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January 13 2011

17:20

Social Media Grows at NY Times, But Home Page Remains King

news21 small.jpg

Social Media content on MediaShift is sponsored by the John S. Knight Journalism Fellowships, a program offering innovative and entrepreneurial journalists the resources of Stanford University and Silicon Valley. Learn more here.

Lately Facebook has been trumpeting its prowess in driving traffic to news sites. In a blog post a couple weeks ago, Facebook media guy Justin Osofsky crowed that Facebook was now the number one referral site to SportingNews.com and that the Washington Post saw Facebook referral traffic grow 280 percent year-over-year. That's certainly impressive, but the New York Times website continues to get the majority of traffic from its own home page.

That's right. People just type "N-Y-T-I-M-E-S.-C-O-M" into their web browsers to read the stories there (at least until the pay wall comes). In a discussion with New York Times associate managing editor Jim Roberts, I learned that on most days 50 percent to 60 percent of the site's traffic comes from people starting at the home page. Roberts said Facebook referral traffic was important -- and growing -- but noted that the home page still remained the top referrer.

Still, Roberts has a lot to celebrate when it comes to the New York Times on Facebook. Its main Facebook page recently surpassed 1 million fans, leading all other U.S. newspapers, and it's considering a new strategy that would break out more sections into their own Facebook pages. Here are some relevant stats for NY Times' social media feeds:

> @NYTimes on Twitter has 2,845,559 followers
> The NYTimes Facebook page has 1,052,752 fans

> Over 450,000 NYTimes.com users have opted to 'Log In with Facebook' to make comments on the site

All this is happening while the organization's org chart is being changed to reflect print and web convergence. Roberts himself went from being the lead editor of news at NYTimes.com to associate managing editor on Jan. 1.

Roberts, Jim.jpg

"The previous job was a little bit amorphous bit it was basically directing the news coverage of the site, breaking news, multimedia and social media," he told me. "[With the new job] I will have one foot in print and one in the website. We're breaking down our structure, we had a staff of producers who were solely producing the digital product. They reported through a centralized digital management structure. That's going to be broken down. My job will be much more managing news across the news organization as a whole rather than just the digital portion."

Over the holidays, I spoke to Roberts about the Times' overall social media strategy, the shift as previous social media editor Jen Preston vacates her role, and the manpower issues that swirl around who will manage which feeds. The following is an edited transcript (with audio clips) of our phone conversation.

Q&A

How did you get to 1 million fans on Facebook?

Jim Roberts: I consider our Facebook strategy part of a broader approach to social media. While certain things are done specifically on and with Facebook, it's only one of the social media tools we pay attention to. When I talk about our efforts ... I think of it as an overall strategy instead of a Facebook strategy.

In some ways we've been as successful on Twitter as on Facebook ... We have close to 3 million followers on our main Twitter feed and we've been very successful taking advantage of that platform.

NYT on twitter.jpg

Have you noticed any trends for the way people are coming to your site through Facebook and Twitter? I've seen a big bump in those referrals here at MediaShift, with Facebook becoming the main driver of traffic. Are you seeing that too?

Roberts: It's not our main driver of traffic, but we're seeing a steady increase over the past few years. I can only expect it to continue. I don't have the raw statistics to show that increase, but we still get the vast majority of traffic through our home page, whether it's people who type out the NYTimes.com URL or bookmark it. We still get 50 percent to 60 percent of our traffic on some days through the home page.

And Google search, I assume?

Roberts: Google search continues to be a big component, and we get a lot of referral traffic from sites like Drudge Report, Huffington Post, Daily Beast. Social media probably ranks several notches down after the home page and search engines and some of those referral sites. I totally expect [social media referrals] to increase.

But I see our appeal in social media as much more than page views. It sounds a little cliche, but we develop a relationship with our readers in social media that transcends page views.

Will your social media strategy have to change with the coming pay wall at the Times?

Roberts: I don't know that it changes, but it becomes ever more important. The metered model that we will institute will only benefit with an engaged readership. In a lot of ways that can be enhanced by social media. To me the benefit of social media is not just increasing page views but as a way of developing a more personal connection with your audience. You can talk to them, and they can talk to you....You can't ignore the page view impact, the distribution mechanism that social media does enhance. So from a distribution standpoint and an engagement standpoint, it's very important to us as we go to a metered model.

Roberts describes how he sometimes shocks people by responding to them via Twitter:

roberts3.mp3

Tell me how you're using social media editorially. I've seen reporters work sources via Twitter or get story ideas that way. How are you using it?

Roberts: We're still experimenting, but a lot of reporters have found individualized ways to use it to develop sources of information and bring people into the reporting process. I can think of one or two reporters in particular who have begun to use Twitter ... in some ways, it's a promotional device because they are directing people to pieces that they're working on. But they don't just throw up a link. In some ways you can see pieces develop before your very eyes.

brian stelter.jpg

Who are the people you are talking about who use Twitter really well at the Times?

Roberts: Well, Brian Stelter is the most obvious one. He certainly uses it in a smart and aggressive way. I'd point to him first as someone who's really learned the value of building a unique audience. In a crass way, you could say he's building it around him, but I really think he's building it around the subject matter. He writes about television and media in general. He has a good following and people go to him because they think they're going to get quality information delivered quickly.

What he's been doing with Twitter is using it for building blocks for blog items and longer stories, both on the web and print. How he's using it is something I could see other reporters picking up on.

Roberts explains how a reporter might use Twitter to develop a blog post, eventually creating a longer story for print in the Times:

roberts1.mp3

With Jen Preston moving on and not being the social media editor, who's in charge of the overall New York Times Facebook page?

Roberts: I'll tell you who will be. It may sound like I'm dodging the subject but I think we will disperse a lot of the Facebook effort to a number of people. The main page ... my intent is -- and we have a step or two to take before we get to this point -- the intent is to get the main page into the hands of the basic news desk, so it becomes a bit more a part of our overall publishing strategy. It's not intended to be a true publishing platform, but it's a way for people to access our material and our site. Our desire is to have some of our news editors involved in deciding what stories ought to get the most prominence and ought to be updated.

Aside from the main news portion of Facebook, when you break down into specific areas such as culture, sports and politics, our goal would be to have the editors in charge of those subject areas manage those pages.

NYT Movies on facebook.jpg

How do you decide to break out a specific topic into its own Facebook page?

Roberts: That's all part of the experimental nature of our relationship with Facebook. We're still trying to figure out what works best. We put a lot of effort into a couple pages devoted to culture. Jennifer [Preston] really saw these through. One is devoted to movies, the other one to Broadway theater. There are a couple people who are working as producers on the website on those subjects, and we asked them to devote a chunk of their time managing those Facebook pages, to aggressively update them and try to think of ways to get users to interact with them.

I think the jury is still out in how much benefit we get from those efforts. We're still trying to figure out whether it's worth our while. My gut instinct is it's definitely is worth our while and that if we can do that on subjects from politics to sports, we'd like to do more of that.

How did things change with Jen Preston going from social media editor to a reporter? How do you see things changing organizationally?

Roberts: I'm going to make a stab at it, but I'm probably going to answer that question differently in six months or a year from now. I'll go back to those experiments we did in the movies and theater section. An editor, in politics for instance, who works with the reporting staff to stay on top of developments, might be put in charge of managing the New York Times politics Facebook page. The one component that keeps coming up is the manpower issue. When we do things like this we want to do them smartly.

Roberts explains how the Times must be careful in balancing the time needed to manage social media with other duties for staffers:

roberts2.mp3

You mentioned a manpower issue before. Is that also an issue when it comes to responding and filtering all the Facebook and Twitter responses and comments?

Roberts: Absolutely. I know that other news organizations have committed more people proportionally to this task than we have. Huffington Post comes to mind. I could easily foresee a time when we have more than a handful of people devoted to that at the New York Times. But we put such a premium on the creation of unique content, so we have to be very careful in how we manage those resources.

It can be a real -- I don't want to say 'burden' because it's very much worth the effort -- but it's demanding. There's no question it's demanding.

*****

What do you think about the New York Times' social media strategy? Should it have eliminated the social media editor job? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Mark Glaser is executive editor of MediaShift and Idea Lab. He also writes the bi-weekly OPA Intelligence Report email newsletter for the Online Publishers Association. He lives in San Francisco with his son Julian. You can follow him on Twitter @mediatwit.

news21 small.jpg

Social Media content on MediaShift is sponsored by the John S. Knight Journalism Fellowships, a program offering innovative and entrepreneurial journalists the resources of Stanford University and Silicon Valley. Learn more here.

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October 28 2010

18:33

Notable Moments From the 2010 ONA Conference

"Welcome to the conference where journalism supposedly doesn't know it's supposed to be dead."

Those were the welcoming words from Online News Association executive director Jane McDonnell as she opened the 2010 Online News Association Conference.

Many of the top people in online journalism in the Unites States, Canada and other countries are in Washington, D.C. this week for the conference. I'm here representing PBS MediaShift and OpenFile, the online news startup I'm involved with in Canada. This post is where I'll collect my thoughts, impressions and all of the notable things I see and hear at #ONA10.

Come back over the course of the weekend for the latest updates.

Friday TBD Keynote

The conference program officially kicked off with a keynote discussion featuring key people from TBD.com, the recently launched local news website for the D.C. area. Jim Brady (general manager), Erik Wemple (editor), Mandy Jenkins (social media producer) and Steve Buttry (director of community engagement) took part. Some notable quotes and information:

"The way I phrase [our revenue model] to people is that there's no silver bullet -- it's just shrapnel ... there isn't one stream that's going to make us successful." -- Jim Brady. He also later noted that TBD could roll out paid mobile apps that offer very targeted information and functionality. For now, though, their main apps are free and will likely stay that way.

"Burrell & Associates predicts there will be $1 billion spent this year in local mobile advertising, and they are seeing $11 billion by 21014. That's bigger than last year's decrease in print advertising." -- Steve Buttry

"Our editorial vision is that we try to focus on a few key areas: Transportation, arts and entertainment and sports that cut across the region. We can't be in every jurisdiction. For politics we are doing a fact checking approach ... The vision is just work really hard all the time, and always be checking your device. We are just trying to keep the site refreshed at all times." -- Erik Wemple

"If you run a website that doesn't have something that's terrible on it, you are not trying hard enough. You have to fail, fail, fail. You have to fail and fail miserably many times." -- Erik Wemple

Many Jenkins said that in order to do her job she has 22 columns open in TweetDeck, has keyword searches running constantly, and is reading around 200 news feeds constantly. "I follow a ton of our readers -- pretty much anyone who has sent us a news tip," she said.

"Social media, while it's a great source of information, you have to treat it like a tip line, not like a reporter. It's a matter of checking all of your sources before you run with them, and it's an important part of using [social media tools] responsibly." -- Mandy Jenkins

A lot of news organizations think social media "is a way to get our stuff out to people. [Mandy Jenkins] pushed an idea that it's also the police scanner of the 21st century." -- Jim Brady

"The commodity that's most restricted in people's lives is time." -- Jim Brady

More updates to come...

Craig Silverman is an award-winning journalist and author, and the managing editor of MediaShift and Idea Lab. He is founder and editor of Regret the Error, the author of Regret the Error: How Media Mistakes Pollute the Press and Imperil Free Speech, and a columnist for Columbia Journalism Review and BusinessJournalism.org and the Toronto Star. He serves as digital journalism director of OpenFile, a collaborative local news site for Canada. Follow him on Twitter at @CraigSilverman.

This is a summary. Visit our site for the full post ».

18:33

Notable Quotes, Impressions and Moments From the 2010 Online News Association Conference

"Welcome to the conference where journalism supposedly doesn't know it's supposed to be dead."

Those were the welcoming words from Online News Association executive director Jane McDonnell as she opened the 2010 Online News Association Conference.

Many of the top people in online journalism in the Unites States, Canada and other countries are in Washington, D.C. this week for the conference. I'm here representing PBS MediaShift and OpenFile, the online news startup I'm involved with in Canada. This post is where I'll collect my thoughts, impressions and all of the notable things I see and hear at #ONA10.

Come back over the course of the weekend for the latest updates.

Friday TBD Keynote

The conference program officially kicked off with a keynote discussion featuring key people from TBD.com, the recently launched local news website for the D.C. area. Jim Brady (general manager), Erik Wemple (editor), Mandy Jenkins (social media producer) and Steve Buttry (director of community engagement) took part. Some notable quotes and information:

"The way I phase [our revenue model] to people is that there's no silver bullet -- it's just shrapnel ... there isn't one stream that's going to make us successful." -- Jim Brady. He also later noted that TBD could roll out paid mobile apps that offer very targeted information and functionality. For now, though, their main apps are free and will likely stay that way.

"Burrell & Associates predicts there will be $1 billion spent this year in local mobile advertising, and they are seeing $11 billion by 21014. That's bigger than last year's decrease in print advertising." -- Steve Buttry

"Our editorial vision is that we try to focus on a few key areas: Transportation, arts and entertainment and sports that cut across the region. We can't be in every jurisdiction. For politics we are doing a fact checking approach ... The vision is just work really hard all the time, and always be checking your device. We are just trying to keep the site refreshed at all times." -- Erik Wemple

"If you run a website that doesn't have something that's terrible on it, you are not trying hard enough. You have to fail, fail, fail. You have to fail and fail miserably many times." -- Erik Wemple

Many Jenkins said that in order to do her job she has 22 columns open in TweetDeck, has keyword searches running constantly, and is reading around 200 news feeds constantly. "I follow a ton of our readers -- pretty much anyone who has sent us a news tip," she said.

"Social media, while it's a great source of information, you have to treat it like a tip line, not like a reporter. It's a matter of checking all of your sources before you run with them, and it's an important part of using [social media tools] responsibly." -- Mandy Jenkins

A lot of news organizations think social media "is a way to get our stuff out to people. [Mandy Jenkins] pushed an idea that it's also the police scanner of the 21st century." -- Jim Brady

"The commodity that's most restricted in people's lives is time." -- Jim Brady

More updates to come...

Craig Silverman is an award-winning journalist and author, and the managing editor of MediaShift and Idea Lab. He is founder and editor of Regret the Error, the author of Regret the Error: How Media Mistakes Pollute the Press and Imperil Free Speech, and a columnist for Columbia Journalism Review and BusinessJournalism.org and the Toronto Star. He serves as digital journalism director of OpenFile, a collaborative local news site for Canada. Follow him on Twitter at @CraigSilverman.

This is a summary. Visit our site for the full post ».

November 19 2009

18:00

Profiles in Courage: Social Media Editors at Big Media Outlets

During a recent trip to see an editor I work with at The Globe and Mail, a national newspaper in Canada, I passed by the newspaper's cafeteria. My editor looked in and pointed at a man who was sitting with his back to us.

"There's Mathew Ingram, doing his office hours," he told me.

Ingram is the Globe and Mail's communities editor, a job he took on after being a technology reporter, columnist and blogger for the paper. My editor explained that Ingram's "office hours" consist of him making himself available in the cafeteria so that anyone can come see him and talk about Twitter, user comments, blogging, or anything thing else that falls under the social media/community banner.

Five years ago, there was no such thing as a community manager or social media editor at large media organizations. Today, this role exists at places such as the New York Times and NPR, among others. To get a sense of the role of these new social media editors at big media organizations, I spoke with four people currently filling these positions.

Mathew Ingram

Name: Mathew Ingram

Title: Communities editor, The Globe and Mail.

Time in the Position: Close to a year.

Previously: Technology reporter, columnist, blogger for the paper.

What the Job Entails: "There was never really a job description so we have been making it up as we go along," he said. "The general idea was to have someone who was thinking about how we interact with readers online, and all the ways of doing it and ways we could be doing it."

Biggest Challenge: "To be blunt, complacency is the biggest danger, the biggest risk," he said. "The biggest challenge is raising awareness of these tools, and convincing people that they are worthwhile. That's something that has been easier with certain people than with others. There's a wide spectrum of awareness and openness to trying new things. Let's face it: being a newspaper reporter hasn't really changed in a huge amount [over the last few decades]. You use a computer rather than a typewriter. So the change taking place right now is maybe harder to deal with if you've been doing that for a long time."

Best Initiative So Far: Using CoverItLive for discussions and liveblogging. "For certain things, like our swine flu discussion, we have gotten 10,000 or 15,000 people, and hundreds and hundreds of comments, along with interaction between editors and writers and readers," he said. "To me, that is a magical thing that never would have happened if we hadn't used that tool. We can also wind up making what we do better. In the swine flu discussion, we were feeding news into the live discussion and we had a Google Map that an epidemiologist had created. Someone said in the discussion that the map was not up to date. Our editor asked if anybody knew of a better map, and three minutes later a guy posted a link to a better map that we never would have found."

Lesson He's Learned About the Globe Community: "We get surprised daily by the things that people are interested in, and the things they want to read about or talk about," he said. "...For me, the big benefit of using these tools is getting a better idea of what readers want. Before, we kind of just had hunch and found out long after the fact. Now we can watch in real time."

Biggest Mistake: "I'd love to say we haven't made any, but I wish we had gotten involved in Facebook earlier on, and built an audience there or made better use of it."

Final Words: "Focus on the small victories. It's quite easy to get overcome and disillusioned when people are not interested in what you think is valuable, or when the things you try don't work."

Shirley Brady

Shirley_Bradysmall.jpgName: Shirley Brady

Title: Community editor, BusinessWeek.

Time in the Position: Close to 18 months.

Previously: Editor of the Cable360.net website, and a reporter at CableWorld magazine. Previously held editorial positions with Time Inc., among other media organizations.

What the Job Entails: "I spend a lot of time in the comments observing the trends, featuring people across the site, and trying to connect with our writers and say, 'Hey, there's this really interesting conversation going on, you may want to chime in.'" She also works on their blog, "What's Your Story Idea?": http://www.businessweek.com/blogs/whatsyourstoryidea/, and was brought on to help manage the magazine's Business Exchange community.

On Interacting With the BusinessWeek Community: "We've done things that feature our readers on the site by using their comments or contributed articles," she said. "Our audience is business professionals and they are on the front lines of all the stuff we're writing about. They are doing what we're just observing."

Best Initiative So Far: "We had a reader dinner and invited 10 really avid readers to come in and tell us what they like and don't like," she said. "The big takeaway was that our comment system, which is pretty basic, needs to get better... We got to sit face-to-face with these people, some of whom we only knew from their user names."

Biggest Lesson Learned: The need to manage expectations for new initiatives. "It's been interesting watching our Business Exchange platform launch because there were very aggressive expectations for it internally," she said. "As a user, I know the demands on people's time are really intense, and to expect people to adopt another social network is a lot to ask."

Next Big Challenge: Integrating with the magazine's new owner, Bloomberg. "We've been acquired by Bloomberg and are waiting to find out what their strategy is," she said. As this article was being finalized, Brady announced on Twitter that her "role isn't continuing with Bloomberg," and her last day at BusinessWeek will be December 1.

Andy Carvin

andycarvin.jpgName: Andy Carvin

Title: Senior strategist for NPR's social media desk.

Time in the Position: He's been the social media/community guy at NPR since September 2006.

Previously: Ran the non-profit Digital Divide Network.

What the Job Entails: "I work with a team called the social media desk, which is an editorial unit that focuses on ways for our reporters to interact with the public," he said. "The way I look at it is NPR has this large, loyal community of more than 26 million listeners around the country who tend to see us as more than just a content producer. In some ways, being involved with NPR is almost a lifestyle choice for them. We've had a long history of reaching out to the public and having hem contribute ideas and content. But there's never been a platform before social media that enabled us to interact with the public and give them tools to interact among themselves."

Biggest Lesson Learned: "The key thing is to come up with a variety of ways that people can interact and work with you," he said. "On one end you might have people contribute long stories and put together thoughtful narratives, whether in text or video or audio. At the other end, you may have some who are just wiling to share a quick snippet and move on."

Best Initiative So Far: HurricaneWiki.org. "Last fall when Hurricane Gustav was approaching, we asked for volunteers on Twitter to come together and list hurricane-related resources. Over 48 hours we had over 500 people signed up to build a wiki called HurricaneWiki.org," he said. "They built Google Maps with evacuation routes and shelter information, and some people listened to ham radio and scanner traffic for information and transcribed that." He also notes that Scott Simon and the team at NPR's Weekend Edition have done a good job using Twitter.

What He's Learned About the NPR Community: "These are communities that love us and our mission and what we do, they want to help us succeed and prosper -- and we ignore them at our peril," he said. "Thankfully, we are not ignoring them. It's about understanding that people who use social media and are fans of NPR are our most powerful supporters. They can be advocates, soldiers, messengers. They can assist in editorial matters as well."

Final Words: "There's no edict here saying that every person has to be on Twitter or Facebook. We do it somewhat organically because we want to make sure the staff that are using social media understand why they are using it, and have editorial goals in mind."

Jennifer Preston

jennifer_preston.jpgName: Jennifer Preston

Title: Social media editor, New York Times.

Time in the Position: Close to six months.

Previously: Edited the Sunday suburban section of the paper. Has also held other editing and reporting roles at the paper, along with jobs at other media organizations.

What the Job Entails: "I don't really have a typical day. I would say one of the challenges is not doing things on a piecemeal basis, and I'm sure my colleagues would share that concern. We know we have to put effort into getting more people to begin using these tools."

What She's Learned About the Times Community: "Surprise, surprise they like us. I tell anybody who is having a bad day around here just to go to the Twitter search field and look at what people are saying about our work," she said. "People are sharing and recommending the work... One of the really cool, fun, powerful things about social media is that, through the power of recommendations, your loyalists can share the stuff they like. We produce a lot of great stuff, and it's been heartening just to see people share that with enthusiasm."

Best Initiative So Far: New York Times Twitter Lists. "One initiative that helped us move forward quickly, and in an area where there is tremendous potential, is Twitter Lists," she said. "It was an opportunity to go across the newsroom desk-to-desk and talk with different editors and reporters and explain how the feature works and say, 'Hey, how about giving me a list?' I'm mindful that the landscape changes rapidly, and we will change with it. But I do think the Twitter Lists project for the newsroom has helped us get more people interested in Twitter." Preston noted that the paper built new Twitter Lists as reports rolled in about the Fort Hood shootings. "I sit in the middle of the newsroom with the continuous news desk, and so we were all jumping on the story and trying to figure out what was going on," she said. "I walked over to Jenny 8 Lee and said, 'Jenny can you help me put together a Fort Hood list?'"

Biggest Lesson Learned: "One of the most important lessons learned is that much of the best ideas, and the really creative approaches and innovations, come from the developers, many of whom work here in newsroom," she said. "This job is also a public role, and I was unprepared for that. Some people were very kind and helpful and welcoming, but there was a group who were not. I had to figure out what my role is on Twitter because every broken link I sent out was seen as a crime. In any event, you have to be resilient and have a sense of humor."

Final Words: "The New York Times did not discover social media with my appointment, and vice versa," she said. "For the last two years we have had more than a couple hundred accounts on Twitter, and we now have 2 million followers on our main feed. We have half a million fans on Facebook...We're going to be doing something interesting very soon with Tumblr. The really fun part of this whole moment is that you can really play in the space and have fun and figure out what works. And if it doesn't work, that's okay, you can try something else."

Craig Silverman is an award-winning journalist and author and an associate editor at MediaShift and Idea Lab. He is the founder and editor of Regret The Error, the author of Regret the Error: How Media Mistakes Pollute the Press and Imperil Free Speech, and a weekly columnist for Columbia Journalism Review. Follow him on Twitter at @CraigSilverman.

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