Social Media: Breaking News or Fixing News?
In today’s SXSW Interactive panel, “Social Media: Breaking News or Fixing News?” AP Social Media Editor Eric Carvin succinctly summed up a new sentiment many legacy news organizations are realizing regarding social media: “Social networks need us more than we need them.”
Joined by fellow panelists Allison Lichter, social media editor of the Wall Street Journal and Michael Roston, senior staff editor for social media at the New York Times, each agreed they’re not interested in the “arms race” of clickthroughs, likes and retweets. For them, it’s about engagement.
In an effort to better understand its digital audience, Roston said the New York Times has moved its social media hub to the audience development desk. This way, Roston and his team can better understand how people are using social media, instead of of trying to “top the algorithms.” But the Times’ strategy for engagement doesn’t just come from analyzing interaction, it also comes from the top. Roston said much of their social plan relies on daily meetings with executive editor Dean Baquet (known as the “Dean’s List” meetings), where they discuss, and have a chance to pitch, the most important news for the next 24 hours.
News Discovery & Verification
Carvin, Roston and Lichter all agreed one of main reasons they use social media is for news discovery. Lichter said this is particularly valuable to The Wall Street Journal with its increasingly international presence, 24-hour news cycle and its focus on economic / business news.
“We use use social media in scope of a real-time news desk and to find what’s breaking, what’s bubbling,” she said.
Carvin agreed but added each tip-off tweet undergoes a robust verification process before it’s reported. He said that because the AP’s business model isn’t about getting the most followers or retweets, they’d rather take time to verify a rumor than post something inaccurate, just like they would an interview.
“We want to have a consistent set of standards and procedures for social media. We treat that information the way we would any other source,” said Carvin.
The New Front Page
Once information has been verified, a breaking news story’s life often begins on social media, which, according to Lichter, is the new front page. The strategy at the Wall Street Journal is to treat social media like they would their front page stories. As such, each post is native to its respective platform – Twitter for breaking news and Facebook for feature stories that might elicit more conversation. This builds an engaged audience.
“Our goal is to develop an audience of subscribers,” said Lichter.
Lichter said a big part of her job as social media editor is to work with editors and journalists to find their audiences, understanding some may be in unexpected places. For example, she said some of her business / commerce reporters have found LinkedIn to be a very valuable resource for finding and connecting with new audiences.
Obviously, once a story is shared on Facebook or Twitter, news organizations must then consider the impact of those stories. And while comments, retweets and shares can be a sign of engagement, those numbers can often be tricky.
“One of our stories was “liked” around 8,000 times on Facebook, but only a fraction of them actually clicked the link,” said Roston.
True, social media is a place for sharing, digging and discovering, but it’s not the whole story. It’s a tool – an often unpredictable and sometimes tedious one – but a tool, nonetheless. So, whether it’s breaking news or a feature, coming from a legacy company or start-up, it seems everyone is still experimenting with this valuable yet elusive medium and discovering how it can be most useful for them and their message.