One Washington journalists analyzes social media and tries to learn from it.



How journalists can take advantage of Google Plus

The idea of embarking on another social media platform is daunting, but I know it would be a bad idea not to explore using Google Plus as a news gathering tool.

IJNet, a media organizations that helps journalists worldwide receive training and network, has outlined three tips for journalists seeking to use Google Plus for reporting.

The most interesting of these points is using the Hangout feature, a place to communicate via video with others in your circle, to interview sources. I’m always nervous about asking someone to confirm information through e-mail or instant messenger because there’s a chance that the person responding is not who she claims to be. But using a Hangout (or Skype, or Google chat’s video feature) eliminates these doubts.

Which tip is your favorite? And is there anything IJNet missed?



Delece’s social media guidelines (fourth major blog post)

Since this is the last week of my Social Media and Reporting class, I think it’s time I release my own social media guidelines. For months, my teachers have reviewed different platforms with us (Instagram, Flickr, Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr are just a few), explained how to engage an audience, confirm information, connect with sources, build a personal brand and similar topics. I honestly think I have a better grasp on this subject than I did 10 weeks ago. And to prove that I do, here are the guidelines I plan to use for myself, and encourage other journalists to use:

1. When using social media platforms, apply the same ethical standards that you would use when reporting on the phone, in person or in other traditional ways. Don’t misrepresent yourself, express a political or religious bias, spread lies (remember, Twitter and other sites are NOT places for spreading rumors) or other actions that would harm your reputation as a journalist or your newsroom’s reputation.

2. Do take the time to research how readers and other journalists use social media platforms before starting your own account(s). For example, if you are a political reporter interested in Twitter, what other journalists on your beat are already Tweeting well? (CBS journalist Mark Knoller comes to mind.) How does he or she interact with readers? 

3. Most social media sites have privacy settings that make select content harder to find. However, none of these settings can guarantee that something mentioned on social media is truly invisible to all who have internet access. Be aware that anything mentioned on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and similar sites can be accessed by the public. Even when you remove information, it’s never really gone.

4. Don’t delete social media posts. If you accidentally post something inaccurate, quickly do a follow-up post or Tweet explaining and correcting the mistake. It’s almost impossible to make content disappear on the web. Also, deleting information can give the impression that a journalist is hiding something from her readers. Own your mistakes, just as the newsroom would have to run a correction in broadcast, print or radio if a major inaccuracy was reported on one of those platforms.

4. Be a part of the community you’re targeting on social media. Rather than only post links to your stories or articles by your colleagues, also focus on engaging your readers. Ask them questions. Retweet or repost interesting reader comments. When possible, gauge their thoughts about story ideas. If you come across interesting content from a site that’s not affiliated with your own newsroom, don’t be afraid to post it. Show readers that social media is not just another area to promote yourself. Demonstrate that you’d like to include them in conversations based around the news, and that you like sharing with them content they will find interesting even if it doesn’t have your newsroom’s name on it.

4. Beware of arguing with readers about newsroom content on social media platforms, especially if you’re operating under your employer’s flagship account. A healthy discussion with varying thoughts can be refreshing and highlight a new perspective on an old topic. But sometimes journalists find themselves representing the newsroom’s policy on a topic when they are not authorized to do so. The Washington Post, my employer, found itself in a minor Twitter scandal last year over a Twitter argument with the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, also known as GLAAD. Tread carefully during online disputes so that you don’t end up like the the Post did.

5. It’s better to be right than to be first. Social media is not a place where standards of accuracy can fall by the waste side. If you’re considering sharing sensitive or possibly inaccurate information, wait until you can confirm the information before posting it. Or adopt a style similar to Andy Carvin, a senior strategist at NPR. Carvin is best known for Tweeting about unrest and uprisings in the Middle East. He will sometimes Tweet: “I’m hearing [fill in uncertain information here]. Can anyone confirm this?” His readers then know he is not sure of the information but is working hard to verify or debunk it. It also engages readers when you ask for their help in reporting.

6. When friending or following people on social media, make sure that a bias is not expressed based on who you choose to be on these lists. For example, if you are a television critic, it would not be wise to only like the Facebook fan pages of FOX, CBS and ABC without also liking NBC’s page. 

7. It’s okay to tackle one social media platform at a time. If you’re very comfortable on Tumblr and growing a following there, but feel overwhelmed by Facebook, don’t rush to start a Facebook fan page for your content. When a journalist is uncertain of how to use a social media platform, readers can often sense that something is off. Before adding another social media platform to your roster, ask yourself why you’d like to use this platform and how much time you’re able to devote to it. And if you’re comfortable handling multiple platforms, consider using programs like HootSuite or TweetDeck to make posting to several accounts at once an easier process.

8. It’s okay to post about your personal life on social media. Readers recognize that even the most dedicated beat reporter has a life outside of work. However, be tactful and refrain from mentioning any personal bias that connects to your beat. For example, if you cover the local mayor or local government, it’s not a good idea to say “Mayor Jones is the best mayor this place has seen in years.” But a journalist working in local news shouldn’t fear mentioning that he or she is watching Entourage, one of his or her favorite shows. Overall, use common sense about what personal information is too personal to be mentioned online.

9. Remember that growing a social media following and developing a relation with readers on these platforms takes time. It can’t happen in a day or even a week. Constant dedication is needed to be successful in these areas.

10. When in doubt about what to post on a social media account, ask your social media editor. That person will likely be the most knowledgeable person in the newsroom to review best practices, and to help with damage control if you’ve had a misstep.

Overall, journalists should use the common sense they already have to make intelligent decisions on social media. If they get into a jam, they should ask someone more experienced how to get out of it.



Doing anything and everything to be “liked”

I knew Facebook fans were important to newsrooms, but I didn’t know just how important they were until I read "A Strategy for Facebook" in the June/July issue of American Journalism Review.

Contributor Bob Palser reports that a Salt Lake City television station had reporters publicly compete against each other for Facebook friends (with, among other tactics, YouTube campaigns like this), while other newsrooms promised donations to charity if they acquired a certain amount of likes or friends within a set time frame. 

With 42 percent of social media users getting their news on sites like Facebook, according to a 2010 Pew Research Center report, courting Facebook fans isn’t a bad idea. But is it really worthwhile?

Palser throws out some information that makes it hard to answer that question, such as the low likelihood of someone liking a news organization to win an iPad becoming an engaged news consumer for that newsroom.

Still, the article makes you wonder: Should journalists do even more to increase their Facebook presence? And if so, what?



Learning to be a better writer by tweeting

What can you learn from sharing your thoughts in 140 characters or less?

How to write tighter and boost your confidence are just a few things Poynter’s Associate editor Mallary Jean Tenore has learned from her four years on the social network.

Tenore doesn’t make any groundbreaking points about the benefits of using Twitter, but for any journalist who still doubts the usefulness of this tool her article is worth reading.



Reuters reporter says it’s okay to spread rumors on Twitter

I disagree with Reuters reporter Felix Salmon. Salmon thinks Twitter is like a newsroom, and, according to him, rumors are always thrown around in a newsroom. His thoughts, expressed via Tumblr, comes on the heels of a debunked rumor spread on Twitter that CNN host Piers Morgan had been fired. But Twitter is a very public social network. Even when a profile is private, Tweets can still be found. If a rumor is announced on Twitter, it can spread quickly. And if it’s false it can damage the journalist’s reputation, the newsroom’s reputation and the reputation of the person who the rumor is about. 

Rem Rieder, American Journalism Review’s editor and senior vice president, shares my outrage in a story for the magazine. Read why Rieder believes Salmon’s ideas are ill thought out, and then let me know who you agree with: Salmon or Rieder?



SCVNGR | How To Play from SCVNGR on Vimeo.

Interested in Scvngr? This video explains how it works. It;s very similar to Foursquare, but it’s designed more as a game for people to compete against their friends. Users can go places and complete challenges: check in, snap a photo at their destination, say something while checked in and more. Readers get a certain number of points for each challenge, and use points to get coupons and other goodies. Ideally, a user would want to get more points than her friends.

Journalists can use this tool to find people at a location. Once you check in at a destination, it’s easy to see who else has checked in and what is being said about this place. The hard part is communicating with other people on Scavngr who are not your friends. 

For example, I checked into Gallaudet University since it’s in my neighborhood and found out that a guy named Josh had also checked in three months ago. Once I clicked on Josh’s profile, there wasn’t a system in place that would allow me to communicate with Josh through Scvngr. 

If I friended Josh that could possibly give me an avenue to communicate with him directly, but I’d rather not scare him with a random friend request. 

Also, Scvngr doesn’t seem to be very popular right now. It’s been out since at least January of 2009, but I don’t know anyone who uses it. If the number of users begin to marginally rival Facebook or Twitter, I’d look at it more as a reporting tool. But until it does, I’ll play around with it for fun.



How to make sure your news travels far on the web

Altruism, self-definition, empathy, connectedness and evangelism are the five reasons people share content on the web according to a new study by the New York Times. Poynter writer Jeff Sonderman goes into detail about why these reasons motivate people to share content and how newsrooms can use the study’s findings to their benefit.

Read Sonderman’s story here ( and then tell me, do you think there’s a sixth reason? Are these really the main reasons people link to an interesting story on Facebook or retweet an article on Twitter?



Using social media for work and play: How many profiles are enough?

A few weeks ago I feared my Facebook account would be deactivated by Mark Zuckerberg himself. Okay, maybe not literally by Mark, but quite possibly one of his employees.

I was sitting in class listening to guest speaker Vadim Lavrusik, Facebook’s journalist program manager, discuss how journalists can use Facebook to share their content, polish off their personal brand and find sources. I asked him if it’s good for a journalist to have two profiles, one for personal use and the other for professional work. He quickly told me no. Facebook actually checks to make sure people don’t have multiple accounts because having, for example, several Delece Smith-Barrows on the social media site, could lead to identity issues. Vadim encouraged journalists to create a separate professional page to help keep their personal life from mixing with professional happenings on Facebook.

I panicked. I had recently created a second personal account to be used as an administrator for The Washington Post’s On Parenting Facebook page.

That night, I took down my second profile and listed the “real” me as an administrator on the page. But this incident got me thinking: Is it always best for journalists to have separate professional and personal profiles on social media? Should they tweet/post things on Facebook under their own name, or under their news organization’s name? What are the pros and cons of taking either approach?

I spoke with T.J. Ortenzi, senior social media producer at The Washington Post, to get some answers. Before coming to the The Post, Ortenzi was the Associate News Editor at Huffington Post. Before that he managed the Twitter account for the Seattle Times while also serving as an associate news producer for their newsroom.

At the Post, Ortenzi helps manage the company’s main Facebook and Twitter accounts and tries to “elevate social media in our stories.”

When I asked Ortenzi if journalists should have professional or fan pages on Facebook, he made a face as though someone had waved spoiled milk in front of his nose. It “comes off as having an inflated ego,” Ortenzi said. “The goal should be fewer accounts and one online presence.” Ortenzi likened a journalist who has a Facebook fan page as someone who says “I’m somebody, who’s somebody enough who needs their own page.”

Who does Ortenzi think is an exception to this policy? Kim Kardashian, he says. After laughing at his response, he clarified it to say a journalist who is really popular and recognized by millions is the kind of journalist who needs a fan page.

At the Post, Ortenzi practices what he preaches. He lists his personal Facebook account as an administrator on The Post’s Facebook Page, and his name links to his personal Twitter account in the Post’s Twitter bio. While the company has him Tweet under the Washington Post Twitter handle @washingtonpost, if a follower has a question, he’ll reply under his own account but make it clear that he is not speaking on the Post’s behalf. (Last year, the Post was in a media firestorm after a staffer responded under the Post’s Twitter handle to a tweet from GLAAD that criticized the Post’s coverage.) 

Ortenzi looks at establishing multiple accounts on one social media platform as unnecessarily putting up barriers between himself and news consumers.

"If you want more privacy, Facebook has privacy setting that lets you do that," he says.

To get a sense of which journalists are doing well at mixing personal and professional online, Ortenzi suggests following Felix Salmon, a Reuters reporter, on Twitter. (Twitter is Ortenzi’s favorite social media site: “When it’s done right, it’s revealing.”)

Instead of worrying about if you’re revealing too much about your favorite TV shows or shopping habits, Ortenzi suggests journalists focus on avoiding social media pitfalls, such as overlooking their natural voice and ignoring the value of curating.

Editor’s Note: Many of the words in this post are hyperlinked, although it’s not visibly apparent. As you scroll over the post, words which are linked will change color from black to light blue.



Analyzing social media guidelines for the Wall Street Journal newsroom

As I did with the Roanoke Times, I will analyze the social media policy by the Wall Street Journal. The Journal has more than 10 times the daily circulation rate of the Times (2. 1 million according to Wikipedia), a bigger staff and a much larger focus on national news. But even with all of these differences, the two news organizations should have the same goals when it comes to social media: to efficiently share content, find sources and curate information. The Wall Street Journal’s guidelines don’t appear to adequately prepare journalists to do this. But the guidelines did have some good points. I’ll highlight the good and bad of the Journal’s very, very brief guidelines.


  • The guidelines are succinct. A Journal staffer can quickly get the gist of what Journal managers expects of her in terms of using social media.
  • Asking staffers not to engage in impolite dialogue with people who challenge their work is a tip that any journalist who manages their newsroom’s main account should follow. (The Washington Post learned this lesson the hard way last year. ) Unless you are explicitly given permission to comment on behalf of the newsroom, beyond posting links, it may be better to refrain from getting in arguments of any sort on social media.

And that’s it. Unfortunately, the guidelines didn’t give much guidance. My list of cons are after the jump.

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Analyzing social media guidelines for the Roanoke Times newsroom

My teacher Steve Buttry has challenged my classmates and I to analyze the pros and cons of social media guidelines from two newspapers, and to discuss our thoughts in an upcoming class. I’ve chosen to review guidelines for the Roanoke Times and The Wall Street Journal.

Before class, I’ll share my thoughts on both policies here. I’ll start with the Roanoke Times.


  • Using social media, especially Twitter, in a breaking news situation is highly encouraged for staff at the Times. ”We should aggressively use Twitter to push out links to breaking news on our site. It is also a valuable tool in soliciting sources or providing further affirmation as a breaking news event develops,” the guidelines say. The Times recognizes that social media can be helpful for sharing information quickly and using engaged Twitter followers to get new information.
  • The Times’ flagship Twitter account has 4,261 followers, less than 5 percent of its estimated daily circulation (not counting Sunday), which is 97,000 according to Wikipedia. This isn’t a bad number, considering only 8 percent of Americans are on the social media platform, but the guideline writers are smart to push staff to promote the main Twitter feed more. As Twitter continues to grow in populariy, the Times can use it more often for sharing news, curation and audience engagement. For people who truly want the most up-to-date information on what’s happening in Roanoke, the Time’s Twitter feed may be the best way to get it.
  • People often forget that no matter how many privacy settings you have in place, what you say on social media is not private. The section “Don’t post information that could discredit you or this newsroom, even if you believe your page is private” makes it clear how easily a message posted on Facebook or Twitter can go viral, and journalists must always keep that in mind. (I have a private Twitter account but some of my Tweets are still open to the public if you Google me.)
  • Who a journalist likes, friends or follows gives keen insight into her preferences. The Times reminds its journalist that if you’re going to like one political group on Facebook, its best to like them all to appear unbiased and to use this approach on any social media platform with any topic someone reports. No matter what your beat is, every journalist should be aware of this when establishing a following online.

Unfortunately, the cons outweigh the pros. Read what the guidelines missed after the jump.

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