Lessons learned from a (briefly) disconnected life

For three weeks in September, I lived without a cell phone of any kind. When I was away from home or work, I was an island.

nathanborror/Flickr

nathanborror/Flickr

This wasn’t some grand experiment staged so that I could write a blog post about it and wow you all with my insights into Disconnected Life – it just happened. My iPhone died a sudden death at Kolkata airport in the middle of a two-week trip in India. One minute it was there, the next, the screen faded to black, as if it had suffered a digital embolism. I was tethered to a constrictive U.S. cell contract and two weeks away from receiving the latest advancement in Apple technology. I decided to wait it out.

Going from a connected life – a very connected life, I’ll admit – to one of total, sudden disconnection, was in some ways like losing one of my senses.

I have had a cell phone of some sort since I was 19 years old. Before that, I’d had a pager issued by my parents – which probably gives you a pretty good clue about my age. Somehow, I made it through high school and one year of college without a cell phone. I was pretty active on social media in 2008, when I got my first smartphone. At the time, that act was something like giving a self-functioning meth lab to a cough syrup addict. I never would be alone again – with my thoughts, with someone else, without a clue as to what’s happening, for better and for worse.

Until now.

At first, it wasn’t so bad, as I was already on limited use, traveling on international data limits through my phone plan. I rarely use my phone for actual voice calls – I bet I take less than five total a week – so that wasn’t a huge loss at first, either.

But after a few hours of being alone in a foreign country – and really alone without access to the world beyond – the enormity set in. I was off the grid. If I got lost in India, nobody would even know. Not even me.

Without a phone, I felt so alone in the world, which was at once freeing and terrifying. On one hand, I didn’t have the burden of always being connected and, thus, always being one email or text away from a problem at work or home. On the other, I was adrift and unfindable. I had no way to tell anyone where I was. If I didn’t know where I was, I had no maps app to consult, I had to ask for directions like some sort of tourist (which, in New York City, is akin to telling someone you have leprosy).

It manifested itself in many small ways, too. If I couldn’t find a cab (which happens in Queens), I couldn’t just bring up my Uber app to have a car come save me. I didn’t know when trains were due to arrive, so I was often late. I couldn’t text my husband to tell him to pick up kitty litter. I couldn’t check my work email between meetings. I couldn’t take conference calls on the way to the office anymore. I couldn’t multitask. I couldn’t check sports scores or see what was happening in the world outside my immediate space. And the most odd experience: I was often the only person at a restaurant, on a subway car, in a meeting or airline terminal that was actually looking at other people, which made me feel like a creep.

It was a lot of “first world problems”, to be sure, but three weeks without a digital tie to the rest of my world forced me to become a bit more resourceful. I had to change some habits and, in doing so, had to confront some uncomfortable truths about the life I was living.

A few lessons learned from the Great Disconnection

1. It isn’t a good idea to be overly reliant on maps apps. Once upon a time, I was a Girl Scout. I could read maps and had a decent sense of direction. As an adult, I run out the door never even bothering to check addresses or to learn the basics of navigating the city where I live. At the very least, I know I should be aware of the address I’m going to and have enough working knowledge of the city grid to get close without getting lost.

2. Leave early to be on time. I am bad about timeliness all of the time, but it was especially bad without calendar reminders, directions and train schedules. I need to leave earlier – I know this. We all know this. We should be better.

3. Don’t be afraid to ask for information. I realized I often use my phone in circumstances where it would have been easier to just talk to a human in real life for information. When did I become so anti-social?

4. Stop checking in, because it is dumb. I’ve been a habitual user of Foursquare since its inception. Between the introduction of Swarm and this phone drought, I’m finally over it. It turns out, it really isn’t much of a value add to my or anyone else’s life to know where I am.

5. Push alerts are not actually necessary, in most cases. Facebook messages about friends spamming me with events in faraway cities, headlines of news in other places, “your friends are talking about X on Twitter” alerts… I don’t actually need to know that stuff when I’m not on the phone. Unless that headline is “Giant fireball headed for New York”, chances are, it isn’t so bad to not know immediately.

6. Get over yourself. It turns out, in my weeks without updating Facebook, Twitter and Instagram so often, nobody seemed to miss me and my witty outlook on the world. Most of my friends will be surprised to learn I was ever gone.

7. Pay more attention to others when they are actually there, in person, with you. I know, I shouldn’t have had to learn this lesson, but when all of your friends (and your spouse) are always-connected journalists, it is easy to forget a time when we weren’t all keeping one eye on the phone. It is never more obvious when you have no phone in a room full of people – or even just the one you’re trying to spend time with – who aren’t looking up. Look up.

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My next adventure: Joining Storyful’s Open Newsroom

Looking for a job is, in a lot of ways, a lot like dating*. You meet a lot of people and you talk – a lot – about yourself, about them, about your expectations for a future together. You re-examine what worked and what didn’t about past relationships, and try to find a partner that embodies the best of those memories. It’s all about looking for a good fit. After a lot of looking and a few false starts, I think I’ve found it.

I started earlier this week as Open Newsroom Editor for Storyful - and I couldn’t be more excited about it. Storyful

If you aren’t familiar with Storyful, it is a 24/7 social media news agency that discovers, verifies and delivers user-created content to newsrooms, brands and storytellers of all sorts. Storyful built its initial business providing verified UGC and information to partners via subscription service. The Open Newsroom is a consumer-facing companion piece, operating as a public space for crowdsourced verification and publication through the likes of Google and Facebook. I’ll be continuing to grow that outward-facing aspect of Storyful and its relationships with platforms, partners and stories.

It’s a good fit, to be sure. Collaborative journalism and social media has been the bedrock of my journalism career. I been talking about crowdsourcing, social media/UGC ethics, verification and UGC best practices for several years – and I’ve done a lot of training for journalists in those fields. For me, joining Storyful is like being asked to join the Avengers- they know this stuff better than anyone.

Storyful has been one of the most prominent voices in the industry as it pertains to social media verification and ethics in using user-generated content (which, it just so happens, happen to be pet issues of mine as well). Its best practices and breaking news case studies have been part of my classroom curriculum for years. Now, I get to be more than an admirer – I get to be on the team.

I can’t wait to get started on this new bright future.

Casablanca Quote   Eds Note:  The past few months, since Thunderdome was shut down,  have been an especially tough stretch for me, both personally and professionally. Big thank-yous are in order for many people, but especially Robyn Tomlin, Jim Brady and Jennifer Preston – who have helped me out by listening to my whining, giving advice, making introductions and buying drinks as needed.  And I wouldn’t have come out the other side without my husband/crisis counselor, Ben, who has patiently dealt with my many phases of layoff grief.

 

* Or so I hear, I haven’t dated in a long time.

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Technology is a solution, not a problem, for women in newsrooms

So maybe you’ve noticed – there’s a lot of talk about women in journalism these days in the wake of Jill Abramson’s unplanned exit from the New York Times. Aside from being a woman and a journalist, I haven’t generally felt that I have much expertise to add to this conversation as it has played out. Until today.

In a column on the Washington Post’s new PostEverything site today, Nikki Usher added a new facet to the discussion:

Technology has made it harder for women to survive, and thrive, in journalism. … Sophisticated infographics, interactive storytelling, and data-crunching have become essential to online journalism. It’s part of a critical mission to keep web news profitable. And unlike many other parts of traditional newsrooms, these teams are still hiring. But they’re hiring programmers and techies, most of whom are male. Women hold just 27 percent of all computer science jobs. According to Forbes, that number isn’t growing.

She’s right when she notes that the rising profile of digital skills in newsrooms hasn’t resulted in a growing number of women hired, but it isn’t fair to “blame the techies”, as the column’s deck suggests, for the diminished role for women in newsrooms. On the contrary, technology has largely been the answer to getting more women into newsrooms because it is getting more people with different skill sets than those valued in the past into newsrooms.

The rising importance of digital skills in newsrooms has made it possible for me to work my way up in this industry.  If those technology and social media skills weren’t valuable and someone at the top wasn’t pushing for their inclusion in new hires, I wouldn’t have been able to work at any of the great places I’ve been. If “techies” hadn’t been put in charge somewhere along the way, I’d never have gotten the opportunity to grow my skills, never gotten into a leadership role, never in turn been able to hire more women to those sort of roles.  Technology was my only leg up. But that’s just me.

Is it a problem that more women aren’t working in the highly prized journogrammer wings of elite newsrooms? Yes, absolutely. But it’s a far bigger problem that more women aren’t moving up the ranks across newsroom teams, a pre-existing culture problem which trickles down to those building these new tech teams.

There are lots of factors we can blame for women’s diminished role in newsroom leadership: Promotion culture focused on longevity over innovation, poor succession planning, closed social networks, legacy experience valued over digital experience, unfair expectations for female candidates, a lack of a farm system for qualified women, lack of flexible work options, fewer networking opportunities, etc.

Why do these things happen? How can we fix these issues? If I had all of the answers off the top of my head, I probably wouldn’t be unemployed.

Digital journalism and the people behind it aren’t what’s holding women back from newsroom leadership roles, but they are likely in the best position to solve that problem from within. These teams are already trying to change their cultures. They have increasing power and are generally recognized as the future of the industry – so what can we do to help them?

 

 

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Everything I know about leadership I learned from losing my job

A few weeks back, I was tapped to stand in for my boss, Robyn Tomlin, in giving a leadership talk to college journalists in NYC. Not really knowing much about “talking about leadership”, the best I could offer at the time were lessons from my own career. Let’s face it, I’m no Robyn Tomlin.

Right before I was to give this talk, I heard the first inklings that my job – and the jobs of my staff – were in doubt. This worry hanging over my head undoubtedly influenced the advice I gave that day. At the time, I honestly sort of thought I was BSing a bit. Over the past couple of weeks, since the news of Thunderdome’s demise became public, I’ve found these off-the-cuff lessons to be truer than I had imagined:

You don’t need to have a plan mapped out to make a great career.

All our best laid plans often can’t stand up to the realities of the business. Everyone who joined Thunderdome had their reasons – and for many (myself included), that reason was a dedicated to the mission of making local news sustainable. We had plans – and none of them included an early shutdown. Now, they’re all rolling with the punches, sticking together and aggressively going after what they want to do next.

Take risks, because they are worth it even when they don’t work out.

Twice now I’ve taken risks – with my career and that of my spouse – to move to a new city to pursue a job that sounded awesome. Neither worked out, but I wouldn’t take either decision back. These risks changed my life and have given rewards beyond increments of time on my resume. I think most of my coworkers would agree – we are all far better for this experience.

Lead from where you are, no management title required.

The Thunderdome staff has never been short of leaders at every level – be it on projects, new products or in the newsroom. These past 10 days, I’ve seen so many people inside Thunderdome step up and be leaders in the midst of all the insanity. I’ve seen them take control not only of their own careers, but also helping support, guide and push their colleagues onto new paths. I couldn’t be prouder of how they’ve rallied together and kept high spirits in the face of a lot of public pain.

Relationships matter, so give all you can, all the time.

I can’t begin to describe how comforting it was to experience the outpouring of support for the Thunderdome staff in the hours and days following the news of our layoffs. Our web of former coworkers, friends, ONA buddies and journalists-we-know-from-Twitter was there to catch us when we fell. I’m still working on answering every email, tweet, Facebook message, text and phone call that offering support, drinking money, connections and job leads that made their way to me and my staff.

These networks don’t just materialize in times of trouble – creating relationships that matter lies in the little details of how we conduct our personal and professional lives when we aren’t in need. It’s filling in for people at the last second for professional obligations, Skyping with that class, helping with that project, listening to that bad-day rant, inviting that person to sit at your table – and following up, always following up. Being nice matters. Giving of yourself and your time matters. When it is your time to be in need, it all comes back around.

All in all, I don’t really know if I told those kids much about leadership, but I hope they took these few pieces of advice to heart. Thanks, everyone, for all you’ve done for us.

Here are my (absolutely horribly designed) slides from that leadership talk. It doesn’t make as much sense without the notes, but you can see those on the slide files if you are so inclined.

 

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Thunderdome’s demise is déjà vu all over again

Time counts and keeps counting, and we know now finding the trick of what’s been and lost ain’t no easy ride. But that’s our trek, we gotta travel it. And there ain’t nobody knows where it’s gonna lead. — From “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome”

Thunderdome: A bunch of great journalists entered. And now, all leave.

By now, everyone knows Thunderdome is being unraveled.  There are lots of hows left to figure out and whys left to reckon with, but the fact is that it’s all ending much too soon. It’s all so terribly familiar to those of us who went through a similar unraveling at TBD in 2011… only this is worse. 

TBD didn’t have time to finish what we started, but at least we got the chance to start. Thunderdome never even got the chance to carry out even the beginnings of our goals. Many of our long-planned channels just started launching. We had a number of new revenue-generating products on the horizon. We had just started building our in-house product team. We were on the brink.

The Thunderdome Interactives team leaders circa August 2012. (L-R) Me, Tom Meagher, Julie Westfall and Yvonne Leow.

The Thunderdome Interactives team leaders circa August 2012. (L-R) Me, Tom Meagher, Julie Westfall and Yvonne Leow.

This is the startup world in journalism – our industry has a tough time finding funders with the stomach to endure the time it takes to build a digital business.

DFM and Thunderdome was founded on the idea of “putting the digital people in charge”. We were put in charge – and we made positive, forward-moving changes at dozens of local newspapers to prepare them for a future without print. Was it all perfect? No, we made a lot of mistakes. There were a lot of things I would do differently if I had the opportunity. That said, Thunderdome didn’t fail. It didn’t even start.

The employees of Digital First deserved better – not just the people losing their jobs at Thunderdome, but also those out in the field at local newspapers. I hope they can continue the digital transformation they’ve started at every local newsroom – because that’s what will keep them relevant in the years to come.

Just another day at the virtual and real-life office at Thunderdome.

Just another day at the virtual and real-life office at Thunderdome.

What’s Next

I encourage anyone reading this to check out the Thunderdome staff and hire them as soon as possible. I’ll do whatever I can to get them to their next stops. As for me, I don’t know what’s coming next – and frankly, I find that pretty exciting, all things considered.

I want to thank Jim Brady and Steve Buttry for giving me (another) chance to change my career. I wanted out of my social media pigeonhole and they gave me the opportunity to grow, lead and learn so much more about this industry and myself.  I also have to thank Thunderdome Editor Robyn Tomlin, who has been such an inspiration to me. She’s taken a lot of time to mentor me – in leadership and in life – and I value the trust she put in me when she appointed me as managing editor.

And finally, I have to thank the Thundercats. It was an honor and a pleasure working with you all. You’ve taught me so much – and I can’t wait to see what you all do next.

As heartbreaking as it is to go through this all over again, I have no regrets. I would do it all over again for the chance to have worked with these amazing people. They have changed my life – and I have absolutely no doubt they will change the industry. I only wish we were going to be doing it together.

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If you’re serious about hiring a diverse staff, try actually posting your job

Flickr user andjohanLast week, Emily Bell wrote a column in The Guardian examining the diversity (or lack thereof) in the hiring at high-profile digital startups like Vox, FiveThirtyEight and the First Look verticals. She noted that in setting off on their own to build new visions of what the industry could be, the likes of Ezra Klein and Nate Silver were just repackaging a lot of the same problems that have plagued our industry for years in terms of adequate newsroom representation of women and journalists of color.

“Remaking journalism in its own image, only with better hair and tighter clothes, is not a revolution, or even an evolution, ” Bell wrote. “It is a repackaging of the status quo with a very nice clubhouse attached. A revolution calls for a regime change of more significant depth.”

Predictably, there was backlash. In the comments on her story, many many men responded with some variety of the following:

“I only hire for capability, not diversity.”

“If you are good enough, you’ll get hired. Stop asking for special favors.”

Something something something “war on white men.”

In a piece a few days later in New York Magazine, Nate Silver remarked that it is difficult to hire women.

About 85 percent of our applications come in from men. That worries us. At the same time, we’re hiring the best candidate for the position. But that’s one of the reasons why we take a long time and put a lot of effort into our hiring process, to make sure that we’re looking widely for the best possible candidates.

Look, there’s nothing wrong with white males (some of my best friends are white men!), but there is something wrong with the statement “we only hire the best candidates” because I can bet that some of the best candidates didn’t even get a chance to apply for most jobs out there, especially at these new media startups.

Hiring managers don’t (usually) intentionally hire people like themselves. It happens because hiring so rarely happens the way many people think it does. Most people assume it works like so:

1. Job is posted

2. Job seeker sees job post on Twitter, on a jobs site, in an email from a friend, etc..

3. Job seeker applies with a résumé and cover letter to the designated means of collecting these materials.

4. Hiring manager or an HR representative combs through résumés to weed out the disqualified. They set aside really good cover letters to note people to interview.

5. Interviews

6. Best applicant gets the job.

That isn’t what actually happens – at least, not in our industry (nor many others). From my experience as a person who has hired and who has been hired, this is a bit more like how it happens:

1. Job is created or opened.

2. Hiring manager informs his/her networks about said job, asking for recommendations of qualified candidates.

3. Qualified, recommended candidates surface. Many of them were not even actively looking for a new job, but the opportunity is too good to pass up.

4. Phone calls, coffees and interviews with recommended candidates commence.

5. Job is posted to basic jobs site (because HR requires it).

6. Résumés coming in via that job site are ignored or, at best, are skimmed.

7. A recommended candidate from step #3 is hired.

Simply put, if you aren’t plugged in to the first few degrees of the hiring manager’s network, good luck.

Shani O. Hilton, who wrote the best and most useful followup to Bell’s post, also noted the problem of the network.

The network — on both ends of the equation — is the problem. The journos of color and women aren’t networking with white dudes doing the hiring because it isn’t in their DNA. Call it the Twice as Hard Half as Good Paradox: Many of us are so busy working twice as hard and hoping to get noticed that we don’t do the networking that seems like bullshit but is actually a key part of career advancement.

I would also argue that one’s geography and background can also be a problem in seeking work because of the importance of the network. You don’t see a lot of journalists from the heartland getting hired on the coasts – even if they offer to pay to move themselves.

I went through this myself as a youngish journalist working in Cincinnati, OH. I applied to dozens of jobs at news organizations on the coasts, high profile places with alleged job openings for web producers and social media editors. I more than met the requirements for the jobs, but I never even got as much as a phone call or email. I’d follow up via research to see if I could find who had been hired – it was almost universally someone already from the area, usually with some connection to the publication. It could be that I wasn’t a very good candidate (likely), but it could also be that I just wasn’t in the right networks (also likely).

It wasn’t until I applied for a job where I had a connection I had made via social media that I got that call back – and ultimately got the job (at TBD back in 2010, via Steve Buttry). Since then, I have not acquired a job the traditional way – which inevitably makes me worry I actually wasn’t the best person for the job, I was just the easiest to find.

While Hilton offers some great advice for both job seekers and hiring managers to get past the networking problem, I offer one simple tip: Actually post your open jobs. Earth-shattering, I know.

Post your jobs early on and spread them to your social networks, your real-life networks and email lists for organizations like ONA, NABJ, AAJA, NAHJ, JAWS and many more journalism organizations. Treat the process earnestly. You never know who might be quietly looking for work that you know…and more importantly, you never know who you don’t know that might be perfect for your job and they just need to hear about it.

I pride myself and my current organization (Thunderdome) for hiring beyond our own networks. Many of our employees came our way through career fairs and online applications – including a few non-journalists who happened to bring different experiences into our newsroom. We’d never have found one another if we hadn’t posted our jobs.

So post the job. When you say you are an equal opportunity employer, actually mean it. If qualified women and journalists of color don’t know about your job, they can’t apply. That isn’t an equal opportunity.

More: Benet Wilson and Tracie Powell at NABJ offer advice for building a more inclusive network.

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Something Actually New on Zombie Journalism! Curated News on News

At first glance, it looks like this site hasn’t been updated in awhile. For those few people who subscribe via social or RSS (hi Mom!), you probably forgot this even exists.

Though not a lot has changed on the surface level – this still has my terrible original web design for the most part – there have been some changes you might find interesting. A big part of the original intent of Zombie Journalism was curating and sharing interesting links on digital journalism, social media and the future of the news industry. This was before a great deal of the curation tools out there today were in existence – and back when I had the time and the interest in giving my view on journalism happenings that had already been talked over to death. Nowadays, I have less I want to write about, but I still want to share interesting links.

If you look in the nav bar above, there’s a new area called “Curated News“. Within that is a sub-menu of specialized Rebelmouse-powered pages featuring daily curated news around topics like social journalism, mobile journalism and journalism revenue models. I’ll probably add more subsets as time goes on.

This is a screenshot of this site. Look up!

If you like the sort of information I tend to curate, I hope you’ll read it here, but it isn’t like I’m monetizing this site, so feel free to subscribe to them via Rebelmouse (using the button on the page) or, if Twitter’s your thing, you can get all of those subsets and more at @NewsonNewsYouCanUse (or via my account, as always).

If you have suggestions or feedback on all this, let me know.

Also, I have a couple of actual new posts (!) in the works, so this blog as it is now isn’t going away. Maybe we should consider it more of a quarterly?

 

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The Downside of Google Glass? The Glassholes.

This one’s for the haters of the last post (and, as you might imagine, contains some colorful language from users of social media).

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Google Glass: The Next Greatest Thing Ever for Journalism?

When Google announced the arrival of its earliest model of Glass – the wearable computer that looks like a suspended monocle – my newsroom at Digital First Media’s Thunderdome wanted to be among the first to experiment with this new tool that could potentially have huge implications for journalism.

In Google’s Glass Explorer program, interested participants tweeted and G+’ed to Google what they would do if they had a Glass (#ifIhadglass) and Google chose the first testers of the new device from this eager pool. My boss, Robyn Tomlin, was one such winner.

In the time since we got our newsroom Glass, it’s been passed around, tried out and experimented upon by a number of staffers. A few of my much-smarter co-workers are working on apps for the new toy. It is expected to be in wider release next year.

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The Social Media Editor is Dead, Long Live the Social Media Editor!

Is the role of the newsroom social media editor dead? A lot of journalists seem to think so, according to this piece by Rob Fishman at Buzzfeed.

Fishman* talked with a lot of industry leaders who noted that “social was no longer peripheral, but core to their strategy. Concentrating authority in a single personage no longer made sense.”

They’re right, to some extent, but most of the people interviewed in Fishman’s piece are from larger news organizations with long-established roles in social media. Coming from a perspective of smaller local newsrooms, I beg to differ. Many news organizations out there still need someone on staff to be thinking about how to use social media effectively and strategically across the entire news organization.

It isn’t the social media editor that is dead, but rather the Newsroom Social Media Rockstar Ninja Guru (and thank goodness).

As Fishman notes, many of the early social media editors were able to build quite a name for themselves:

More followers, more about them, more about their “personal brand.” Instead of finding a niche within the newsroom, these hires carved one out for themselves, largely outside of existing structures. They became self-appointed spokespeople, faces and names.

The exoticism of social media created a whole class of (mostly young) journalists who suddenly were a big deal – but who were ultimately supposed to be working themselves out of a job. Many instead worked themselves into bigger and better ones (and good on them). ** These days, there are a lot of tasks heaped on the social lead that aren’t so glamorous.

Even outside the news industry, the pedestal on which social media ninjas have been placed is slowly sinking. According to this excellent piece by Amber Naslund, the spotlight for social specialists is dimming as they move into the larger machinery of the digital space – and the enthusiasm of the would-be Brand Builders is fading along with it.

There’s definitely still a lot of work that needs to be done in many newsrooms when it comes to social media. The evangelization to join social media is no longer a job to be done in most newsrooms. Using social media well isn’t enough anymore either. It’s become a more widely-held skill to be able to write a good tweet, get response from an engaging Facebook post or set up a new Tumblr to capture a fly-by meme – but it is much more difficult to determine where it fits in the overall picture and long-term goals of the organization.

As my friend Daniel Victor noted, social media editors are not created equal. That title has a lot of different meanings and job duties across the industry – it can range anywhere from the Twitter monkey manning the newsroom accounts 24/7 to a strategist working social in at the highest levels to the Thought Leader/Guru (or some combination therein).

So what do newsrooms really need from the modern social media leader? I say it involves the following:

  • Elevate the use of social media across the organization. Help staffers craft and evolve their own social media plans around their jobs – don’t just get them on a tool and throw them out on their own. Monitor their use over time, make suggestions and encourage them to grow in their comfort and skills.
  • Manage your news brand’s social presence – not necessarily with hands on the Tweetdeck all of the time, but driving the overall message.
  • Be the evangelist for community engagement in all newsroom endeavors. Make suggestions for how social media, curation, crowdsourcing and UGC fits with particular coverage plans, experiment (or help others experiment) with new tools and offer feedback based on metrics.
  • Be the voice of encouragement for using social media, but also the voice of when not to use it.
  • Act as the customer service agent – both inside and outside the newsroom. You aren’t the ombudsman, but you can certainly help connect someone with the solution to a problem. Be the sounding board and staff researcher for social media issues, be they ethical quandaries, UGC concerns or larger trends in the crossroads of social media and news.
  • Craft and/or carry out a social media strategy for the entire news organization – preferably as part of a larger team across the newsroom, sales, marketing, corporate structure and management. Work toward an overall vision for what the various aspects of the organization are trying to do with social media and how they all fit together.

What would you add to this list? Let me know in the comments.

The truth is, most social media editors working in news today aren’t being paid to be thought leaders or personal brands — they’re being paid to make their newsrooms better. The rest is just gravy (mmm, gravy).

 

 

* Full disclosure, Fishman hired me on at Huffington Post two years ago, though we never had the chance to work together.

** I’m not saying the whole Social Rockstar thing isn’t great. In fact, it’s fantastic and intoxicating. Early on, when I first started in a social role in 2008 at the Cincinnati Enquirer, the social media role gave me a position of visibility in my newsroom and community I didn’t have as a web producer. Then, when I moved from Cincinnati to DC for TBD, it gave me that visibility on a much larger scale – it gave me a brand. I was suddenly invited to conferences and asked to speak to classes. People introduced themselves to me at conferences because they recognized my name from Twitter. My name was referenced alongside people who I considered to be famous journalists. That was pretty cool. It was also fleeting.

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Inside the Twitter Archive, Or How I Learned To Love the Twitterverse

Tapping the Twitter Archive: Tweetstones

Storified by Mandy Jenkins· Tue, Feb 26 2013 11:34:49

Twitter recently opened up the ability for every user to download and access his or her Twitter archive going all the way back to their first tweet. I highly recommend taking the time to do an retrospective on your or your brands' accounts.  Looking back over my archive, it was interesting to see how I developed my use of Twitter from an introspective anger machine to being part of a community.
I had an account for reading long before I used it to send tweets. The first was actually a pretty good indicator of future tweets. 
I'm incredibly tired. Too much time spent prepping for New Year's Eve, which comes after work. May be too sleepy to enjoy it.Mandy Jenkins
A lot of my earliest tweets were extremely random and useless - like a lot of current Twitter usage, some might say. Lots of talk about food, TV and generally how angry I was about certain aspects of my work life. It was a dark time - and before I decided to make the rule that I won't use the F-word on social media. 
Eventually, I got around to doing some interaction. Here's my first reply, to my friend Grace. 
@graciesparkles She is a hippie....but apparently not a very good one.Mandy Jenkins
The first time I tweeted from an event with a hashtag, the lightbulbs really went off for me. It was the first ROFLCon at MIT - a perfect early adopter crowd for a Twitter discovery. I met a lot of people via Twitter using #ROFLCon - and it changed the way I used the tool from there on out. 
Just saw BBC Radio talking to Anonymous outside the pwning panel at #roflcon. This thing is huge.Mandy Jenkins
But it was also interesting to see the milestones of my life in those years coming together via social media. 
Looking at wedding rings today. I need to feel like I'm getting something done on this wedding thing.Mandy Jenkins
So I'm married. And I hope everyone had fun at our totally awesome reception.Mandy Jenkins
Dude, Jay Rosen just slammed me, I think. (Awesome)Mandy Jenkins
(OK, so it isn't really a milestone, but I thought it was funny)
The tweet I've been dying to send... RT @TBD: TBD is go.Mandy Jenkins
I quit my job & moved 500+ miles for an experiment I was pretty excited about. Now I'm looking for work again. Oh journalism, you slay me.mjenkins
I won't subject you to more laughs, tears and cringes of my personal Twitter archive, but I encourage you to search yours. 

What was your first tweet? 

 

UPDATE

Ivan Lajara has started collecting the first tweets of Digital First folks, it’s been a fun exercise.

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In light of Te’o story, how can we fix sports journalism?

 

Eds note: See the update at the end.

Sports journalism has some explaining to do.

Today, the sports and journalism worlds are collectively wringing their hands about he discovery that the made-for-TV story of Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o and his dead girlfriend was actually too good to be true. The girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, who has allegedly died of leukemia back in September, didn’t exist. Numerous sports reporters from the local South Bend Tribune to ESPN, Sports Illustrated and the Associated Press, all helped spread the  story of this lie. They are implicit in the hoax for their role in spreading a false story without the basics of verification.

Sports reporters work in the nexus of journalism, entertainment and big-time moneymaking – and when the latter two are the focus of network executives and publishers, the first sometimes takes a vacation. We need to re-examine the journalism in sports journalism.


 

 

Photo/Flickr user True2Self
Photo/Flickr user True2Self

 

 

 

 

Sports reporters are great at breaking down the games and scenarios. They generally do a fine job of pursuing the story when an athlete or team has committed some sort of wrongdoing or has some important story to tell. In the case of the dead girlfriend, however, sports reporters and their editors and all supporting staff who let these stories go to the web, print or air, let themselves get caught up in the irresistible pull of the heartwarming narrative.

Nobody out of all this coverage did any research on Kekua. Out of all of these reporters and organizations, they went only on the word of a young football player to repeatedly tell the story that would ultimately help propel Te’o into a national spotlight (and the Heisman considerations). In their minds at the time, I’m sure the thought process was something like, “Why bother? It’s just a feel-good footnote on the larger story of this amazing athlete. Why bother?”

There were several inconsistencies across the range of reporting on the love story – notably as to when Kekua died. How did nobody notice the difference when writing their own stories? As my colleague Steve Buttry notes, even looking for a link to an obituary for Kekua, which should have been standard procedure, would have started to unravel the story.   Instead it took several months and a great investigation by Deadspin to reveal the not-all-that-well-thought-out hoax.

This case is just the latest example among many that indicate to me that the soul of the sports journalism profession is in jeopardy.

In 2011, a young crime reporter for The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Penn. wrote an explosive story about a grand jury investigation of retired Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky’s alleged sexual abuse of at least two young boys. The paper took hits from its readers and the story went largely ignored by the news organizations and reporters covering the team and the university. It took seven months and Sandusky’s eventual arrest in the sex abuse case that finally led the national and sports media world to follow up on the story. The reporter, Sara Ganim, won a Pulitzer. ESPN, Sports Illustrated and every sports reporter on the beat at Penn State should have had some explaining to do about that gap in time…but nothing came of it.

A Poynter Review of the situation at ESPN stated, “With the biggest staff of sports journalists in the world, ESPN should have been leading the charge to ask tough questions and shed light on this scandal.” It explained the missteps in how the story was handled in tone and breadth, but it did not address the delay of seven months.

Why didn’t they follow up on what is arguably the biggest story ever on the beat? Easy. They wanted to keep that access to the very popular team and to its then-coach, Joe Paterno, open. Editors, publishers and network suits wanted to keep that cash cow that is Penn State football news producing milk. So everyone got along to get along and hoped nobody would notice.

And we can’t forget how ESPN, arguably the biggest fish in sports media, has stepped out of the bounds of journalism ethics to shape its sports “news” for financial reasons. In 2010, the network produced and aired what was essentially an infomercial for LeBron James to trumpet his decision to move to the Miami Heat, sending a lot of “tsk, tsks” across the journalism spectrum. Throughout 2011 and 2012, ESPN took a more hands-on approach to shaping sports news by deciding, with ratings purposes in mind, to hitch its wagon to the popularity of Tim Tebow. They used their news reporters to create an inordinate amount of coverage on Tebow, even though he wasn’t even starting in the NFL for the 2012 season.

So how can it be fixed?

Of course, the obvious has to be stated. We can’t paint all sports reporters or sports news organizations with a broad brush, but there is a problem to be solved here. How can we ensure our sports coverage consistently retains its objectivity and avoids falling into fanboyism or fraternity with the sources on the other side of the beat?

I had a great conversation about this with my friends on Facebook last night and some of them had great suggestions as to how sports editors and reporters can keep their heads on straight.

How about we start when we are grooming sports reporters in journalism schools and on the beat within news organizations?

Margaret McGurk, a former coworker of mine from The Cincinnati Enquirer, suggested, “Sports editors need to stop hiring reporters who have never worked a police beat or covered a courthouse or dealt with the non-sports world as a journalist.”

My former boss at The Cincinnati Enquirer, Chris Graves. A former crime reporter, she noted that reporters operating within a niche like sports need to have a focus on the fundamentals.

“All reporters are reporters first — niche reporting (be it sports, business or entertainment) comes later,” she said.

Journalism schools and editors grooming young reporters for their dream jobs of covering sports need to put learning journalism first and sports second. Sure, the young reporter will balk at being told he needs to cover cops or courts or city council to make his way to press row at a basketball game, but he will be a better journalist for it.

And it doesn’t stop at the beginning. Veteran sports reporters should be encouraged to spend their off-seasons on sabbatical, of sorts, flexing their muscles in other realms of news. It’s not to say they need to pick up a whole other beat for months on end, but they can take the time to refresh their journalism skills – calling unfamiliar sources, crunching their own numbers, maybe learning a new tool or two. They shouldn’t be kept immune from the rigors of reporting.

“This was among my biggest pet peeves when I was a cops reporter,” Graves said. “The amount of checking and record pulling it was simply assumed I would do for sports or entertainment reporters…”

I’m sure sports reporters, including some of my friends, would roll their eyes at this suggestion. That’s fine, but the crux of all of this is that the Te’o case, among others in months past, is a good opportunity to have a real conversation about ethics in sports reporting. Let’s not let it sit.

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