Talking politics on Facebook

A few years ago, my publisher told me a conversation he had with a neighbor who didn’t read the newspaper. He asked where she got her news. She responded, “Facebook.”

That answer baffled him because he wasn’t active on the social networks, but I got it. Friend the right friends, like the right pages or follow the right people on Twitter and you can find out just about everything that’s going on in the world.

Last night, Fox 8 did a piece on the dangers of using social media to discuss politics. The premise of the report was that it’s a terrible idea to talk politics on Facebook. “You’re not going to change someone’s political beliefs through a Facebook post,” said Scott Dickson with Dickson Interactive, a website and social networking consultant company, in Winston-Salem…. “If you interact with the public at all then it’s my opinion just keep quiet about these kinds of things let your vote be your voice,” said Dickson.

Even though the headline of the piece says “experts,” plural, its sole source is Scott, who is my friend. And, for my money, he’s wrong. (I’m a little surprised that Fox 8 didn’t get another social media expert to counter Scott’s ideas rather than simply letting them stand. After all, in practice, Fox 8 doesn’t agree with them, as it posts links to political stories and permits a free-for-all in the comments.)

One of the wonders of Facebook and Twitter is that you can follow who you want, read the discussions you want and participate in the discussions you want. I have friends who do nothing but lurk. I have others who post about their kids. Some who post Bible verses. And others who post politics. Sometimes the comments get a little personal, but not that often.

I admit that I’m biased. I post about politics. It’s a topic that interests me. I like to read the links that others post because I usually learn something. For instance, the first places I’ve seen the fact-checking articles about the Republican and Democratic speeches at the conventions were on Facebook and Twitter. Those informed my opinions about what was said in Tampa and Charlotte.

I’m also biased because I don’t like others putting rules on how social media “should” be used. Facebook and Twitter give us enough rules. So, when Scott says that social media sites are for people who want to have fun with friends, I must respectfully disagree. I have fun with friends and we talk about all kinds of things. But eliminating politics from the discussion? Well, Arab Spring, anyone?

Update: Scott responds to this post in the comments. He also points out the WFMY did a similar story a day later. It, too, is a one source story. It’s recommendation, however, is one that is closer to where I am.

In touch with the news through Twitter

Yesterday, I had the privilege of moderating a political panel of journalism heavyweights — David Gergen, Charlie Cook, Taylor Batten, Domenico Montanaro, Anita Kumar and Rob Christensen — as part of the Elon University Poll’s latest polling results. (But enough about them. I’m the guy standing at the podium on the far left.)

It was going well with a lot of give and take among the panelists, I thought. I looked over the audience preparing to open it for questions and almost panicked. So many people were looking down at their smart phones and texting! Had I lost them? That couldn’t be right; the panel was saying smart, headline-grabbing quotes. Then I realized that the crowd was live tweeting the event. Rick Thames, editor of The Charlotte Observer, which hosted the event with Elon University, announced the appropriate hashtag — #ElonPoll — before the panel started. That, in itself, was pretty cool.

It also made me realize what people who aren’t on Twitter or who “don’t get” Twitter are missing.

Update: In the comments, Phil Meyer correct points out a potential danger with live-tweeting when using “the classic bait-and-switch rhetorical device.” Of course, that’s not a problem limited to Twitter.

Update 2:

They didn’t know Titanic was a real event? So what?

OK, I’ll rise to the bait.

I can’t decide if the people mocking those on Twitter who didn’t know the sinking of Titanic was a real event are exercising their right to shout the equivalent of “Get off my lawn” or they simply enjoy lording their smarts over someone.

But it’s unseemly either way.

These folks tweeting about the movie are young. Let’s examine where they might learn the history of the sinking. Because they learned it in school? I doubt it’s taught there and if it is, it shouldn’t be, given everything else that missing from the curriculum. Because they read about it in the paper? As young people don’t read papers, there’s not much chance of that. Because they read it on their Facebook or Twitter feed? Those links may be about Titanic, but they’re about the movie, not about what happened 100 years ago. Because they saw it on TV? Reality television has taught us that you can’t believe “reality” just because it’s on TV.

I teach college students. There is a lot of history they don’t know. Not knowing everything is one reason they’re in school. They also know a lot about things I don’t know about. It’s OK. They’re teaching me.

Besides, Twitter is hardly “Foreign Affairs” or “The Economist.” Just venture over to the Trending Topics and you’ll see what I mean.

P.S. (This is different from the racist tweets about characters in the Hunger Games because, well, racism is different from not knowing.)

Twitter in the news

Mathew Ingram tweeted what I’ve thought about a lot of news stories on television: it’s amazing how much TV coverage of Whitney Houston’s death consists of some news anchor just reading tweets on the air.

I’m a proponent of big media’s efforts to interact with people watching and reading their news reports. Anything that can make us listen to people, talk with them and learn from them is sorely needed. That said, as a viewer of a lot of television news, I haven’t ever seen a viewer’s response that resonated or added to my understanding of an event, including Houston’s.

Local and national television news shows use Twitter and Facebook posts on the air to, to, to, well, I don’t know what they do it for. Most of the time, the people tweeting aren’t identified by real name or location. My favorites are the controversial topics that have  multiple “sides.” The announcers make sure that all sides are represented from the Facebook and Twitter commenters.

I understand the desire to involve people in newscasts. Newspapers let readers have 200+ words to write their reflections on any manner of civic issues and the papers publish them as letters to the editor.

News programs insert the Twitter and Facebook reactions in their newscasts. Shouldn’t the inclusion of such stuff add to the story in some way? It is possible to write a penetrating thought in 140 characters. Perhaps television stations have put them on the air. I just haven’t seen any.

Five years later: “If the news is that important, it will find me.”

I asked my communication class, made up of primarily freshmen and sophomores, what their news and information sources are.

The top three answers were Facebook, Twitter and “people I know.” (The New York Times, which is distributed free in the communications building, was the first mainstream news source listed.)

This isn’t surprising to many journalists who have been paying attention.  From the New York Times in March 2007: Ms. Buckingham recalled conducting a focus group where one of her subjects, a college student, said, “If the news is that important, it will find me.”

Problem is, I get the idea that enough journalists aren’t paying attention.

Five years later, many editors and publishers aren’t on Facebook or Twitter. Of those who are, many don’t engage with people beyond promoting stories in their own publications. I should also include television here, too. Only a few of the 33 students mentioned getting news or information from broadcast news. (Their websites got decent numbers, though.)

Though they didn’t use this language, the students essentially described Facebook and Twitter as their own personal news sources — news sources they designed comprised of people they knew and trusted giving them information about both their personal lives  and the broader world.

The point? If journalists want to survive — to say nothing of flourish today — they must be part of the conversation of this generation of budding thinkers and news creators and consumers. They need to evaluate all the tools that Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc. offer and figure out what works for them.


Twitter chat Tuesday

Lock the doors and hide your children. I am going to participate in an ASNE Twitter chat at 2 p.m. tomorrow. The topic: What would ex-editors do differently. (Besides laying off people, I assume.)

Joining me are Mike Fancher, Melanie Sill and Glenn Proctor. They’ll do the heavy lifting. I’m there for comic relief.

Normally, I don’t care for Twitter chats. I find them hard to follow, but that’s because I have a wandering attention span (read, short). This one will be different; I’ll be in it. if you’re in journalism, this is an interesting topic. I know my answers will surprise a lot of my former employees at the News & Record. For instance, “Whose big idea was it to make Monday and Tuesday papers so thin? I should’ve fired that guy.”

Tune in. If you’re not on Twitter, you’re behind the times. Time to catch up. You can follow at #ASNEchat.

Does the newspaper drive web traffic?

Go Triad, the News & Record’s weekly entertainment magazine, has a cover story today titled “Top Tweets: Four Triad tweeters you should follow.” I wondered whether the four got a bump in followers as a result of the story.

They did, but it was nothing to write home about. The report from the four:

Jermaine Exum, manager of Acme Comics and who tweets mostly about comics, had seven new followers by noon. Eight is usual in a week. He said retweets drive new followers. One of his tweets today was RT’d by the Henson Company. He then got 10 new followers in 10 minutes.

Danielle Hatfield, a PR and social media expert, got 17 new followers by dinnertime. She averages five to eight new followers per day. “I think as more people read online & share – awareness could last weeks.”

Nikki Miller-Ka, who tweets about food, had 15 new followers, when she normally has just 2 or 3 a week.

Kit Rodenbough, owner of a shop downtown, only had 3, but at about 1 p.m., she noted that “the day is young.”

Here are possible interpretations those results:

1. The readers of the newspaper who are on Twitter already subscribe to those four. Unlikely.

2. Newspaper readers aren’t big Twitterers. Probably.

3. Their issues — comics, food, social media — aren’t so broad that “everyone” wants to sign up. Oprah and Ashton Kucher they aren’t, and I mean that as a positive.

4. People don’t follow the bread crumbs that newspaper stories leave leading to online sites. Most likely.

When I was at the paper, we never saw conclusive evidence that newspaper readers followed online promos from the paper. At least, directly. We often saw conclusive evidence that they did NOT. Don’t be surprised. Think about the number of online denizens who pick up a newspaper to read an article that they can’t get online.

In no way does that suggest that the story was a waste. If papers made editorial decisions based on how many people would act on it, they would hardly cover primary elections. I advocate journalism that exposes readers to something new. Readers don’t need to follow the link to learn about what 100 million people are members of.

Danielle says the viral nature of the web will come into play over the next several days. “Most who use twitter will read the article online and share web article over the next few days or so vs. purchasing paper.”

I think she’s right, but even if she’s not, the story introduced readers to four interesting people doing interesting things. Not bad.

*** Full disclosure: I know Danielle and Nikki personally. Nikki reported to me at the paper for a time. I also follow the article’s writer, Jennifer Bringle,on Twitter.

Friday update: It appears that scientific research bears Danielle out. The bottom line is simple: articles that many people tweeted about were 11 times more likely to be highly cited than those who few people tweeted about. Its implications are even more interesting. It generally takes months and years for papers to be cited by other scientific publications. Thus, on the day an article comes out, it would seem to be difficult to tell whether it will have a real impact on a given field.

One of the values of Twitter

People often tell me that they “don’t get Twitter.” I’ve gotten to the point where I tell them that they just have to make a concerted effort to wander around and get the feel for it. But the New York Times reminds me of one of the cooler things about Twitter: the ability to talk with some of my favorite authors.

Salman Rushdie told me he enjoys Twitter because “it allows one to be playful, to get a sense of what is on a lot of people’s minds at any given moment.”

I have talked with Chris Bohjalian, Carolyn Parkhurst and Gregg Hurwitz. I had tweeted that I had enjoyed each of their books, and they responded.

I don’t follow them, and our exchange wasn’t significant except that I felt connected with someone who had written something that touched me.

Journalists need to come to grips with the idea that that kind of connection with readers is valuable and shouldn’t be dismissed.

Year-end lists: the news silly season

Via Twitter this morning, Jeff Jarvis declared this the news media’s silly season. Jeff being Jeff, he used more colorful language: “Bullshit season begins. First: Time thing o’ the year. Next: Top 10 lists. Then predictions. All bullshit.”

And he’s right. The year-end lists contain no real news. They help us remember what happened in the calendar year. But there is little new information published. Predictions for the year are about as accurate as guesses about the length of Kim Kardashian’s next marriage. For the news organizations, these features fill time and space during what is traditionally a slow news time. (Time’s Person of the Year is a one-sentence news morsel and you move to the next thing about Lindsay Lohan.)

The thing is, people seem to enjoy them. It’s no coincidence that Buzzfeed’s biggest traffic day of the year came with its Most Powerful Photos of 2011 entry.

Nieman Lab’s Megan Garber talked with Buzzfeed’s founder, Jonah Peretti about that.

“I think the future is going to be about combining informational content with social and emotional content,” Peretti says, and “the post did a great job of combining those two things.”

I think he’s right, too. The problem with most of the year-in-review and year-ahead features is that they don’t include enough information and emotion to serve a true journalistic purpose. They’re done because we’ve always done them. With energy and emotion, they could be much more relevant than they are.