Five cool ways news organizations are using social media

March 30, 2010

Yeah, I usually blog about writing or travel. But since I’m looking to dive back into full-time journalism, my mind has been wandering into news land. Specifically, social media news land.

I’ve been watching how journalists and news organizations use social media (and playing with some of those approaches myself). By now, most media outlets take advantage of Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, maybe even LinkedIn and Flickr. But there are heaps of other ways to engage audience and create community.

Five social-media tools that journalists are using in innovative ways:

1. Twitter Lists. When Twitter’s list feature was first announced in October, journalists quickly realized the tool was useful to group and follow their sources. Now media organizations are taking it one step further, offering those lists to consumers so they can follow sources on their own. The New York Times, for example, has a page that aggregates all its Twitter lists, with a button that makes it easy for readers to follow those lists, too. The Texas Tribune created a list of the state’s elected officials using a unique format that lets readers see the latest tweet for each one. And some outlets, like the St. Petersburg Times, offer lists of their own reporter’s Twitter handles.

Because they can be put together quickly, lists are also an awesome tool for breaking news events — even if you’re already using a Twitter hashtag. Lists point both reporters and consumers toward tweeps who know what’s happening: people at the scene, experts on the topic or others who are affected in some way by whatever’s going on. When I come across such an example again, I’ll link to it here. (If you can share one, please let us know in the comments.)

2. Avatars. Personality is what makes Facebook pages and Twitter feeds popular; that’s why pages and feeds by reporters, infused with those individual’s personalities, often have more fans and followers than straight-up topical feeds (although topical and breaking news feeds have their place, too). But what happens when more than one reporter contributes to a feed? Can you go topical yet remain personal?

The Chicago Tribune’s solution was the creation of Colonel Tribune, its digital face for the paper. On Facebook and Twitter, the Colonel doesn’t simply throw out breaking news headlines, he teases links to stories and offers interesting tidbits, like a person would. (He’s unbiased, of course.) “He routinely gets news tips from some readers, hears from others about corrections and typos in stories, and he is offered story ideas,” explains Bill Adee, creator of the avatar, in this Nieman Foundation story.

3. Tumblr. Newsweek is leading the way (for media outlets, anyhow) with this blogging platform. In this interview with MediaBistro’s FishbowlNY, Mark Coatney, who’s behind Newsweek’s tumblelog, says, “It’s useful for us in terms of engaging a new kind of reader.”

Tumblr makes it easy to add multimedia like video, photos, audio and links. Unlike platforms like WordPress, Blogger and Typepad, it’s used primarily for short-form blogging. I know what you’re thinking: Isn’t Twitter the micro-blogging giant? Yet Tumblr allows users to add context, or multimedia, to content they share — and write more than 140 characters. It’s the middle sibling between blogs and Twitter.

I’m experimenting with Tumblr, and I still don’t understand exactly why I’d need this in addition to my blog. (Some people use it as their primary blogging platform.) But that’s why I’m trying it; to figure that out. If you use Tumbr, I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts in the comments.

4. CoveritLive. This live-blogging tool is becoming increasingly popular — and it’s easy to see why. It helps news organizations go beyond coverage and create conversations with a live stream that allows multiple contributors, commentary, polls and multimedia. It’s used for breaking news events, Q&A with experts, event commentary, regularly-scheduled chats and a handful of other opportunities that CoveritLive describes here.

Wanna see CoveritLive in action? Poynter uses the tool for its live chats.

5. Wikis. As the value of user-generated news and knowledge-sharing becomes more apparent, journalists are taking crowd-sourcing to new levels. Even Wikipedia, which was once thought to be a place to look for background, has become a go-to site for the latest on breaking news.

There are loads of ideas out there about how news sites can use wikis — take a look at this public policy wiki from Canada’s The Globe and Mail or the Guardian’s Investigate your MP’s expenses — but one of the most promising examples is Ushahidi, an open-source platform that tracks crisis situations. The New York Times wrote about it recently, explaining how the tool originated in Kenya to aggregate user-generated reports of violence. And the Washington Post used Ushahidi this winter, creating a cleanup map after Snowmageddon.

~ Want to add anything to this list? What innovative ways have you seen journalists or news organizations using social media? Journos, what are you diggin’ that I’ve missed?

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