Websites, social media integral to everyday coverage

by | Jul 1, 2012 | Recent Writing | 0 comments

Publishers’ Auxiliary/July 2012

The newspaper is just off the presses, and your photographer is dispatched to a fatal accident scene. The mayor gives an inspiring State of the City speech; your story in the next day’s edition captures the highlights, but time and space do not allow any attention to the details. Newspapers deliver blow-by-blow stories of election campaigns, but casual readers fail to grasp the continuum of coverage.

Each circumstance poses challenges for all newspapers, no matter their size or frequency. In every instance, newspapers have a similar ally to resolve their predicament: the Web.

Using the Web and other social media networks should be at the forefront of all newsrooms in their everyday operations. Newsrooms should regularly brainstorm ideas on how to use the Web to expand coverage. Here is one list of ideas:

Take advantage of breaking news: The Web is your 24/7 news venue. It’s the first place to post breaking news or other initial reports of important news. Stories can be updated regularly.

Expand coverage: The Web affords unlimited space, and that’s especially useful for public affairs reporting. The possibilities are limitless – for example, the full text of the mayor’s state of the city speech, a detailed list of proposed budget cuts, the complete annual report of the public safety department. A word of caution, however: Be selective in what you post, and be sure the information can be easily navigated.

Develop criteria: Unlimited space should not translate into a free-for-all. Newsrooms should have guidelines for what is posted on their websites just as they do for print editions.

Think beyond words: Focus on video and audio as well as the printed word. Present slide shows. Bring a camera to a press conference and present immediate coverage, promoting a more detailed story in the print edition. Post full-length interviews for those readers who want to hear the unfiltered exchange. Live video streaming is also available.

Create an additional avenue for letters to the editor: Newspapers often experience an overabundance of letters to the editor and other commentary when hot topics are being debated, especially during election season. One option is to reserve space in the newspaper for the more substantive letters that address issues. Create a letters section on the Web for easy reference.

Provide links to other websites and blogs: Websites can be referenced for additional information and perspectives on a variety of topics. No. 1, websites should be verified as credible sources of information. No. 2, editors must sift through the maze of blogs to see which ones are pertinent and worthwhile to the dialogue.

Enlist a citizens panel: Many newspapers are strapped for resources to present thorough coverage on a variety of issues important to a community. Select a citizens panel – representing a cross-section of your community’s demographics – and have them weigh in during the course of community discussion on important topics. Their observations and reactions can be posted immediately with minimal or no editing.

Distribute news alerts: Distribute e-mail blasts for breaking news. This will reinforce to readers that your newspaper is the first source for local news. Twitter and Facebook are mandatory avenues for distribution of alerts; keep an eye open for which services will replace or equal them in the future.

Provide a continuum of coverage: Editors would like to believe that all readers are attentive to the blow-by-blow developments in stories that run a course of weeks or even months. The reality is that people are busy and stories get missed. The Web presents an opportunity to chronicle stories from beginning to end, providing coverage is organized and easy to navigate.

Establish editor/reporter blogs: Newsrooms, as a clearinghouse of community information, places editors and reporters in excellent position to offer their insights. Many writers provide their perspectives with columns. Take this a step further – and make observations more immediate – with blogs. Set standards for what’s appropriate in a blog.

Encourage dialogue: Today’s media landscape is all about open community interaction. This “many to many” approach via comments, blogs, phone calls and live chat rooms allows the community to assume a significant role in reporting and discussing issues.

Don’t let anything go to waste: Use every bit of content around you as a journalist. If it is a news nugget, post it on Twitter, expand it into a feature story, leverage it to generate a Facebook discussion.

Go live with video: Use live video when appropriate to augment reports – a press conference outside City Hall or the scene of breaking news. Services such as Qik place print journalists on par, to an extent, with their broadcast counterparts.

Provide forum discussions: Allow readers to not only participate in online discussions, but to start them as well by introducing topics. Your goal is to provide as many opportunities as possible for readers to engage in communitywide dialogue.

Create an editor’s chat room: Engage your Twitter followers by creating an additional hashtag and be host to regular town hall meetings. Post half a dozen ideas or questions on what the newspaper is working on and see what kind of immediate feedback you receive. This can become a valuable following that also helps to introduce the most influential people for future sourcing.

The Web offers a variety of opportunities to complement and supplement coverage, but readers may well miss the additional content unless alerted.  Newspapers must continually cross-promote news between the print edition and the Web.