We use ChartBeat to see how many readers we have on our website at a given moment, and what they are looking at. To emphasize the need for urgency, we have two big TVs on the wall in the newsroom — one that shows the website and one that shows the ChartBeat report. It has become common for a reporter, shortly after filing a big story, to rush over to the TV and watch its audience grow. As Web editors, we are constantly looking at this service to make sure we have the best stories in the best places.
Several times throughout the day, I’ll switch out the stories we have featured in prominent positions, a key we have found to retaining and attracting an audience. When things are going smoothly, this is an organic process: Something new and interesting happens, trumping the outdated story. Other times, it feels like I’m just shuffling cards. Part of my responsibility is to push reporters in directions that keep the latter from happening.
I’m also editing stories as they are being sent to the website and working to improve headlines, both for SEO purposes and to appeal to people already on the site. I also attach the photos (and sometimes work them) and videos to the stories. Often, I need to take a call from someone in the field to update information on the website. And as needed, I’ll makes the calls and write the stories.
Additionally, I build databases and slideshows and try to guide Twitter discussions with staff members.
KS: Most days start with a news meeting to get an idea of what stories are coming. When there is breaking news, I am glued to my seat running our social media accounts. But other days I’m trying out new tools and planning more long-term for projects or stories, or focusing on mobile.
Are your newsroom colleagues largely aware of and/or able to use social media tools? Are they expected to be?
SS: We require reporters either have a Twitter account or blog regularly. Two chose the blog route. Everybody has to have a smartphone, so unless there’s a reception problem, there’s never a reason they can’t engage with readers.
Although we have an organizational account that spits out tweets for just about every headline, we feel like the real value is in individual accounts — the live coverage of events, building a following, etc. Depending on the beat, and frequency or quality of tweets, many of our reporters have hundreds of followers, and we see it as a highly valuable tool for interacting with the community and getting folks interested in the content we provide.
There is a constant process of pointing to good and bad practices and encouraging others to take note.
We are just getting our feet wet with things like Pinterest and Storify and other forms of social media, with those responsibilities being bounced around.
KS: Yes, they are aware of social media tools and able to use them, and they are also expected to use them. I conduct training sessions when needed and come up with social media strategies per department.
JW: They are expected to use social media. Technically they are required to use it but there’s not really anyone saying, “Hey, why haven’t you tweeted today?” or anything like that. They are all aware of and able to use social media tools but the range of their proficiency is wide.
What did you think of that BuzzFeed article? Did you find it true to your experience?
SS: The article points to the fragmenting of a social media editor’s responsibilities as a growing trend. For better or worse, it has always been that way here and at other small papers in our area.
It is difficult for me to see the value of having someone who just tweets about what everybody else is working on. And while we tend to babble too much, I’d like to think we babble with a purpose.
I don’t want to be written off like one of the traditional (re: old) journalists who have a negative, knee-jerk reaction to the term “social media” in general. In fact, I can see the value of having a central figure tasked with developing some sort of unified strategy and enforcing it. But that is a luxury we can’t really afford. Even at a bigger paper, is that really the best use of limited resources?