Monday, February 15, 2010

Q and A with an online journalist

Happy President's Day everyone!  I hope you all had a great Valentine's Day as well.  It's strange to have two back to back holidays like this, but I'm enjoying it.

I have a treat for you today.  Let me set it up.  We've been talking so much about social media lately, and, yes, it IS very important for small businesses and non-profits to take an active role in social media to raise their profile, attract new customers and shareholders and spread their message.

However, traditional media is still not only relevant but the primary source of information for most Americans today.  This means your public relations efforts need to be focused and smart.  With that said, online and social media strategies have changed the way traditional news outlets gather and disseminate information.

Marc Sternfield is the Senior Web Producer for FOX31 News in Denver, Colorado.  Marc is a consummate journalist and someone who I have worked with in the past and have much respect for when it comes to his news instincts and abilities.  As one of the individuals in Denver how is on the front lines of the changing face of "traditional news media" as it embraces new technologies and strategies to meet the public's needs and still maintain journalistic integrity, I thought he would be the perfect person to talk about how social media and the online medium has changed news.

Below you will see ten questions, some posed by me, and others posed by readers of this blog.  Marc has taken the time to answer them all.  This is an insight into how news, whether its a network or a local outfit, has been and will continue to be influenced and impacted by online and social media networks.

The questions are in bold, Marc's answers are directly below the questions.  I have not edited these answers or questions in any way.  Nor have I commented on the answers.  Any comments I add are at the end of the QnA.  By the way, if you would like to check out some of Marc's work, you can see the FOX31 News Denver website here: http://www.kdvr.com/

Please enjoy the insight:

You have been a producer in news for a long time. How is producing a daily news show different from producing online news content?

Marc Sternfield wrote - One has a lot more flexibility to produce different types of content online than on television. In a typical TV newscast, you try to pack a whole day’s worth of ‘hard’ news, along with weather and sports, into a limited amount of time. Then, the next day, you look at your overnight Nielsen ratings to see how you did. On the Web, you have real-time access to your metrics to see what people are clicking on, and can make the necessary adjustments. Hard news is important to deliver, but it’s not uncommon to find that off-beat stories or entertainment news draw more interest.

How has the integration of social media changed the local news industry?

Marc Sternfield wrote - Social media has turned what is traditionally a passive medium -meaning people sit back and watch or read the news- into an active one. Viewers have the ability to interact with the news product and contribute to it in a variety of ways, none of which were available when I first started in the industry 15 years ago. They can send us news tips, photos and videos electronically. They can communicate with the news staff via blogs and chat rooms. Social media, namely Facebook and Twitter today, also provide a variety of new marketing opportunities and ways to build viewer loyalty.

What have you seen to be the biggest impact social has had on the interaction between newsrooms and local viewers/the general audience?

Marc Sternfield wrote - See above.

How are you using the station website in an innovative way to reach out to attract new viewers while still catering to the longterm viewers?

Marc Sternfield wrote - We try to cast a very broad ‘net’ (excuse the pun) and produce content that will appeal to as many different people in as many different ways as possible. From the standard ‘hard news’ fare, sports, weather, traffic and entertainment, to alternative types of content like games, fun photo galleries, viral videos, etc. Since our web sites offer the ability to share links through email or social bookmarking, the station brands can spread and grow organically. Mobile products are important as well, since our audience is increasingly wireless. It’s important to stay ahead of the technological curve.

What kind of content do you see getting the most reaction/clicks/downloads/shares from your online viewers and users?

Marc Sternfield wrote - Politically-charged and bizarre news stories tend to garner the most national and international attention. Compelling photo galleries also get a lot of clicks.

Is the content you put online different from the kind of content/stories presented during the regular broadcasts? If so, how?

Marc Sternfield wrote - We post every reporter story online, but as I mentioned earlier, we supplement that with a variety of other types of content which either don’t belong in typical local newscast, or don’t really translate well outside of the online world.

What kind of changes do you think social media will have on newsrooms regarding news reporting and audience interaction in the future?

Marc Sternfield wrote - I think it will continue to evolve. One social media product will give way to another, and then another. Newsrooms will be chasing a moving target for quite some time. But I believe the focus should always be on improving the viewer experience, and not simply cluttering it in the name of looking cool or hip. We rely on our viewers now more than ever to help alert us to what’s going on in the community and, in that regard, simplicity is key.

Has social media/online news changed the way newsrooms communicate with important news figures and public relations professionals? If so, how?

Marc Sternfield wrote - I think the increasing use of email and online file-sharing makes it easier for PR professionals to send photos and video to a newsroom in addition to a standard press release. Depending on the type of content, one well-produced multimedia email can include all of the elements a newsroom needs to run a story.

As a journalist and an online news content producer, what word of advice would you give to small businesses and non-profits looking to use social media to garner earned media coverage?

Marc Sternfield wrote - Social media alone isn’t enough. Traditional methods of pitching stories and segment ideas are still relevant. 

Again, thank you Marc for taking the time to answer these questions.  For small business owners and non-profit directors, here is my take on Marc's answers, and what you can use to help you in both your public relations efforts, but in your social media efforts as well.

What this means to you:

1.  Newsrooms are still growing into this medium, just as we all are.  I agree when Marc says "Newsrooms will be chasing a moving target for a long time."  However, he also gets it right when he points out that the technology is really just the delivery vehicle.  In the end, the story has to be interesting to the audience you are trying to reach.  In a newsroom's case, the audience is most likely much larger than the audience for a small business or non-profit.  Regardless, focusing on having interesting and useful content is vital and will help you get your message out to the masses with the help of your local news outlet.

2.  Multimedia is essential as we move into the second decade of the 21st century.  Whether your pitching to a print outlet, a television station, even a radio station, you must have interesting and compelling visuals.  Whether its photos or video, every news outlet today is catering to readers, listeners and viewers who find them online.  This quote from Marc should stick with you as you put together your media kit.  "Depending on the type of content, one well-produced multimedia email can include all of the elements a newsroom needs to run a story."

3.  Finally, I just wanted to reiterate Marc's last statement.  Social media alone isn't enough.  It just isn't.  Just as a public relations strategy can be effective on one level, in today's world, it's about multi-level platforms.  When you put together your social media strategy, you HAVE to think about how your public relations efforts will help or hinder your social media plan.  PR pro's are starting to realize that social media is a great enhancer to solid PR strategies (even if marketers still don't seem to get it).  By the same token, social media "experts" need to realize that good PR can do wonders to enhance a smart social media plan.

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