an iPhone (another story), has frequently broken news on his Twitter account, which has then been retweeted by @miamiherald. The mantra in the newsroom is to tweet, write, tweet, write, perhaps blog, and then write a takeout for the web and perhaps the paper.

Later on in the afternoon, Twitter and Facebook take on a more conversational tone. Luisa Yanez runs the @miamiherald account then. She focuses on three key things: curating incoming reporters’ work and retweeting it — adding additional substance if necessary; offering updates from the website; and responding to readers. The Miami Herald also offers updates about traffic and weather “as a public service and because people want to know,” Kleinman said, so followers might see something like this.

#Weather alert: Severe thunderstorm warning issued for the #Keys until 1:30 p.m.

— The Miami Herald (@MiamiHerald) May 2, 2013

And then Yanez will retweet a reader who happens to chime in with a photo, in this case, Marven The Martian (@DaReelMJ), who offers a twitpic of the nasty weather brewing.

@miamiherald Even from the balcony it doesn’t get any better as it has started to rain in Sunny Isles. #Weather twitter.com/DaReelMJ/statu…

— Marven The Martian (@DaReelMJ) May 2, 2013

The Herald also uses Twitter as a direct way to ask its readers to pitch in for story help:

The Herald is writing about ruling that would allow teens to obtain the “morning after” pill. Please contact aburch@MiamiHerald.com.

— The Miami Herald (@MiamiHerald) May 2, 2013

The main Twitter feed doesn’t shy away from letting reporters show off their spunk. For instance, on Evan Benn’s first story for the paper (yes, they hired someone):

MT @evanbenn: My first @miamiherald story. Can’t beat ‘em? Eat ‘em. Smoked python at invasive-species meal hrld.us/11EXFcO

— The Miami Herald (@MiamiHerald) May 2, 2013

That, of course, is what they call in the newsroom an only-in-Miami story. And it prompted some only-in-Miami community conversation:

@miamiherald @evanbenn I would think it would taste like smoked eel but maybe more like gator? Either way, great idea hrld.us/11EXFcO

— Jackie Blue (@JackieBlue4u) May 2, 2013

@jackieblue4u Closer to gator, and smoking it really did make it taste like bacon, or prosciutto.

— Evan Benn (@EvanBenn) May 2, 2013

Kleinman and others acknowledge that the tweet-to-web traffic conversion isn’t what they’d like it to be. But for them, Twitter is a way to build an audience, establish their continued brand prominence, and carry on a conversation. And while The Miami Herald newsroom might be losing the best view in journalism for a new home by the airport, location might not matter as much as it once did, because their conversation with their audience is virtual.

Those who doubt that a newsroom that is struggling with staff and budget problems can handle putting the time and energy into social media should look at Miami and see a case of what’s going well. And those who think that community conversation is too hard to handle should also pause and consider the possibilities that do exist when a newsroom engages with its community. Especially if it’s about eating python.

Photo of outgoing Miami Herald building by Phillip Pessar used under a Creative Commons license.

August 31 2010

14:58

Review: Funding Journalism in the Digital Age

For the past few weeks I’ve been casually enjoying Funding Journalism in the Digital Age, a book that surveys the business models underpinning the industry – and those that are being explored for its future. And it’s rather good.

The book has four broad parts: the initial 3 chapters provide the current context: a history of news publishing as a business; and an overview of current business models and commercial tactics, from paywalls and hyperlocal projects to SEO and dayparting.

The bulk of the book then looks in detail at particular types of business models: micropayments and microfunding; sponsorship and philanthropy; family ownership and trusts; niche content; e-paper, and e-commerce.

Alongside this, a number of chapters look at organisational innovation, from pro-am collaboration to institutional partnerships. And finally, two key chapters look at the principles of microeconomic concepts for the industry, and the importance of innovation.

Rather than sit back and paint a neutral picture of things, the book states quite firmly why now is not the time to stick with old models (the economics of both publishing and advertising have changed), while also not pretending to know the answer to the industry’s problems.

Instead, over the course of the book, readers get a good overview of how media organisations are attempting to adapt to the new environment, as well as a sample of the different models being experimented with by innovative startups – the successes, failures, but mostly the wait-and-sees. The result is a valuable insight into the increasingly varied nature of the industry side of ‘the industry’.

The chapters are littered with examples from both mainstream and lesser-known publishing projects, and it’s refreshingly global in its perspective: the usual US and UK stories are complemented with online and print examples from France, Singapore, Norway, Australia and elsewhere. Sadly, like most journalism textbooks, magazines and, to a lesser extent, broadcast, are a little neglected.

Although this is an entry-level book the subject is broad enough – and the industry itself so varied – for most people to find something new here.

For students, this is a book to join the list of must-reads. Too few books address the current commercial realities that students face upon entering the media. It would be nice to see some more.

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