Are we too forgiving of mistakes? A call to demand credibility.

Social Awareness Comments Off on Are we too forgiving of mistakes? A call to demand credibility.
Apr 242013

I keep watching the debates, and heck throwing up questions to encourage debates about the swearing anchor who got fired right after his first night.  Many brought up the fact that EVERYONE knows (or should know) to assume a mic is always hot.  Some say management essentially set him up.  Many thought it was wrong that he ended up being essentially celebrated on the morning show circuit.  At the heart of all of these debates is a simple, yet crucial quality all journalists must possess to do their jobs: Credibility.

As a rule of thumb, I try not to throw up a strong opinion about the industry much on survivetvnewsjobs.  Frankly, who am I to say much, right?  I’m just another longtime journalist who worked hard and had a mostly rewarding career in the biz.  BUT, when I do editorialize it is consistently about one issue: Credibility.

I could go off on the fact that each time a new anchor debuts on-air, stations should require run throughs to prevent confusion and calm nerves.  I could go off on the producer and/or director for not personally counting down the brand new anchor coming out of each commercial break so he would not get confused.  Or I could go off on the anchor for not assuming the mic is always hot, even when he walks down the hall after the flipping newscast. (By the way, reading scripts and adding pronouncers so you can get through tough names ahead of time is very helpful)  I could also go off on the industry as a whole for continuing to give very inexperienced journalists, roles that are simply too big, do it too quickly and with no training to get them up to speed.  The sink or swim mentality has always been a part of TV news that begs for this kind of scenario.  That’s why I constantly write articles about training issues.

But my focus in this article is this:  How many industry leaders, from local news to network, are flippant about mistakes.  I get “Live with Kelly and Michael” throwing this guy on TV.  It’s a pure entertainment show.  But the anchors on the Today show appealing to people to give him a second chance?  Despite Today leaning more toward infotainment, many still consider it a news program.  What does that say for their anchors’ credibility?  It’s crazy,  but not surprising.  After all a CNN internal note and spokesperson’s statement  hit the web essentially stating “So what if we screwed up on huge facts during the Boston marathon bombing.  It’s ok because we then corrected the gaffes within the hour, so it was an excellent job.”  In another memo, the AP reminds its staff about it’s one source policy. (Get another source too and really verify first source’s credibility) How about industry analysts using the same excuse:  Consumers have a “responsibility” to know the information they are being given may be unverified when following Twitter and online websites. I get that this meant to include an average joe’s blog or twitter feed, BUT it’s too cavalier an attitude about news people online. How many stories has your station or network aired obliterating a doctor, company or law enforcement office for serious mistakes that resulted from lack of training or resources?  Do we accept cheap excuses from them when we cover their mistakes?

So let’s get to the core of the importance of credibility.  Everyone from the swearing anchor, on his first day, to the high powered execs at CNN and AP needs to understand that the entire industry’s future is on the line.  It is an honor and a privilege to report news.  This is not a reality TV show.  Communities depend on the information.  And they depend on it being right.  If you want to be a star, go to hollywood or your local theater.  You impact people’s daily lives in crucial ways.  When will this industry openly admit this behavior is shameful?  It is against everything a journalist is supposed to stand for.  Make fun of that all you want, (many of you will) but I know a lot of journalists who still believe in the institution.  Show pride, join them.  Networks: Could you set the standard again?  Is that really asking too much?  Let’s start with this:  Have two credible sources verify information before you run it?  Is that really so hard to do even during breaking news?  Is that really such a novel concept that you have to send out a memo saying it needs to start happening again?  If a journalist tweets supposed “facts” without verifying information and running it past a manager, there should be discipline.  Make it crystal clear that the errors will not be tolerated.  Is that really so hard?  It shouldn’t be.

I would love to know why the swearing anchor went into news.  Does he feel a sense of social responsibility?  I am calling him out because he seems to be eating up the publicity and seems unconcerned about the potential ramifications for the business he represents.  I felt a little bad for him until he hit the talk show circuit.  Now, he’s opened himself up for analysis and critique.  I have also invited him to join our community and support network so he can grow with us, if he is a dedicated journalist.

Now I ask you:  Is it better if he just wants to be on TV?  Will he thrive more, because so many higher ups obviously view the biz as a type of entertainment or at least something you just throw on the air and hope it works?

If you believe being a TV journalist is a calling, please do every other like minded person a favor, post this in your newsroom somewhere.  Then take a picture of the article hanging on the wall and post it to the survivetvnewsjobs Facebook page.  Let’s show some pride for the “calling” that being a journalist really is for many of you.  Who actually has the guts to demand that the entire newsroom, believe in themselves and expect more?  Make a call demanding credibility.  This industry depends on it!

————————————————

FYI, Beth Johnson, the founder of Survivetvnewsjobs wrote this article.

With spring storm season here, I was eager to watch the locals show off their meteorologists and storm coverage during a recent tornado warning. It was a weekend. A nationally televised sporting event was happening in town, one channel had a NASCAR race running and March Madness was cooking too. These obviously add a lot of pressure to the weekend crews.  I could write an article on how obvious it was which stations planned ahead for this possible scenario and which obviously left weekend crews high and dry.  (The threat of storms was forecast days in advance.)  But frankly, talking about how bad that is to do to a weekend crew is just too obvious.  So let’s talk about something interesting I really noticed during this Sunday after storm.  Reporters and meteorologists were tweeting from home, with compelling elements to really “own “ station coverage online.

Two stations really stood out for this.  Anchors, reporters and meteorologist hopped on Twitter and talked about what the storms were doing at their location despite clearly having the day off.  They asked for descriptions from Twitter followers.  They added information beyond the studio crew.

My favorite highlights:  a weekday meteorologist who was off, started sending out information about areas that were about to see rain bands and wind.  A weekday news anchor (also off that day) started describing what the weather was like and showed images too.  Reporters started conversations with followers about what the skies looked like overhead, whether they were ducking for cover and even how the kids were reacting to the wind and rain bands.  The tweets were real, appropriate and created tangible connections with the community they served.  Very cool!

When tweeting about the weather keep in mind that it is an incredible instant connection to people directly impacted by what you are covering.  Allow discussion.  It can create amazing moments and connections that will help supplement your station’s on-air coverage.  In my case, I had switched to another station to watch when tweets started coming in from a competitor that explained what was happening so well, I switched again.  I knew that was the station that was giving the best explanation of what to expect.  The bases were truly covered by a dedicated staff that contributed any way they could, willingly.  These journalists wanted to be watchdogs for their community, even when it was their day off.  A big win for sure.

 

Hurling insults. How to cope with social media attacks.

Social Awareness Comments Off on Hurling insults. How to cope with social media attacks.
Jan 022013

When a morning anchor in Wisconsin delivered an editorial as a response to a Facebook comment about her weight, I watched journalists speak overwhelmingly in support of her and her station’s decision.  Now, a meteorologist in Louisiana has been fired for her responses to Facebook comments about her hairstyle.  Once again journalists started buzzing on Twitter about how hard it is to take viewer insults, especially on social media.

No doubt this is a very difficult part of the job.  During the shootings in Aurora, I read a local reporter’s Twitter feed daily for updates.  I noticed a viewer scold the reporter for sending out tweets asking for hook ups with families of someone in the theater at the time of the shooting.  The viewer said the timing seemed harsh (this was during the first day after the shooting).  The reporter replied, that he/she was just doing their job and the viewer did not have to follow the feed.  I also saw a viewer call out a morning anchor for too many inside jokes on Twitter with other morning anchors.  This anchor replied, too bad, if you don’t like it don’t read and stop trying to ruin the fun.  And that there are other options in town, take one.

I understand that viewers can sometimes be out of line.  I also understand you may get insults by the dozens at times.  But I have to say, reading these responses can really undermine people’s view of you.  The burden is on the journalist to take the high road.  Keep in mind, by virtue of simply being on TV, you are a local celebrity and are held to a different standard than someone who is not.

So what do you do?   The simple answer, thank the viewer for the input and decide if there is any merit to their comments.  If there isn’t, let it go.  If there is, be grateful someone made you aware.  But remember the viewer is the customer, and attacking a customer, in any kind of public setting, is just bad business.  If the insult is very personal and offensive, let management know.  You should have a running dialogue with your ND on how the station handles these things.  In some cases, the station takes care of the response.

The fact that these insults happened on social media, takes the discussion to another level.  It is one thing to call a person back, on the phone, and have a moment of weakness by saying something you should not.  It is quite another to do it in a social media forum where it is public and you cannot take it back.  That response, even if you delete it, is essentially forever findable.  Bottom line it is in writing and therefore more permanent.  Not the place for a moment of weakness.  That’s why you need to communicate regularly with a manager about these responses.  If your management team will not discuss options with you, send only “Thanks for the suggestion.” then let it go online.  Viewers and potential employers can only take the comments at face value.  Make sure whatever yoiur response is, it’s the representation you want to follow you throughout your career.

I have almost no doubt you have heard plenty of talk about the importance of being social media savvy, especially when job hunting.  But is your account truly ready for potential bosses “checking in?”  Now that I am also researching and in some cases recruiting journalists for jobs, I am finding that social media accounts are a gold mine of information.  A lot of it you may not even realize.  Until now.

What prospective employers are looking at.

  • Your personality
  • Who your friends are
  • Who your friends are not
  • Potential liabilities

Prospective bosses are reading your tweets, FB postings and any other social media sites they can find you on.  If they get your name or a resume reel, they immediately hop online to check you out.  Count on the fact that they will read what you say from then on, regularly.  So if you complain that all the other women in the newsroom hate you, make fun of viewers, or gripe about everything under the sun, you are sending a clear message that you are a pain in the a#! and hiring you should be avoided.  I am not saying that every tweet has to be sunshine and roses.  You can be real.  You just don’t want to come across as bitter, neurotic, high maintenance or just plain difficult.  That will hurt you immensely.  Also, do not make your twitter account your outlet for your hobby only.  This is really meant for major sports buffs.  If almost every tweet is about your favorite team, consistently over several weeks, you won’t be taken as seriously. (I am talking to news people here, not sporto’s.)  Potential bosses are looking for people who provide thought provoking conversations on a variety of subjects.  They are looking to see if you have the ability to network, and how you interact with your “audience.”

Also, you should be aware that potential employers cruise through your list of friends on your social media accounts.  They monitor which groups you hashtag with regularly on twitter.  The reasons are fascinating.  In some cases, they are checking to see if you are already a Twitter pal with people in their own newsroom.  Maybe you are buds with another reporter/producer/anchor candidate up for the same job.  It is a way to see if you have “friends” in common.  Then they know of ways to check you out, besides that reference list you provided.

They also check to see who you are not friends with.  Do you tweet with coworkers at all?  Do you seem to only talk to fellow Giants or 49er fans?  Do you have broad appeal or are you a one subject wonder surrounded by “followers” of the same thinking?  By reading your friends list, a manager can figure out a lot about how well you integrate with all types of people.

Finally, they look for potential liabilities.  Do you tell off the viewer that balls you out on your Twitter feed?  Do you talk about getting drunk last night?  Do you use the f-word or make crass comments. (Yes, this includes posts on any personal accounts.  Assume they will get access one way or another.)  A lot of GM’s and ND’s have interesting Twitter identities you would never guess, just so they can check on unsuspecting employees and/or potential hires.

Now that you know what potential employers are checking out, make sure you give them a clear look at all you have to offer.  Show off your personality, networking abilities and interaction with your viewers.  Your social media accounts, especially Twitter, are an easy way to really give insight into your worth.  Just focus on your strengths, and give yourself an edge over the competition.

Awhile back a news newbie asked me, “Why do we have to market ourselves so much? I didn’t learn how to do that at school.”  Dare I say, the reason she didn’t learn that was because many J-schools are still sorting it out themselves.  Using social media to market yourself and your work is relatively new.  In fact there are still quite a few NDs that are struggling to understand how to market themselves and their stations online.

That’s all the more reason why you need to market yourself.  Being among the first to stick your nose out and develop relationships with your community will help make you an asset as your ND or station “comes around.”

The good thing about marketing yourself online is that you not only showcase how you can connect with people in a tangible way, you showcase how you will create community at any future jobs.  This can give you an edge in the job market.  Lord knows, we all want an edge.

It also can make it harder for your current boss to say you are irrelevant to the news organization if you have thousands of people checking in with you each day.  This goes for any job in the newsroom.  Producers, directors, assignment editors and photojournalists all provide interesting perspectives viewers want to see, hear and read.

 

You also want to get comfortable with the lingo and concepts being tested online.  No doubt that social media will continue to impact how news is covered.  Just look at the daily # trending on Twitter to see the influences.  You learn what is happening and how to participate by doing.  More and more companies are requiring journalists to get involved online.  It is nice not to have to do so “cold turkey.”

Finally, this is the way journalists are networking nowadays to find work.  You need to understand how to use it to your benefit in case you need to find a job quickly.  You need to see how the networking happens.  It also gives you a chance to connect with other journalists and exchange notes.  It is another type of job insurance that could be priceless.

So if you are starting out on social media and are trying to figure out what to do, my suggestion is to start with Twitter.  Check out #AMNewsers and #Backchannel for starters.  Watch how these “communities” work with each other.  Before you know it, you can create your own # network and get the bosses singing your praises.

 

A news producer’s job is never done.  Trust me, I am one.  How do we both engage the anchors and keep our newscasts looking fresh and relevant to an audience who has had access to the internet all day long?  I’m about to suggest a method that will initially make many of you cringe.

Add Twitter to your repertoire. It will make you a better producer who can come up with story ideas faster and have a better grasp on what people in the “real world” are talking about at any given time.

Ok, now that you’ve read that twice, done the gratuitous spit take, and asked the screen (or your fellow producers, for that matter) how on Earth you will have time for that in an already slammed day, I’ll explain.  Again, trust me: I jumped into the Twitterverse about 3 years ago now.  I have no on-screen presence, so no one knows me.  Yet, as of this writing, I have 2100+ followers – more than any of the on-air talent at our station – and it has helped me come up with stories, angles, sources, and scoops that have eluded reporters assigned to those beats.  Believe me yet?  Then let’s get started.

Step One: Get on Twitter

For some reason, most TV producers are technophobes.  We may work with computers all day, but few of us know how they work, and I believe that lack of knowledge leads us to be late adopters of any new technology.  In my shop, I’m the Go-To-Girl (outside our online department, that is) when it comes to social media.   For anyone reading this, I will direct you to this very readable article from Mashable to set yourself up accordingly.  Instead of reinventing the wheel; we take someone else’s wheel and put some shiny new spinners on it!

Step Two: Start with the familiar

As with anything new, I’m going to suggest that you start with something familiar.  For a producer, that’s a press release.  A number of government organizations, non-profits, and other groups use Twitter as just another venue to distribute the traditional press releases.  Not ideal for them, but their lost opportunity is still our gain.  Recognizing this is one of the first steps toward using Twitter to make your day more efficient.

Take 30 minutes or so per day for a week or two and find the Twitter feeds of all the major newsmakers in your area.  For example, I’m in North Carolina.  My governor has a Twitter account.  So does my DOT, where I can get all the info on closed roads, and upcoming road hearings and construction projects.  That’s news your viewers want to use.  All the major universities near me Tweet their news, and so do a number of state agencies.  All of a sudden, some of that stuff that’s cluttering up my inbox, I can read while I’m on Twitter.  There’s one major difference, though: The press release in your inbox is a static document.  The Tweet is dynamic – people highlight the parts they find pertinent, they comment upon it, and the forward it to friends.  This gives you insight into what’s really important in a news release, instead of just the headline.

Once you start collecting a number of similar sources, create lists.  That makes it easy to check the updates without them getting lost in your information stream.  That may seem pointless now, but the more successful at this you become, the more you’ll need these tools to sift through the information so nothing important slips through the cracks.  I use HootSuite to make that happen, but some of my co-workers swear by TweetDeck as well.  Others use the original Twitter interface. Bottom line, get organized now before the data overwhelms you.

One more thing before we leave this step – follow your competition!  It’s just like watching their newscast or reading their website, and I guarantee they’ll follow you when they see you becoming active online.  Get their main account, then look for their individuals, both behind the scenes and in front of the camera.  Think twice before interacting, though.  Take commenting slowly, and with a grain of salt, unless you know them personally.  Also be aware, your management may frown upon actual interaction with the “Other Guys” beyond just following them.

Step Three: Start the conversation

Now, Tweet something.  It’s that simple.  When you go to a Meet up group, the only guaranteed way to get people to start talking to you is to start conversation with them.  So begin.  Start small – after all, you’re still looking for your voice.  Tweeting a tease for your newscast is a good start, but make sure you’re not all news, all the time.  Have a conversation with the general public.  Ask open-ended questions that people are encouraged to answer.  Post random musings or some of those funny things you overhear in a newsroom.   Don’t do anything stupid, like posting where your spare key is hidden or that Fido the Guard Dog is all alone at your house tonight.

For the numbers-based producers among us, when starting out, I’d try to go 60%-40% news-non news tweets. As you start to develop an audience, drop back to 40% news (including news organization retweets) 30% non-news, 30% interacting with people and retweets of actual people.  These are just guidelines, though, for people who feel better with rules to follow.  In the end, let your gut reaction be your guide.

A few examples from my last few days:

My boyfriend asked me, could haiku fit in a tweet?  Yes, with space to spare.  This falls into random… Doesn’t require an answer, but people will anyway.

The National Honesty Index says redheads are more honest than blondes or brunettes! Woo hoo Gingers! (I am one – I can say that!)  This is part of me being me online… not quite random but not overly informative either

Read @jgravleyWRAL to get the developments on Butch Davis releasing his personal cell records  This tweet doubles as relating news AND relationship-building… SCORE!
Get your whooping cough vaccine! A baby in Forsyth County is now the first 2012 pertussis death in NC – @WRAL at noon to find out where the shots are   Blatant news tease, but it doesn’t read like one. You get something out of it even if you don’t watch the news

Which brings me to something to watch out for – when you do tweet news teases, be sure to offer substance in the tweet itself.  Don’t make the whole thing a tease, or people will stop reading your stream.  I’ve read many a news station tweet that is aiming solely for the gratuitous click-through, so they say something to the effect of

“Let us know if this is the way you think the logo should look” followed by a link to their website.

That makes me, as a reader, feel a little used.  I would suggest changing it to something like this to make readers feel engaged:

“The state DOT has three options for the new construction zone sign. You can vote for your favorite on our website (same link here)

See – don’t you feel better knowing what you’re clicking?  More satisfied?  Thought you might.  On to step 4 – the other half of the conversation.
Step Four: Find some listeners

So far, we’ve followed institutions, and we’ve started talking.  Now it’s time to make sure people are listening.  Some of the organizational accounts you’ve followed have probably followed you back, and that’s a start.  However, taking Twitter to the next level means finding humans and acting human online.  This is where real life interactions come in.  If you know someone in your area who is big into Twitter, ask them for a few people to follow.  Once you get to know them, ask those people for more suggestions.

Pay attention to the #FF (follow Friday) recommendations that go by – a number of people will qualify their posts so you know what you’re getting.  For example, #FF TV Edition, #FF Raleigh Socialites, #FF Coworkers, et cetera.  Check out the ones that are in areas you’re interested in learning more about – if you don’t like them or they aren’t useful, it’s okay to unfollow them later.

Resist the urge to follow anyone and everyone in an attempt to “collect” followers – try to stick to people who are saying things you find interesting, whether it’s about work or your hobbies or a celebrity who interests you.  Once you find these people, actually read their tweets.  Respond. Interact.  Soon you’ll be someone who is on their radar screen, and you’ll move from feeling like you’re “talking at” people to actually “conversing with” them.

There’s even something to learn from all those organizational account I asked you to follow.  Some of them use Twitter as a press release clearinghouse, others actually get it.  They use their 140 characters wisely to draw you into their organization or the story they’re selling that day.  One of our local universities does a stellar job with this – They send out their typical press releases via email, but when they boil it down to put on Twitter, they find the “why you should care” element and sell it well.  While I am honored they believe journalists can make sense of some of the highly academic language, we often skip interesting things farther down the release because we miss or just can’t find the “Why we care” factor.  Twitter can help you tease that out, both in picking stories and in writing them.
These are the steps that just make Twitter an enjoyable experience.  Now, it’s time to step up and get your news cred out there too.

Step Five: Before you click that Retweet button…    

As you start reading posts, you’ll find a few things you want to share.  Twitter makes that so easy – a few clicks and boom – retweeted to all your followers.  Before you make that set of clicks, though, pause and ask yourself:

1) is it really interesting or really funny?  Or are you just putting another LOLcat out there?

2) Where does it come from?  My rule of thumb is that any news organization that my station respects enough to call by name on the air, I’ll retweet without worries.  So just like we would say “A Washington Post investigation reports…” I have no problem retweeting content from the Washington Post.  Same for AP, CNN, BBC, and NPR – add to the list as you see fit for your area.  On the flip side, I’d stay away from retweeting any other content from major media in your own market.  Independents organizations are ok in my book – they may even thank you for it – but no helping out the local newspaper.

3) Is it on my site already, or can I get it on my site so the link I post drives the traffic there?  If you see a funny story on the wires and want to tweet a link, check your station’s site first.  If it’s not there, ask your web folks if they’ll put it up.  If your station is serious about social media, they’ll appreciate the fact that you thought of driving the traffic to your own site rather than MSNBC or Yahoo News.

Step Six: Adding a Link

It’s worth a paragraph or two here to talk about link shorteners.  Links can take up valuable real estate in a tweet, and the shorter they are, the better.  I’m lucky enough not to have to worry about it – our company’s dedication to social media included unique URLs that can be shortened so that all that appears in the tweet is www.wral.com/{unique story ID number here} .  Talk to your online division to see if you have anything similar.

If you don’t, this is the argument for using a management website such as HootSuite or TweetDeck for your interface.  Both have link shorteners built into their tweet page – just copy, paste, click “shorten” and voila – an owl.ly or a bit.ly link takes the place of the mumbo jumbo you started with.
Step Seven: Live Tweet something

Next time you have breaking news, start live tweeting it.  If you can, use a hash tag that makes it obvious you’re local, such as #ncwx  or #RaleighTraffic.  Each situation calls for a different approach, but here are a few I’ve found to be most common:

In a weather situation, send out updates on where the storm is, who needs to watch out, and when viewers share, retweet their descriptions and images!  Put out the all-call on the broadcast for people to send information via Facebook and Twitter, then use that information liberally (once it’s confirmed!).  I would also recommend reminding people to do so WHEN IT IS SAFE.  You’d be surprised what some people will do to get their 10 seconds of cell phone video on TV.

For a developing situation, a verdict being read in court, anything with background or multiple layers, try to keep the tweets coming.  You don’t have to send an update every 30 seconds, but as developments come into the newsroom and get confirmed, send ’em out.  Keep your writing to a headline-style – it’s easier for people to see that you’re in “news” mode.  Have your station’s hash tag on things where you can, and always wrap it up with a recap, a drive to the full story, and if possible, what you’ll have on TV in your next newscast.  An example:

Jury finds Jason Young guilty of first-degree murder in death of pregnant wife #YoungTrial
Young convicted of beating his pregnant wife, Michelle, to death in their Wake County home in Nov 2006, leaving 2 yr old daughter at scene
Young could face death penalty, sentencing phase starts after lunch recess #YoungTrial
Young’s mother crying in courtroom as judge polls jurors on murder conviction #YoungTrial
Jury convicts Jason Young of murdering his wife. Full recap on @WRAL.com,  Amanda Lamb talks live to his wife’s sister @ 5p on @wral

If there’s a bad accident, tweet the crash then the detour route.  If there’s a big announcement, tweet the highlights.  In most scenarios, be sure to take the time to sound a little more human when you send these out.  If your news copy would say “breaking news in West Raleigh where an accident involving a tractor trailer and two cars has blocked Hillsborough street” then the tweets should say:
Wreck blocking eastbound Hillsborough Street at Dan Allen Drive – avoid the area for a half hour or so.
If you need to miss the Hillsborough/Dan Allen trouble spot, try 440 to Western Blvd, turn rt on Pullen to get back on track
Tractor trailer rolled over a car on Hillsborough Street, and everyone survived – check the pics on
wral.com (put a real link here to the pictures instead of a generic website tease if you can)

Overall, live tweeting an event is the fastest way to get your news chops out there and have people recognize you as a conduit to the TV news.  This usually ends in new followers and builds your personal online brand as a go-to person for news in your area.  Which leads me to my last step:

Step Eight: I’m gleaning info – now what?

Twitter can be a veritable gold mine of information, story ideas, tips, and filler stories.  However, I would be remiss if I didn’t address the challenges of what to do with that information.

First, do not report anything that comes from Twitter as fact!  Treat it as scanner traffic or something you got from a dispatcher.  Best case scenario, in the case of viewer pictures of weather or car accidents, be SURE to say in your copy “We received this picture from a viewer via Twitter- they say this is the scene right now in blah-blah-blah.”  It doesn’t absolve you from legal responsibility, but it does protect you in some cases.  Otherwise, treat it as background knowledge that you can use for questioning authorities but do not run with it to air unless you have a second source.

There’s really only one exception to that rule: authorized, official Twitter accounts.  I mentioned above that our state’s Governor has a Twitter account.  So do both of our state Senators.  We have had the discussion as a station, and decided to consider anything tweeted on those accounts to be official statements from those offices, we just write it into the script that instead of issuing a statement, the officials tweeted.  So in the midst of the Rep. Todd Akin controversy, even though we never received a press release with the statement, I had a script in my 5pm newscast that read:

North Carolina’s Senior Senator has joined a growing number of Republicans calling for Rep. Todd Akin to remove himself from the Missouri Senate race.  This afternoon, Senator Richard Burr tweeted: “Congressman Akin’s comments were offensive, outrageous, & wrong. I urge him to do the right thing & withdraw from MO Senate race now.

Neat, eh?

This new community is also ripe for helping reporters find story contacts – just tweet what you need!  Or for getting an idea what they think is news-worthy.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sent the tweet “slow morning meeting today – anybody got a story idea for me?”  People are usually quick to respond, but I don’t recommend sending that one out until you have a significant following.  Finally, your newsroom management may be on board with the idea of social media, but when you make the argument “This is trending on Twitter” or “It’s hot online, tomorrow it’ll be old news,” you may get some strange looks, or even pshaw’d at times.  It happens to all of us.  Keep trying to make your case.  Eventually, you’ll break a story or build up enough times when you were right that they will start to listen.  Cut them a break – chances are you were a bit of a Luddite too before you started this process.

            There you have it – a brief overview of what I’ve done over the last few years to cultivate the community of followers and leads that I have on Twitter.  It’s a community that has brought me story ideas, direct tips, interviews, and ideas from seeing what other people are talking about.  It has given me that extra story to fill the 5 o’clock news, or a glimpse into what’s going viral so we can be on the front edge of the wave and show it to you now, instead of tomorrow when it feels old.  It’s a place for an exchange of ideas that will help you think a little faster the next time you need a plan C for a story that falls through.  It’s how playing on the Internet can actually make you a better producer, if you put in the work.  I’m @sbeckwral – let me know if you see results.

—————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————

Stephanie Beck is a producer at WRAL in Raleigh. Has been there since 2001.  She spends her free time traveling to dance West Coast Swing (like in her Twitter profile picture) with her boyfriend and watching Dr. Who and anything Sorkin.  Stephanie has been known to contribute to the number of cat photos on the net, but Calypso and Fritz do not have their own accounts.  She attended UNC for BA and MA. She is always looking for the next way to engage her audience. Stephanie is one of the most followed local TV news producers on Twitter.

Bad Behavior has blocked 586 access attempts in the last 7 days.