August 20, 2017

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Microjournalism – Trial by Twitter

Microjournalism – Trial by Twitter

How can Big media companies survive? By getting as small as possible.

As a former news reporter with many friends in the industry, I recently noticed a huge uptick in Birmingham-area local journalists who were following my Twitter account. What I didn’t realize at the time was how much top-down prodding was taking place.

In particular, the local NBC affiliate (@nbc13 on Twitter) suddenly had people all over Twitter. Later, I found out that the IT managers for each Media General television property had been ordered to create Twitter accounts for each and every person with an email address on their servers. (Much to the consternation of some who already had Twitter accounts, and now had an officially-branded one they had to use.) Even the general manager of the station has a Twitter account now, and he seems to be using it. (All of the accounts end in NBC13HD, which makes them fairly easy to find.)

As you might suspect, there was almost no plan whatsoever about how these accounts were to be used. It may be a testament to a new-found respect for social media, or it may be a desperate Hail Mary for a dying industry. Either way, the shotgunning of accounts – if allowed to continue past early gaffes – might just yield interesting uses and best practices.

Some of the accounts really haven’t been active at all. That is to be expected, if you are to believe recent Nielsen metrics that show how a lot of people join but never engage. Other accounts are run by producers, and you pretty much know what they will do with 140 characters: pimp their newscasts. Television line producers are the naturals for Twitter, because 140 characters is pretty much the length of a tease. (Something in your refrigerator can KILL you! We’ll tell you what at 6pm!)

Out of the dozens of station-branded accounts, there are a couple who have flourished. Andrea Lindenberg (disclosure: a long-time friend who has no idea I am writing this) is a morning news anchor who Tweets during the show, during breaks, and between newscasts. It’s always an interesting mix of important news, light news, Hey-Martha-get-a-load-of-this! news, personal observations, and conversation. About half of her stream is talking back to viewers, even during the newscasts. She uses Twitter to break down the fourth wall of the television screen, and comes across pretty much how she does in real life.

Jon Paepcke is an investigative journalist who seems to get that it’s more than a way to tease people into a specific newscast – it’s a way to build credibility and affinity with people who care about news. He’s taken it to a new level by creating a Twitter account for a specific story.

Richard Scrushy, the founder and former CEO of HealthSouth, is back in Alabama from a federal penitentiary in Texas for a civil trial. Those who felt defrauded by HealthSouth financial finagling are suing Scrushy to recover what they can. It’s a big story locally, and one with a lot of interest. Paepcke created a new account just for civil proceeding.

Already, there are some wondering if this is the way to go. Why create a whole new account, when a hashtag will do?

I’d say they’re on to something here with a dedicated account. With hashtags, the facts being reported and generated from inside the courtroom would be diluted or even washed away with the preponderance of (strong) opinion that is sure to follow. With a dedicated line, you can easily wall off the story from any other Twitter-ish behavior. No commentary. No conversation. No controversy. Just the facts, ma’am.

Let other accounts and other users wax philosophic and sophomoric about the events of the day. Use the micro-channel to focus interest on what you do best as a professional journalist: report a story.

NOTE: Just four hours after creating the account, there were 40 followers. Five were from the station, and shouldn’t really count. Of the remaining 35, only one is from a local news competitor, and she’s in public radio.

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