Monday, April 23, 2012

A Journalist's Guide to Doing Social Media

It's April, I haven't posted to the blog in 10 days, and you can probably guess why. That's right ....

In between begging for money and trying to do some reporting, I did manage to grab an hour to talk with members of the Southern Education Desk (SED) reporting team about doing social media. 

Many of us are on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, etc ... but are we using these properties to their greatest potential when it comes our journalism?  SED Managing Editor Duncan Moon asked me to talk to his team about how we use social media at WBHM, and  thought I'd share that with you as well.

I've broken it down into some simple strategies:

1.  Kevin Costner may believe that if you "build it, they will come" ... but that ain't true! I watched a major public media initiative launch its Facebook and Twitter accounts, then sit and wait for people to show up. Six months into the project they had just a couple dozen followers. And this was for a project that included public media collaborators across many states, focused on one the biggest news stories of our decade.  You have to go out and find followers!

  • Search Facebook and Twitter using keywords that apply to your beat/geography/etc, then friend/like/follow those people. Most them will return the favor.  And make sure you're looking for individuals, too, not just organizations. 
  • Add your Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google +, Tumblr (insert other social media site) URL onto your email signature line. 
  • Back-announce stories with social media handles.  Here at WBHM you might hear an announcement like this after a story from SED reporter Dan Carsen:  “You can find all of Dan’s stories archived at and you can follow Dan on twitter at AT-W-B-H-M-ED-Desk."
  • And remember, when people follow you thank them publicly.

2. Once folks know you're on a social platform, keep them coming back for quality content.  For every story our WBHM news team produces we not only post it to our website (with copy, audio and photos), but we also promote it heavily through social media. 

  • Facebook -- We'll post the story to the WBHM Facebook page, as well as our personal Facebook pages. We make sure to use the "@" function to get as much linkage out as possible. This includes "@" cc'ing people who might have been quoted on the story.  This helps stories spread virally.  We also try to include a listener prompt to encourage conversation, something like this (get out your glasses, the print's kinda small)...

  • Twitter – Similar to Facebok, we tweet from the WBHM accounts, then RT from the personal accounts using the "@" replay function as much as possible, but keeping the character count to 115 characters so there's still plenty of space for followers to RT us.  
  • Pinterest is driven by photos, so make sure you've got a great image to anchor your post and make sure you add enough information in the caption to capture attention. Much like forward promoting on air, you don't want to give away the whole story in the caption.  It should be a tease that will make people want to click the photo to link through to the full story. 

3. Don't just post promotional stuff. There are plenty of other ways to engage people, including
  • Calls for story ideas. We do this weekly with a quick FB post or Tweet that says "WBHM has a news editorial meeting this morning. What stories should we be telling about our community?"
  • Reminders that you can find archives of your stories online ("Been looking for a way to find all of our stories on Alabama's toughest-in-the-nation immigration law? Here ya go!") 
  • Fun Stuff. Post pictures of your reporters in the field.... 
WBHM's Southern Education Desk reporter Dan Carsen

WBHM News team & friends at GPB's PubMedia Camp
4. The takeaway from all of this?   Engage... Engage... Engage!  Social media is all about two-way communication, not just promoting your news stories/programs.   The more you look and act like a "real person" online the more your listeners and readers will want to get to know you. 

What tips do you have for creating community around your news coverage? What are your biggest challenges? Your fears?  Share them here and let's get the conversation started. 

Friday, April 13, 2012

Ten Time Management Tips for Reporters on Deadline Story

(Source: Random handout on my desk. Not sure who produced it -- may be WNYC's Julianne Welby? -- but thanks!)

1. Use "Story Mapping" techniques to select focus, framing and questions ahead of time.

2. Tweets or Facebook updates during coverage can serve as building blocks for writing later.

3. Mark audio while recording in the field. Log it during lulls in the action.

4. Grab photos (or video) from all sources. Delete bad shots immediately. Tag or note the best ones.

5. Always line up sources for in-person questions after press conferences.

6. Start producing during the trip back to the station.  This includes listening to tape, picking soundbites and "talking the script" around the tape.

7. Check in with editor upon return to station. Get reaction/follow-up calls out ASAP.

8. Carefully label files with slug, source, date.

9. Write quickly, simply.  Budget time for an edit. Take a break to bring fresh eyes to the final draft (get some AIR!)

10. End of day: Enter new contacts into Rolodex. Note additional story ideas. Have next assignment in mind.

Photo Credit: Klynslis/Flickr

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Breaking Down Story Structure

We've been talking recently about story ideas: where they come from and how to develop them.  I want to fast-forward now past the research and interviewing phases and to the writing.  You've got lots of information in your head. How do you get it on paper?  

Media trainer Terry Fitzpatrick has a really useful way of breaking down the structure of a story.

How do you do that with the elements you've collected?

Yes, it's a formula... but you've got to know the formula before you know how you can break it!

The master of storytelling has a slightly more organic, but similar approach... 

What are your tricks? How do you get the story out of your head and onto paper? What tips do you have for organizing a story, dealing with writers block, and any of the other oodles of problems we face daily (and often under deadline)?

Monday, April 9, 2012

KUHF (Houston) Hiring Public Insight Analyst

KUHF is looking for a person who is ready to take on all of the following responsibilities: on-air and on-line reporter, multi-platform producer, editor and community outreach liaison.  All these skills are put to use as a Public Insight Analyst.  This reporter will work in the newsroom and with the public affairs unit. This position will be responsible for KUHF’s Public Insight Network where social media and news gathering meet at the next level.  The analyst will build a network of sources with the goal of strengthening KUHF’s news gathering operation and connection to the diverse communities of Houston.
The ideal candidate will have a passion for news and new technologies, as well as unbounded curiosity for how news, technology and people come together.  This person needs to be able to manage large projects independently while also working collaboratively with reporters and other departments.  The ideal candidate will have strong communication, writing and reporting skills that meet journalistic standards.

To apply, send audio, writing and multi-platform examples of your work to  All candidates must also apply through the University of Houston website at  Click on ‘Jobs at UH’ at the bottom of the page and search posting #000014. The University of Houston is an Affirmative Action/Equal Employment Opportunity Institution.  Minorities, women, veterans and persons with disabilities are encouraged to apply.

More on Webifying Radio Stories

Our recent blog post about justifying web versions of our radio stories  garnered a lot of reaction on Facebook.  Here's a compilation of some of the most interesting comments:

The tools for working the web are *still* not easy to use short of a lot of training and patience. Meanwhile, you are asking a reporter, who may have already put in a full shift covering the story you have assigned to him or her, and who had to come back to the station to turn it into great radio, to *now* take additional time and perfectly "storify" it for the web. As most people who have done it know, doing a good radio story is *not* the same as doing that story well for the web. Anyone who tries to tell you otherwise hasn't done it, or has Hermoine Granger's little pocketwatch to compress time... 

I'm not a radio person, but we've struggled with this. It is difficult to ask people who know how to write radio to turn a magic button and write for web, especially when they've got radio to produce. On deadline. Similarly, I think it's unfair to ask a web person to webify a radio story they have not done reporting on. That is ow mistakes and errors get added in. I have no answers, just wanted to point out both sides of this coin.

KPBS reporters write for all platforms and are quite successful. Maybe it's because we believe it is possible.

She offered this video that explains how KPBS made the move to multimedia.  

The KPBS example is a great one. They've clearly put a lot of time and effort and thinking into their multimedia journalism.  But short of big $$ and big staff, how can a less-resourced newsroom hope to do digital well? 

First: Training. Don't just give your staff a camera (video or still) and expect them to know how to use it!  When I got a FLIP camera last year I immediately took it into the field and recorded a video of an urban farm.  It was a panning nightmare! 

At the very least I should have watched this video...

Better yet, I could have taken an online Visual Journalism class from the Poynter Institute

Here's more Facebook advice from folks working in smaller newsrooms.

Martha Foley Smith  We struggle with this. Now we have interns in very morning to help with the webification. I will say that having a fast, easy CMS (content management system) for reporters to use - that cleans up word processing "artifacts," finds photos, and feeds the archive automatically helps a whole lot when your making that argument. Don't all reporters want as broad carriage of their stories as possible?

Rob South I think it's a team effort. IMO you don't want good reporters and writers spending a lot of time on something an intern or a producer (or manager) could do. You want them writing and reporting. I'm not saying that they can't do the work needed to get a story online, I'm saying they should have help getting it there.  I've spent many hours watching stories evaporate because I was too busy getting copy web-ready, while there were other people who could be doing it.  On the flip side reporters need to help each other get copy on the web, so you have to know how to do it.

Remembering Mike Wallace

"Comfort the afflicted. Afflict the comfortable."

It was a guiding principal of CBS's Mike Wallace, who died this weekend at the age of 93.  But did you know that before Wallace was holding feet to the fire, he hosted a superhero radio show, sang on television and hawked something call Golden Fluffo?  Check out this video!

Of course, now Wallace is best known as a TV journalist who was "equally at home questioning con men, celebrities and chiefs of state", as we hear in this interview with NPR's Steve Inskeep.

UPDATE: And thanks to NPR's Jeff Brady for offering this video, which makes it abundantly clear how times have changed in journalism.  No way would our interviews start this way today...

Photo Credit: Peter Freed/AP

Friday, April 6, 2012

Take Your Story Idea from "Idea" to "Story"

Ever get bogged down in reporting or writing a story (who hasn't?!?). You gather a bunch of tape interviews, get back to your office ready to write, then realize you have no idea how to start the story or end the story or, for that matter, what exactly should go in the middle?

Or how about this. You get back to the office, write a kick-ass script, submit it to your editor, who then looks at you dumbfounded because your story isn't at all what she expected.

The problem is Story Visioning (or lack of it!). Stories don't just come together because you interview a bunch of people about an interesting topic. You have to have a plan. Luckily, we've got an appropriate worksheet for that.

My former training partner Melanie Peeples developed it and I revised it. It's meant to be filled out by a reporter, then shared with the editor BEFORE any reporting takes place so everyone's on the same page.

(note: this is for feature stories, not for spot news. And make sure you scroll down for notes on various elements of this worksheet.)

Story Visioning Worksheet

Story Length:

1. What is my Focus Statement?

2. Who stands to win/lose in this story? Who are the players?

3. Who do I need to interview?

Side 1                   Side 2                      Side 3                     Expert/Perspective

4. What is this story REALLY about? Who stands the lose the most? How does it feel to be him/her? How can I open the story with this person?

5. Where should I interview him/her? (do this for every person in #4) How can I describe this place? What nearby sounds should be miked for prominence? What obstacles can I anticipate?

6. What questions should I ask? (remember the “20 minute rule”)

7. Go. Be ready to change course if you find new information.


Story Length -- It's crucial that you decide the length before you start reporting. Print reporters know they get a certain number of inches or words for their article.  It's tempting in public radio to think it's an "organic process"  and the length of your story should "depend on what you gather in the field". Do that and you'll end up with a 6.5 minute story that won't fit easily into Morning Edition or All Things Considered.  You need to know if you're building a cathedral (8 minute doc) or pitching a pup tent (2 minute super spot).  It determines how many interviews you have to do and how many "scenes" you need to gather.

Focus Statement -- Did your eye just start twitching? PTSD from high school english class? Yes. A focus statement is crucial. No. It's not difficult. Fill in these blanks:  (Somebody) is doing (something) (because)...

Winners/Losers -- Who stands to win or lose the most in this story? These are the real people affected by an issue.  You want to frame the story around them, not the talking head/politician/analyst-y types.

Where to Interview -- Don't interview someone in a coffee shop unless your story is about coffee shops!

20 Minute Rule -- Most interview should and can be conducted in 20 minutes or less. If it takes longer than that you haven't done your research, don't know this person's role in the story, and are wasting their time (and  yours). There are, of course, exceptions to this rule. If your story is a profile of a person you'll need to spend more than 20 minutes with them.  You may also need to spend more than 20 minutes with the "real person" around whom your story is framed, especially if they're not used to being interviewed.   I spent more than an hour with Virginia Teat for this story because you clearly can't ask a 75 year old woman to talk about how her husband died of Mad Cow Disease, then start a stopwatch.

What advice to do you give reporters who are just starting out? Are there simple tips you've learned over the years that make the story visioning process easier?