What have journalists done for you lately?

In the past few days, I’ve consumed a lot of journalism. Some of it is the kind of information that can be found all over the place, from any number of news outlets. Is Florida in for its first tropical storm of the season? What should I know about Hillary Clinton’s email? How’s Serena doing at the French Open?

When you ask people about “journalism” or “the media” (maybe my least-favorite two words of all time), they often think first about these sorts of stories. But “journalism” and even “news” encompass so much more. People consume a lot of journalism without realizing they’re doing it, and certainly without considering the investment needed to produce it. (I wrote more about perceptions of “news” a couple of weeks ago.)

Journalists are justifiably frustrated that people don’t respect where all that information comes from. But complaining doesn’t fix the problem.

Instead, we need to do a better job communicating our value. What makes us credible sources of information? What do we offer that helps people live their lives? Why are we worth peoples’ investment of time and money? (That’s one of the questions at the core of a project I’m working on to do with using social media to build trust.)

Here’s a look at 8 pieces of journalism I’ve consumed in the last few days. Turns out “the media” have helped me understand my world, my country, my community and my family.

  1. Maggie Menderski at the Sarasota Herald-Tribune wrote about a huge development being planned for a spot just 10 minutes from my house. She got the scoop at a retail conference in Las Vegas. Sending her to Nevada represents an investment of manpower and dollars on the part of my local newspaper. Don’t we want journalists keeping an eye on projects that shape our communities’ growth?
  2. Another Herald-Tribune reporter, Shelby Webb, took a deep dive into our local public school district’s rate of expulsions. Sarasota has a higher rate of “expulsion without educational services” than any other district in Florida. That’s a controversial fact that deserves unpacking, and doing so takes massive time. Do you want journalists telling you about how kids in your community are educated?
  3. Jessica Contrera at The Washington Post goes deep with the screen habits of a 13-year-old girl. I eat stories like this up because I love learning about how other people use technology. It’s vital for anyone who produces things consumed on screens. It’s also important for parents trying to keep tabs on kids’ screen use. Stories like this take so much time — finding the right family to work with, gaining trust, earning access and then spending enough time with them that you can authentically represent their lives/habits. Are you interested in journalism to help you understand other peoples’ lives and how the world is changing? (Also, this companion piece about teen jargon is hilarious.)
  4. Continue reading “What have journalists done for you lately?”
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Close encounters of the media-bias kind

This was first published on the blog of the Reynolds Journalism Institute.

Journalism has a marketing problem, and we’re not doing nearly enough to fix it.

What separates the work you’re doing from the rest of “the media” (my least favorite two-word phrase)? And how are you making that clear to your audience?

Over the last few months, I’ve jumped into a project looking at how social media can help journalists enhance their credibility. I’m lining up partner newsrooms to help me test some strategies, and some of those partners will experiment with how to better tell their own stories.

We can’t assume our information speaks for itself. Two recent encounters I’ve had underscored the urgency of this situation.

The first was a conversation with a neighbor. She said until she got to know me a bit, she always thought of journalists as ambulance chasers. She described the local newspaper as biased and said she didn’t really have much use for news.

She then told me how excited she was about a story she saw in the arts section that weekend and how it allowed her to make a meaningful connection with a like-minded person.

But she didn’t see that as “news” or “journalism.” It didn’t register with her that local journalists had concretely enriched her life just in the last few days.

Continue reading “Close encounters of the media-bias kind”

Earning trust on social: Deploy your fans

This was first published on the blog of the Reynolds Journalism Institute. It is part of a series. If you’re just tuning in, start here

What do we know about how trust and sharing on social media work? We know that people trust their own friends and families. They trust people who are already trusted by people they trust — much more than they trust brands.

We also know that social media is based on a culture of sharing. Users share their own lives, but they also share ideas, products and services that they find some sort of value in.

So, as you look to grow your brand’s network — to increase the number of users who trust you and have a relationship with you — it makes sense to tap into the network you already have.

Let’s explore how you might ask for the help of the people who already trust you. Can you ask them to declare their support for you? Would they be willing to encourage their friends to use you as a resource? Could you teach them to help you correct some of the world’s misinformation?

Why don’t journalists ask users more often to pass along their content? Done badly, that can be intrusive or feel like cheesy self-promotion. But done well, it can speak to a shared desire to make people smarter or an altruistic goal of getting needed information into as many hands as possible. So many informed news consumers cultivate a social identity as someone who helps keep their networks informed. How can we more strategically tap into that user goal? Social capital and influence are often used to contribute to the greater good and can contribute to more informed communities as well.

Continue reading “Earning trust on social: Deploy your fans”

Earning trust on social: Engage authentically

This was first published on the blog of the Reynolds Journalism Institute. It is part of a series. If you’re just tuning in, start here. 

When we asked how trust is built on social media, we heard some consistent themes in interview after interview with journalists and nonjournalists.

Know who you are, know who your audience is and practice consistent, real interactions between the two parties. Be sure those interactions involve listening, reflecting back what you hear and responding.

We talked to Billy Penn’s Jim Brady while at a conference reception, over drinks and live music. He posed this question: Is your news organization up on stage like the band, or is it down on the floor with the rest of the party? Do you talk like the other partygoers talk? Do you catch on in a way that makes them want to tell their friends about you? Do you respond authentically when they talk to you?

Authenticity is key. So is consistency. Brady says it’s important to “be who you are every time you speak publicly.” (If you’re not sure who you are, revisit the first theme.) As you identify what your brand offers, share that value proposition with users. Maybe your most compelling story is independence from influence. Maybe it’s context and explanation. Maybe it’s action-oriented news.

Whatever that story is, realize you can’t fake it. Don’t sell yourself as an explainer if you’re not consistent at it. Don’t try to talk like the hip youngsters if you just don’t fit in. Like a mom at a party, it just won’t work.

Continue reading “Earning trust on social: Engage authentically”

Earning trust on social: Tell your story

This was first published on the blog of the Reynolds Journalism Institute. It is part of a series. If you’re just tuning in, start here

Who are you, as a brand or an individual? Have you properly introduced yourself? Do you invite people to get to know you? What do you value and stand for? What can people expect from you? How do you make people feel? Do they like you? Do they believe you?

Journalists are good at helping the community get to know itself, but we don’t talk much about what we wish the community knew about us. Plus, we don’t really love talking about ourselves. We wish the stories — the products — could stand for themselves.

Too bad. Journalists need to accept that the information and stories hardly ever speak for themselves. Journalists and other communicators need to get more comfortable with and skilled at:

  • Inviting people to pay attention to them.
  • Persuading people to listen up.
  • Making themselves interesting and believable.
  • Marketing their work.

I know the idea of marketing themselves or their work can feel icky to some journalists. But check out this definition from Seth Godin: “Marketing is the name we use to describe the promises a company makes, the story it tells, the authentic way it delivers on that promise.” Not icky, right?

In a TED talk that’s been viewed 25 million times, Simon Sinek talks about the importance of beginning with “why,” not “what.” From Martin Luther King Jr.’s work to Apple devices, successful messages or products invite people to believe in a story first, buy a product second. Why does the message or product exist? Who’s behind it? How is it funded? What makes it different? What is it good at? These are all questions we would ask on behalf of our users about the companies we cover. It’s partly about disclosure, but it’s also about just painting a fuller picture of an organization. However, we rarely answer these questions about ourselves. Continue reading “Earning trust on social: Tell your story”

Trust us, you’re going to want to read this series about social media

This was first published on the blog of the Reynolds Journalism Institute.

How do news consumers decide what information to trust, and how can journalists teach users to be smarter consumers and sharers?

As our fellow community members — voters, neighbors, family members, co-workers — face more options for what to include in their information diet, I’d sure like to know what I might do as a journalist to encourage healthy choices. How can I influence what my followers pick to snack on?

Increasingly, those choices are made on social media platforms. Rather than seeking out a specific brand, consumers are watching a stream of information go by and reaching out to grab specific bits.

How do they decide which ones to click? How do they know what’s good for them? How can they tell what’s unusual, special and worth sharing? How do they choose which ones are, as marketing icon Seth Godin says, remarkable, or worth remarking on?

team of college students and I have been interviewing journalists and nonjournalists to get a sense of what creates trust and credibility between communicator and receiver. We’re working with the Trust Project and factoring in their extensive user research about indicators of trust.

In our talks with people in and out of the news industry about social media and credibility, three themes emerged: Journalists need to tell their own stories, engage authentically and deploy their fans. We’ll take a look at those three themes in three posts:

Our next step is to work with journalists to test how these strategies can be put to work for them. If you’re interested in participating, please get in touch with me.

How to analyze a brand’s social media use

If you want to be more sophisticated in your social media use, it can help to practice analyzing what other people do.

An assignment I use in one of my classes is to pick a news brand and analyze its social media activity. I’m always impressed with my students’ observations, and I thought I’d share the assignment here in case it’s useful for others. I’d love to see how other folks teach this. Drop me a line if you have an assignment you’d be willing to share.

SOCIAL MEDIA ANALYSIS

Evaluate the social media use of a news organization of your choice. It can be a small community newsroom or an international staff, niche topic or general. Please choose an organization:

  • that is present and at least a little active on social media
  • that has room for improvement, so you can make suggestions
  • for which you can find at least two staff members connected to the organization who at least sometimes post about their work
  • that will allow you to answer all the questions posed in this assignment

You will be assessed based on how well you apply the breadth of our social media discussions in class to your analysis and on the thoughtfulness of that analysis. Consider social media guidelines, strategies and styles of writing. Also address the measurement of success.

PART ONE (10 points): Identify the primary audience for and mission of that news organization (either in their words or your own estimations). Find that news organization on as many social platforms as you can and link to all their accounts. Consider AT A  MINIMUM: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and YouTube. Can you find any social media strategy or policy documents or related interviews? If so, link to them or attach them.

PART TWO (20 points): Answer these questions about at least two of those accounts, on two separate platforms (for example, the org’s main presence on Pinterestand Instagram, or the org’s main sports presence on Twitter and food presence on Facebook — you pick). 

  • How frequently does the account post?
  • Analyze the posts. Approximately what is the ratio of posts that link to or push newsroom content compared to posts that are replies, retweets or other contributions to conversations? 
  • What do you know and what can you surmise about the strategy for each of those two accounts? Discuss what you can tell about the goals, and link to at least three posts on each platform that back up what you’re saying.

PART THREE (20 points): Find at least two staff members who post about the work they do connected to the organization you’re evaluating. 

  • Link to their accounts/platforms that discuss their work. 
  • How much of what they post is directly related to their work?
  • What is the nature of their work-related posts? Describe how it relates to content, whether they demonstrate personality, whether/how they reply to followers, whether they show what’s going on behind the scenes of their jobs and whether anything they post could be considered controversial. 

PART FOUR (20 points): Think about the strategies we talked about in class for writing social posts. We wrote posts designed to get as many click thrus as possible, as much engagement as possible and as much worthwhile discussion as possible. (Related post: What “works” on social media? That’s a bad question.) Please pick one existing post that includes a link back to your org’s website. Link to the original post, and rewrite it three ways. You don’t have to think all three are the right way to promote that link. But show you understand the diversity of possible strategies by writing examples. Then indicate which you think would be most effective.

PART FIVE (30 points): Write suggestions for the news organization based on what you learned. Write it as if you’re sending it to the organization’s leadership, and address both brand accounts and individual journalists’ accounts. Acknowledge what is working and make suggestions for improvement and growth. Be sure to address why further investment in improvement and growth would be worthwhile and how the newsroom could measure success (what could be measured and what the newsroom would learn from those measurement efforts). Be prepared for it to be shared, either publicly or specifically with that staff. 

WORTH 100 POINTS.