The people are at Facebook & Twitter; where are you?


“The new study, conducted by Pew Research Center in association with the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, finds that clear majorities of Twitter (63%) and Facebook users (63%) now say each platform serves as a source for news about events and issues outside the realm of friends and family.”

Ah, yes, it reminds me of the time several years ago when my boss expressed amazement that a neighbor told him she stopped the newspaper because she got the news she wanted from Facebook. It was in a different conversation when he told me to stop spending time on Twitter, which he called “a fad.”

News organizations have been on Facebook and Twitter for years and have had plenty of time to learn what works and how to behave. It’s surprising — although some will say it isn’t — that so many news organizations are terrible at it.

Many wait to tweet news until they have a link to their own website. Consequently, they are rarely first in delivering the news. Some write teases that tell you just enough that you have to follow the link. (You’re a news organization — serve your followers rather than tease them.)

Some news organizations either don’t monitor their Facebook feeds or hold such a loose rein that racist and offensive comments abound. Have you tried to engage with a news organization on Twitter or Facebook? Often you’re ignored. (Full disclosure: I have had excellent results in this respect with the News & Record, which is my former employer.)

PJ_2015.07.14_Twitter-and-News_13I’ve cut back on the traditional news organizations I follow because they are doing it wrong. I don’t know who they’re serving but it isn’t me. OK, that’s enough complaining. I’m an optimist and think there’s still time to act on this information. If you want to skate where the puck is going to be, you have to act fast. Your future audience is already there.

So, here are a few suggestions. They aren’t new or innovative; but neither are they executed with consistency by many news organizations.

* Many newspapers say they are digital first, but that’s often more of a trendy slogan rather than a strategy. What does digital first mean? How is it executed? What is the goal and how are you measuring the results?

* Put people who are active on social media personally in charge of your social media accounts. If they aren’t active in their leisure time, you don’t want them to learn on the job. If they are already on your staff and tweet and post to Facebook and YouTube, fine. But don’t transfer unqualified staffers. You wouldn’t hire a reporter without experience or qualifications. Why do it for the digital staff?

* Make sure the social media jobs have enough people. It’s easy to assign a few other responsibilities that take a person away from the networks. All of a sudden, nothing has been posted for hours. I know that staffing at news organizations is tight; where you put your staff shows where your priorities are.

* And while we’re talking about strategy and staffing, Mario Garcia today writes about the rise of the mobile editor. Build that position in now — mobile usership is growing. You have an opportunity to be where the audience is first.

* Give social media folks the latitude to have a voice and share information with attitude. The best people on social networks have interesting takes. I don’t mean being silly or snide; I simply mean writing with personality. The job description should include this: “Don’t be boring.” You might note that the Pew research shows that people use Twitter and Facebook differently. I know that I do. I rarely post the same links and thoughts to both places. This is an important concept for your social media presence.

* Make sure the social media folks have a voice and power within the organization. Too often they don’t. More and more news bubbles up from Twitter and Facebook. Stories and sources are there. Use them. That means editors must pay attention to what is being discussed on social media.

* Related, editors should be active on social media. That means doing more than posting links to your own stories. If you’re truly the leader of your news organization, you must be there. Followers will appreciate your authority, knowledge and interpretation of events.

* Twitter is actually making it easier for you with Twitter cards. As the Nieman Lab notes:  “What that means for media companies, or really anyone slinging links on Twitter, is that stories will get some extra room, complete with lead art and the first few words of a story.”

* While I understand the need for traffic to your website, do not make that the No. 1 priority for your social media presence. The constant search for clicks affects the team’s news judgment. Publishing clickbait affects your credibility. Follow the curation advice from Steve Buttry.

* You want to be known for being quick with the news? Well, be quick with it. Don’t wait for someone to provide a link. If you know it’s true, post it. You can provide the link as soon as the writer writes it.

Be engaging with followers, expansive with posts and interesting with your comments.

Large news organizations seem to be in better shape than smaller ones. That said, some smaller orgs do social very well. (Before you write, I know my sample is narrow and personal. I will easily acknowledge your organization has an excellent social media presence, if you say so.)

I’m no expert and this isn’t everything. Dig into this Pew report. There are findings and trends that you can exploit.


Meanwhile, Emily Bell gave some wise and much needed advice in London today.

“Today’s newsroom workflow can be increasingly broken into three parts, Bell told delegates. The breaking news feed now equals mobile alerts, an outlet’s social media presence is now day-to-day publishing, and websites are ‘effectively becoming the archive.’

“Key to the process of how news organisations should harness tech in the service of journalism is integrating as closely as possible with the social web, Bell added.

“If news organisations don’t move to work with these apps, she said, they’ll miss out on huge audience numbers as Facebook now has 1.3bn users and WhatsApp’s 800m.”

This won’t fix digital. There are still loading issues, video issues, mobile issues and content issues. But it’s a start.


Sunday sampler

Greensboro: I thought I knew everything about local politics, but of course I don’t. The News & Record explains clearly how the new City Council redistricting system shoved down Greensboro’s throat hurts voters and creates a system in which Republican candidates have an advantage. Want to get the least voters involved? Hold the election in October in odd-numbered years. The Legislature should be ashamed at its abuse of power.

Raleigh: You know how the Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage is going to destroy the institution? The News & Observer flips it on its head, raising the question of whether more gay couples marrying will actually re-energize it. “That’s an interesting idea – does this have a halo effect on the institution,” said Philip N. Cohen, a University of Maryland sociology professor who has studied marriage trends. “The number of same-sex couples that are going to marry is small so you won’t see a big bump in the marriage rate. But it could have a symbolic effect.”

Raleigh and Winston-Salem: Both the News & Observer and the Journal have stories about the federal court case over N.C.’s voting law changes made by the Legislature two years ago. It’s going to be a big case with national implications. Worth reading. Perhaps the judge will rule on the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act next month.

High Point: The Enterprise has what looks to be an interesting mystery story about a signed first edition of a Booker T. Washington book that turned up at the High Point Library used book sale. But the website is down so I can’t link to it.

Readers may love newspapers, but newspapers won’t love them back


Matt DeRienzo pointed out a truth in Ken Doctor’s “10 numbers that define the news business today” that I missed when I read it originally.

We seldom see much reporting of buyouts and layoffs these days, as some publishers concluded that the industry’s problems were only being exacerbated by its reporting on its own staff changes.

This applies to TV stations, too. In fact, they rarely report when they lose staff. Because TV news is so competitive, the last thing a TV anchor will acknowledge is that his or her station doesn’t have the largest newsgathering staff. But I have more experience with papers so….

I had to insist when we laid off journalists that we report it. (I specify journalists because I never seemed to know when people in other departments were laid off until days or weeks after it happened.) It was the one story my publisher insisted he read behind me. To him, publicizing a management decision that would reflect poorly on the business was crazy. I suspect that’s common. “Why tell customers that your business is in trouble?”

Thus, the typical statement from publishers when layoffs are announced: “We are adjusting to the changing media environment. Our coverage of the news and the community will be as strong as ever.”

Perhaps in the first wave of layoffs in 2007-8, this was true. Many newsrooms could absorb one hit. The best used it to focus their vision, move people where they were needed and get a jolt of energy with the new reality.

But after that, the idea that coverage would continue unabated was false, and everyone from publishers to editors to readers know it. More wire stories appear. Fewer enterprise and investigative stories that take are published. Agencies and organizations that used to be covered aren’t. Coverage of the environment, medicine and religion dwindles. More light community-generated content is published to fill pages.

Why does transparency matter?

Newspapers tend to be one of the older institutions in town, and they want to be of the community. Lopping off employees — many of the long-serving journalists — sends community knowledge out the door. Factual errors creep into the paper. Five years ago, the ombudsman at the Washington Post acknowledged the problem. It’s only gotten worse.

More important, readers aren’t stupid. They can tell when the product they are paying for is getting weaker. Every editor in the country should be studying how the Post and Courier in Charleston has responded to the massacre in its midst. The Post and Courier isn’t large, but it gave the community (and nation) outstanding coverage. Its journalists knew what to do and how to do it. The detail on its iconic front page is an example, but the inside the paper coverage isn’t slack, either.

There’s a great deal that is lost when newspapers cut staff. Stories and photos. People’s names and achievements. Detail. Exposure of government incompetence and corruption.

There’s no measure for it, but readers know it when they see it. Not acknowledging it won’t make it go away. But acknowledging it might help you. People rally for products and ideas they like and want to keep. Let your readers know you’re hurting and need help. See what happens: they might rally to help. If they don’t, that might tell you something.

Among journalists it’s said that you can love newspapers, but newspapers won’t love you back. This is also true: Readers can love newspapers, but newspapers won’t love them back. So, turn it on its head. Try something different. Love readers back. Talk honestly with them. Hear what they want and involve them in figuring out how to get it to them.

Think of the possibilities if you decide you’re going to love your readers. They have an open invitation into your house. They are treated with dignity and appreciation when they call, regardless of whether it’s a complaint. They get an announcement of their event published. The correction of the error you made gets prominent play, not buried. Stop messing with the comics and games.

This doesn’t mean you stop with your First Amendment responsibiities or that you back off of shining light into the community’s dark corners. That’s love, too.

The possibilities are endless.

Sunday sampler

Many of the Sunday newspapers have front page stories about the impact of the legislature’s budget negotiations on their communities: teacher assistant jobs being cut, community college tuition increases, how sales taxes will be distributed, etc. That’s good. People should know what kinds of mischief are being discussed in Raleigh. There are other stories, too.

Asheville: The Citizen-Times continues its string of interesting, out of the ordinary stories. Today’s is about two suicides in the same jail, four months apart, and what the jail – and the SBI – is saying about them. There is no smoking gun right now, but a good newspaper shines light into dark corners, and it writes about the poor and struggling. That’s what this story does.

Durham: If you were a pastor of an AME church, would you think twice about a white person joining the congregation? If you were a pastor of a “liberal” church, would you think twice about a new face entering the sanctuary? If you were a pastor of any predominantly black church, how worried would you be today? The Herald-Sun visits the issue of security at churches in the wake of the deadly Charleston shootings.

Raleigh: Want to know how bad government works? Read the News & Observer. This week’s story is on inefficiency and possibly corruption within the state Department of Health and Human Services. Again. This time involving Angie Sligh, who is in charge of the state’s Medicaid billing system. “Sligh was responsible for at least $1.6 million wasted over three years through excessive pay to temporary employees, paying temp agencies instead of the state’s less expensive in-house service, paying unjustified overtime and giving holiday pay to ineligible employees. At least 15 people with personal connections to Sligh had been hired in her office, at least seven of whom were not qualified for the job or were paid higher than the established pay scale, sometimes both.”

Winston-Salem: Know the leading cause of death in Forsyth County in 2013? How about 50 years earlier? Or 100 years ago? They were all different. Society changes in many ways: sometimes the courts do it, as they did this week; sometimes science does. This is an interesting story in that it tells you how we have changed. Oh, it’s cancer in 2013, heart disease in 1963 & TB in 1913.

“Love wins” and other N.C. front pages

On Twitter yesterday many journalists were expressing sympathy for Page 1 designers because there was so much news: same-sex marriage, Obama’s eulogy, terrorism attacks and New York escapees. I laughed to myself, thinking that it shouldn’t hard for most papers. What will matter the most to your readers the next morning?

Dramatic news demands dramatic design. Big emotion demands big play. And the most dramatic, emotional news for most people, is the Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage. (To say nothing of the historic import — newspapers will be bought and saved by a lot of people… who hardly ever buy a newspaper.)

It’s a mixed bag in N.C. None of the front pages I saw blew me away. Many of the smaller papers had only a promo line sending readers to an inside page…or no mention at all. It is worth noting — and quickly dismissing — that polls show that most North Carolinians oppose same-sex marriage, some passionately. Newspaper journalists should be aware of that, but not beholden to it in their news judgments. (And I say that knowing that I was once scolded by an angry publisher for putting a photo of two women kissing on the front page.)

So, here we go. Images courtesy of the Newseum. Front pages from three usually reliable newspapers — the Burlington Times-News the News & Record of Greensboro and the Star News of Wilmington — aren’t on the site. I also include some of the larger national papers at the bottom of this post.

Meanwhile, Mashable has collected front pages from around the country.

I like Asheville the best because they play it big with strong art and a headline that I like and that many might say is “biased.”


Fayetteville, which usually plays big stories big with bold, compelling art, was more conservative than I thought it would be. The headline doesn’t really describe the news: analysts had been predicting this ruling for a while. And the photo is routine; it could be people cheering a soccer goal.




Charlotte went with two stories dominant. I suppose they felt the need to get Obama’s eulogy in Charleston high on the page because their S.C. readership. It was a helluva speech — I watched it on TV — but the printed word can’t compete with video on this one.


Good for Hickory. Small town, but they gave the story the front page…and had a big photo of men hugging.





















Sunday sampler



It’s not a North Carolina front page, but I’m breaking the rules because it is what front pages should be: Powerful, memorable and touching.

It’s Father’s Day and many N.C. newspapers have stories marking the day. I am not noting those.

Charlotte: The Observer marks a milestone: for the first time, a woman is the highest paid CEO in N.C. “Susan DeVore, chief executive of Charlotte-based health care company Premier, was the highest paid executive among the top 50 last year, with total compensation of $24.9 million, according to the Observer’s annual review of executive pay. That’s the first time a woman has topped the list.” (She is only 3 of 50, though.) 

Greensboro: The News & Record begins a series on law enforcement officer-involved shootings — 33 people have died in 61 shootings involving law enforcement officers since 2000. “All but one of those 61 cases were ruled to be justified, and in the one case found not to be justified, an officer paid a fine for a misdemeanor.” Equally interesting — and damning — is the difficulty the newspaper had in getting information from law enforcement.

Sunday sampler

A lot of high school graduation stories this morning. A big deal it is. And there’s other stuff:


Asheville: It’s difficult for this city folk to imagine the joy of bear hunting, but it’s clearly a thing. The Citizen-Times does what good newspapers do: searches through documents to tell a compelling, important story about people and government.  “Operation Something Bruin has pitted a slice of mountain life against the government. Wildlife law officers maintain that they targeted bear poachers whose hunting tactics were neither legal nor sportsmanlike, taking animals without regard for the hunting season or as they fed over candy used as bait.”


Charlotte: My wife was Dorothy at The Land of Oz so this story about vandals stealing pieces of the partially-closed attraction hits home. “Land of Oz is falling prey to an Internet fad called ‘urbex’ for urban exploration. Adventurers seek out deserted places and post eerie pictures of their expeditions on sites specializing in what is called ‘ruin porn.’” Thanks, Facebook.

Fayetteville: I’m sorry to see Rep. Rick Glazier is resigning to become the executive director of the N.C. Justice Center. His voice was loud and clear in the General Assembly. He cut through so much of the crap. The Observer discusses his importance as a progressive in Raleigh.

Raleigh: And on the other side of the aisle, the N&O profiles Sen. Tom Apodaca, who is part of the political muscle moving the state back to the 1940’s. Want to see how rough-and-tumble politics works, read the story. It remind you how silly what you learned in civics class was.

N.C. politics: What happens when your governor is a loser


Imagine if Democrats controlled Congress and ignored what President Obama wants. Think about him vetoing bills they passed and both houses overriding his vetoes. Congress passes legislation that he thinks is unimportant but when he sets a major policy goal, oh, that’s another matter. The Democrats said, well, maybe. We’ll think about it.

It would be embarrassing for Obama, a wonderful opportunity for Republicans to make fun of his lack of leadership ability and a campaign issue that the man can’t even control his own party. (Update: When this happens nationally, this is how the N.Y. Times describes it.)

Welcome to North Carolina, except that it’s the GOP mocking the governor.

Republicans control the General Assembly and the governor’s mansion. But there’s no visible sign that Gov. Pat McCrory, the top-ranking state official, wields much power. He’s more like the mayor in a weak-mayor city. He can do ribbon-cuttings and political rallies, but he has no vote. Let’s look:

* He vetoed legislation that  gives businesses the right to sue employees who expose trade secrets or take pictures of their workplaces. It was overridden, no problem.

* He vetoed legislation to allow some state employees to opt-out of performing same-sex marriages. It was overridden, no problem.

* He opposes — along with the state’s sheriffs association — an omnibus gun bill that would loosen handgun restrictions. It hasn’t passed yet, but it could be.

* He has expressed mild dismay.about the legislature meddling in local government affairs, which hasn’t slowed legislators down one bit.

* The legislature continues to place further restrictions on women’s access to abortion, with no regard to McCrory’s campaign statement that he would not support any restrictions. (He doesn’t pay any regard to his statement either, redefining the meaning of the word “restrictions.”)

* His big ticket item, the thing that he travels around the state campaigning for, are two  bond packages totaling $2.8 billion for road construction, infrastructure and college buildings. What do the leaders of the legislature think? Speaker of the House Tim Moore: “I think there’ll be some significant differences in what the bond proposal that I’ve seen with the executive branch and what our bond proposal would look like.” Senate leader Phil Berger: “I don’t think there’s substantial support for the transportation side of the bonds.”

No, the governor isn’t having the best year, bless his heart. I’m wondering why the legislature continues to embarrass the governor of its own party. When the Democrats controlled two of the three branches of state government, they never did their governor this way — even if, say, one of the more recent ones deserved it.

Some possibilities:

* The GOP legislators have the power and they ain’t giving it up for anyone. Period. And they don’t care what happens as long as they get their way right now.

* The GOP legislators are true believers in their causes and aren’t stopping for any objections.

* The GOP legislators don’t care for the governor and enjoy making him out to be a loser.

* The governor actually agrees with 99.9% of the laws the legislature is sending him and is truly happy about the way things are going.

* The governor vetoed a couple of the laws to kick-start his re-election campaign, hoping that middle-of-the-road Democrats would think that moderate Pat was back and think, “well, with that Legislature, what are you going to do?”

* The governor (and staff) doesn’t know how to throw the sharp elbows necessary to get things done in politics.

I don’t know which or how many of these are right. To me, making the governor out to be powerless is a short-sighted strategy. It weakens him, both in the eyes of his own party and to moderate Democrats and Independents. And a weakened incumbent against a decent opponent is beatable.

No one likes to be associated with loser, and that’s what Gov. McCrory is shaping up to be.

Earlier smart takes from Thomas Mills and NC Policy Watch.

Update: Gov. McCrory released a statement in response to the legislature’s override of his veto this morning. Its last sentence is interesting: “While some people inside the beltline are focusing on symbolic issues, I remain focused on the issues that are going to have the greatest impact on the next generation such as creating jobs, building roads, strengthening education and improving our quality of life.”

I conclude that he doesn’t care much about the social issues that polarize the state.

Support for citywide wifi


Susan Ladd recently wrote about the laudable effort to bring citywide wifi to Greensboro. (Read about the proposal by Roch Smith and Andrew Brod here.)Roch asked me last month to write a letter in support. I did. Here it is without one typo Roch pointed out.

Dear Selection Committee:

I am writing in support of Cityfi. There are innumerable reasons that citywide wifi makes sense. I’m going to argue three.

First, it makes smart business sense. Anyone who looks to the future (and our region’s recent past) knows that manufacturing jobs will not return in great numbers, no matter how hard we wish them to. Business and economic growth is in the digital area. The sorts of companies that we want to grow Greensboro with are those creating digital products. By providing citywide public wifi, Greensboro would be doing something that Raleigh, Charlotte and Winston-Salem don’t do. The move would intrigue start-ups as well as established companies that would normally look to locate in the Research Triangle. For innovative start-ups, it would not only send the signal that Greensboro City Council understands the needs of new businesses, it would reduce their costs. Look to Wilson if you want to see the positive business effects of municipal Internet service. Now double the impact by providing public wifi. (It would also please thousands of constituents who want Internet access and dislike being held captive to the expensive bundles of cable companies.)

Second, I have taught college journalism and mass communication students for three years. Every semester we talk about how they get and share information. Every semester the answers are the same: digitally. Young people — all people actually, but young people act upon it — expect services to be cheap and seamless. Otherwise, they will go elsewhere. They consider the Internet — and by extension digital services — to be a public utility. If Greensboro truly wants a “creative class,” there’s no better way to show it than by providing public wifi.

Third, when I was editor of the News & Record, Greensboro received national publicity for its burgeoning blogging community.(The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times were among the media outlets that wrote about the city and the paper.) The city came off as a hip place that understood the importance of what was happening in the world of media and communication. For a variety of reasons, we lost that momentum and that innovative reputation. Establishing citywide public wifi would make a bold statement that Greensboro is seizing the future and transforming itself into a place that welcomes new ideas, and forward-thinking people and companies. In the 30-plus years I have lived in Greensboro, the city has had an unclear brand, and, frankly, an identity crisis. Public wifi would provide serious marketing traction and immediately let the world know that Greensboro embraces the future

There are others strong arguments for this plan that I am sure others smarter than I have made. However, if I can provide any further information or support, please do not hesitate to contact me.


John L. Robinson

Sunday sampler

Asheville — One of the problems with keeping pay low as costs go up is that people can’t afford to work. That’s right. Can’t. Afford. To. Work. The Citizen-Times takes a look at issues that most people aren’t aware of and the GOP in Raleigh doesn’t want to deal with. Thousands of parents in North Carolina are facing the same dilemma as the state has cut back on child care subsidies and raised the possibility of slashing aid even more.

Fayetteville — State Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger is the most powerful politician in N.C. What he wants done, gets done, regardless of whether the governor or the House want it (except getting his son elected). The Observer has a well-reported profile of the man.

Greensboro — It’s not as if interfering with local affairs is anything new to this General Assembly. The News & Record describes the problems with the legislature first changing how the City Council would be elected and now dragging its feet on its own legislation. But with the bill languishing in the N.C. House Elections Committee since mid-March, prospective candidates can’t yet be sure which seats to file for or whether they’ll be eligible should the bill become law. 

Wilmington — Driving back from the coast, I almost hit a couple drivers who swerved into my lane. They were texting. In fact, it seemed as if every third person I passed or who passed me were staring at their phones. It takes a long time to get there, but the Star-News says it plainly: “With most accidents stemming from crowded roadways and drivers failing to stop or following someone too closely, traffic unit supervisor Sgt. Mike Donaldson of the Wilmington Police Department said he blames distracted drivers for the high number of accidents.” Damn right.