Q&A regarding Twittering experiences

29 September 2008

Rachael Oehring, a DTH writer for Diversions, asked me to respond to some questions about Twittering for a story she’s writing for a features class. I’ve already posted about my experience Tweeting this weekend during the presidential debate and at an Obama/Biden rally, but I thought I’d include my responses here:

Q: You live-tweeted the Obama rally the other day, and I was just wondering how you got the idea for that? Were there other people in the press area doing the same thing? How was the experience of being at the rally in the first place, and what was it like sitting there texting while Obama was speaking?

A: I decided before the rally that I wanted to live-Tweet it. Until this weekend, I’ve chiefly used Twitter socially vs. journalistically. I wanted to try live-Tweeting an event to see what would work and what wouldn’t. I live-Tweeted the presidential debate with the DTH’s State & National editor, Ariel Zirulnick, on Friday, and learned a lot from that. Our Tweets were too much of a minute-by-minute run down of what was happening, which, with so many people watching the debate, wasn’t needed. In retrospect, we both wished we had included more analysis. I think that my Twittering from the Obama/Biden rally was a good mix of “This is what he said” and crowd reaction. I wish I had brought my laptop, because text-Twittering limited my speed.

I didn’t see anyone else in the press texting, and I kind of felt weird being the only one. Some in the press had laptops and they could have been Twittering, but I didn’t see one way or another. I haven’t seen the result of anyone in the press twittering the rally.

Q: How do you think a technology like Twitter fits in with traditional news outlets? This might be a bit of a stretch, especially since the DTH is pretty open to new technology, but how do you think other papers will utilize this technology? Do you think we’ll reach a point where there will be a bevy of press twittering updates at press conferences and events and such?

A: I would love to see traditional news outlets embrace Twitter more. There’s a balance to strike, because by and large the public hasn’t embraced Twitter, so the audience this form of reporting is directed at is small, but as a story telling form I like it. It’s bite-sized information that I can choose whether to receive or not. Many of the newspapers that have embraced it seem to have embraced it as another way to distribute news as an RSS alternative, but I think robot-Twitter accounts have their limitations. What I enjoy about Twitter is connecting with the other users. At its core, Twitter is simply social networking, and when newspaper’s don’t have that interactive element between their Twitter and their readers, I think readers are more likely to lose interest. I would love to see the press Twitter updates at meetings etc. Its another way of reporting, and then journalists can go back to those “notes” to write the story, which ideally is more nuanced and analytical than Tweet updates.

Q: How does tweeting an event differ from, say, live-blogging an event? Is there a difference?

A: I’ve never live-blogged an event, but I feel the principles of it vs. Twittering are similar. You’re trying to do updates as quickly as possible and as thorough as possible as the time allows for. Twitter imposes an additional space restriction because you only have 140 characters. You’re required to focus in on the key points.

Q: Do you think that something like Twitter is going to alter in any way how news is broken, does it fit in with the 24-hour news cycle of TV news networks and Web sites?

A: I think Twitter’s already altered how news is broken. The earthquake this summer was broken on Twitter before the Los Angeles Times had anything. And it’s not just Twitter that’s changing how news is broken – Wikipedia had Tim Russert’s entry updated to include his death before any news organization released the news. Social media in general makes it a lot easier for non-journalists to break news (and for journalists to break news). Twittering doesn’t give the full scope though – it’s great at announcing the news but hard to fit context into the space allowed. One of my favorite Tweets is this one by @lonelysandwich:To be fair, if CNN could get away with HOLLYF**K EARTHQAKE!!!1! as the extent of its coverage, they’d likely have scooped your a**, Twitter.” (** mine).

Photographing the Obama, Biden rally

29 September 2008

I took photos at the Obama/Biden rally in Greensboro in between Tweeting. I’m trying to photograph more so I feel more comfortable with it.

The campaign set up risers for press to Obama’s right and straight ahead. The DTH didn’t get riser space, but were among the many who were allowed up in shifts. In general, it was more of a hassle up on the platform, because volunteers kept yelling different things about who was/wasn’t allowed up there, and TV cameras, poles and people got in the way. Although on the ground I wasn’t really tall enough to shoot Obama through the crowd. I moved around a lot trying to get pictures, but most didn’t turn out the way I wanted them to.

My favorite picture I took Saturday is actually this one of a boy watching the North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University drumline:

Experiences live-Tweeting presidential politics

28 September 2008

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama and running mate Joe Biden spoke at the depot Saturday. Both men emphasized the economy. “We can’t have another four years like the last eight years,” Obama said.

From the press risers overlooking the crowd of nearly 20,000, I was struck by the number of supporters taking cell phone pictures and videos of the speech. Search on Flickr for Obama and Greensboro, and a fair amount of photos from Saturday’s rally are posted. These amateur photos add to the wealth of content from the traveling press corps and the in-state crowd that showed up to cover the event. Greensboro’s News & Record has a really nice slideshow of photos from the rally (and audio and text of the speech), but there’s no interactive feature to let reader’s submit content. It only goes one way.

The event was also another try at live-Twittering an event. I liveblogged the first presidential debate with DTH State & National Editor Ariel Zirulnick on Friday, but Saturday I Twittered for myself and not the DTH. I didn’t have my computer with me, so my updates were text only, which limited my speed. And I don’t get Tweets sent to my phone, so I wasn’t able to see or respond to all the @ replies I received until I got back to the office. That made it very much a one-way street.

I think my strategy – Tweeting mostly one-liner quotes with a few describing the atmosphere – worked better for this style of event than for the debate the night before, when all of America was watching and didn’t need the blow-by-blow account of what they watching. In that case, more analysis would have been appropriate.

The DTH plans to liveblog other election events this semester via Twitter, and I’m looking to experiment with different Tweeting styles to see what works best. What do you think? What do you want from live Twittering from an event?

We’re doing something right

18 September 2008

This made my day:

I’ve always loved weekly papers — what they may not have in breaking news, they more than make up for in cogent commentary, in-depth analysis and local color.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t want a daily paper. And, sadly, though the N&O is cutting everything in site to save money, it just isn’t cutting it for me anymore. Dwindling resources and a clear shift to covering Cary in favor of Carrboro or Chapel Hill leaves me wanting more. Searching for news of a Board of Aldermen meeting online last spring, I happened upon an article in the Daily Tar Heel. It was well-written and thorough. And it got me looking more and more at the student paper, whose City Desk is doing some fine reporting hereabouts.

Read them over for yourself and make you own judgment. For my money, it’s worth the walk to the Carrboro Mini-Mart to grab the DTH. This “New” Reliable provides better daily coverage than the Old Reliable. (Adventures in the Local Economy, Sept. 18)

New DTH staff: Welcome!

15 September 2008

The DTH opens its doors tomorrow to about 150 journalism babies. Recruitment is over, we oriented them Saturday and tomorrow many of them will be working on their very first stories/photographs/graphics/pages/etc. I expect lots of questions along the lines of “How do I dial out on the phone?” “Where do I type my article?” and “What’s my deadline?”

All of the editors, who have been putting out the paper these last four weeks with a bare-bones staff left over from last year, are incredibly excited about this batch of new staff. As inexperienced as they are, they are manpower. 

But all of the editors are a little scared too – everyone feels a great sense of responsibility to these new staff. Last year we hired 185 new staff (we hire everyone…), but by the end of the semester, less than half remained. The DTH isn’t for everyone, and there’s a weeding out process. But we also lose a lot of talented folks that we end up wishing hadn’t weeded themselves out.

We hired a news adviser for the first time this year. We’re behind a lot of our peer-newspapers in hiring an adviser, and part of what we feel Erica can help us with is with retention. She’ll be meeting with every single new staff member at least once this semester formally, and is going to serve as a writing coach/internship-search-resource/calm voice. 

Erica is going to really help where new staffers fall in the cracks. It’s not that desk editors don’t want to be a resource, but sometimes they don’t have the time or the experience themselves to really serve as a help. And hopefully Erica can help our editors be better editors. She’s there for us, too.

Here are my goals for helping new staff transition to the DTH:

  • I’m going to learn their names. All 100 and however many of them there are. As a freshman, there was nothing more exciting for me than when management called me by my name. Or said hi to me when they saw me outside the newsroom.
  • I’m going to be patient when answering even the most seemingly obvious of questions.
  • I’m going to explain every change I make when editing. I think editing should be a conversation. My best editors have always edited that way, and as a reporter, I think you learn better by talking it out. And I think I edit better this way, too.
  • I’m going to make a big deal to them of getting their stories in the paper, especially on front or page three. I cut out every single article I wrote freshman year and taped them to my dorm wall. Seeing your name in print is a really big deal.
  • I’m going to find something positive to say about something in everything they do.
This is what I most love about the DTH, its teaching aspect. Many of these new staff have never taken a journalism class at the J-school and many never will. And many of them will go on to be star reporters for us. The impact we will have on their journalism learning is incredible, and intimidating. I want us to serve them well.

Breaking more news online, and other ideas for community papers

9 September 2008

Ryan Thornburg pointed out a story in the N.C. Press Association’s September newsletter about The Pilot, where I had a wonderful time interning last summer. By posting more frequently, they’ve increased their online readership by 14 percent in six weeks.

I just went to their Web site for the first time in probably six weeks, and I’m really excited by what I see: It’s a Tuesday (they publish Sunday, Wednesday and Friday), but there are five new stories on the Web not in the print.

When I was there last summer, there were definitely occasions when we published on the Web before print. I covered one meeting in Pinehurst, and we went Web first with it because The Fayetteville Observer reporter was there, and we didn’t want our readers to have to wait an extra day for the story because we knew in the time between, they’d just skip us. I wrote another, more in-depth story for the print edition.

Publisher David Woronoff said that he realized waiting to break news in paper to avoid tipping off competitors was “stupid.” That was something I emphasized this summer at my internship at The Salisbury Post, and something community journalism guru Jock Lauterer grilled in my head: Your newspaper’s Web site is not a different entity/brand/whatever than your print. You’re not scooping yourself by publishing online.

It sounds like The Pilot’s already done a lot to increase online readership, but I thought of a few other things they could do to make the Web site more user-friendly:

  • Make the video and multimedia more prominent on the homepage – the blogs and multimedia are listed way down the page.
  • On articles, provide dates for when they were published.
  • The navigation bars on the left and then lower down the page on the right are bulky and confusing.
  • Link to reporter’s e-mail addresses in the end taglines.
  • Add a widget so that readers can share stories. Now you can e-mail it, print it, or e-mail an editor, but what about del.ici.ous? digg? etc.
  • For stories that also have multimedia, link back and forth between the article and the media. The Pilot did this slideshow of photos to go with this story about a fire at the mill John Edwards worked at back in the day. But you have to search the archives to find the story, and it doesn’t link to the slideshow anywhere, and the slideshow doesn’t link to the article.
  • Show related stories. It looks like they’re doing this for the latest stories for the most part, but this later story about the investigation into the fire doesn’t mention the previous articles. This story about a town facing trouble after digging up illegally buried homes does have links to related stories.
  • Allow comments on stories. Make folks register, create a comments policy and enforce it, but let the space become a forum. 
  • When new articles are published in between print editions, stick a time stamp on them so that people who have been going to the site will be reminded that this is new information.
  • The photo gallery has hundreds of photos from community events all over. Give the readers the option to buy copies of the photos. And while you’re at it, give readers a chance to submit their own photos. 

How college papers are covering the election

4 September 2008

I’m taking an online journalism class this semester with Ryan Thornburg, a DTH alum who was in charge of the Iraq war and 2004 election coverage on washingtonpost.com.

One of our ongoing assignments is to blog about a specific topic related to the elections in N.C. My plans are to follow student newspapers, mainly college, and how they’re covering the campaigns:

But in an election season that already has charged the youth vote, college newspapers would be remiss if they didn’t cover the campaigns. Already, papers have sent student journalists around N.C. to cover politico’s appearances, have snagged interviews with candidates for state office and have localized the party’s conventions in Denver and St. Paul, Minn. And when it comes to state elections, student papers might be a reader’s only source of information about the candidates. How they cover the elections matter. (N.C. Youth Vote, Sept. 4)

I’m really hoping that following this will help with our own election coverage at the DTH. State & National Editor Ariel Zirulnick has so many ideas of what we can do and is blogging about the election for the paper, and our efforts are increasing daily as the election draws closer and closer.  I’m going to try for my class blog to be light on DTH news, mostly because I want to focus on what we can learn from what other papers are doing. I’m also particularly interested in how student papers are embracing technology to cover the election. At the MSCNE conference I went to this summer, papers outside of N.C. have big plans, and my fingers are crossed that we’ll see really innovative ideas here, too.