Social Media Lessons From Muscatine: Start With the Hashtag

Homepage of The Muscatine JournalA global leader’s visit adds a cymbal crash to the rhythm of local news set by vandalismbusiness openings and wrestling tournaments.

For the editor of The Muscatine Journal, Chris Steinbach, the cymbals come together on Wednesday. That’s when Xi Jinping, the Vice President of China and the man slated to be the country’s next leader, makes a return visit to Muscatine, Iowa. Xi’s first visit, as a junior official, was in 1985.

Steinbach posts regular to his blog, the Editor’s Notebook, where a recent item discussed a delegation of Chinese journalists who asked how The Muscatine Journal planned to cover Xi’s visit:

I told them we focus our coverage as intensely as possible on what happens in our community and often pay little, if any, attention to what happens elsewhere in the state, nation and world.

But in this instance, I said, the world is coming to Muscatine and we would work to cover it as extensively as possible. In fact, news about Mr. Xi’s visit will dominate our news columns from today through Thursday. And we will cover it live Wednesday at muscatinejournal.com and via Twitter and Facebook. You can follow, and join, our coverage via the social media by searching for the hashtag #xiiowa.

Fortunately, Steinbach’s staff had a Twitter training session last week. Stephanie DePasquale of the Quad-City Times, another Lee Enterprises newspaper, told Muscatine reporters that it is important to listen to local residents on Twitter. If a musician tweets about a new CD, “that’s something that we might want to do a feature on,” DePasquale told them in the part of the social media session  caught on video.

Training and planning can take care of only so much, of course. One task many large chains don’t seem to do well is to quickly share content that has national appeal. I’ll be watching to see if Lee tries to do that across the scores of media properties it operates. At the very local end, the Muscatine paper, like most newspapers, seems to lack an almanac entry on its own market. What is special about Muscatine? I didn’t quickly find a piece on the Journal’s site that would allow me to skip a visit to an online encyclopedia. (Even the about us page for the Journal went to an error message when I clicked.)

There are many more signs that the Journal staff, led by Steinbach, is doing a lot right. I count these four important steps: 1. starting with the hashtag (reporters seem to be using both #xiiowa and #iowaxi) and the full-scale social media plan, 2. making the newsroom’s local expertise available to visitors, 3. being open with readers about coverage plans through the editor’s blog, and 4. staying focused on what the visit means to Muscatine.

There’s another lesson, for all of us: when a sister-city delegation comes to visit, be gracious to everyone. You never know how important one of those visitors may be 27 years later.

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Solving Readers’ Problems, Building Audience: The Fafsa Challenge

The process is daunting. Your newsroom can help.

The Chicago City clerk does it: Fafsa Preparation Assistance. A West Virginia foundation does it: College Goal Sunday. Kentucky did it in 19 towns: Sun., Jan. 29, College Goal Sunday.

A newspaper might run an announcement about a workshop, in Muskegon MI, Reading PA or Knoxville TN.

Why not organize a College Financial Aid workshop in your community? You could organize a virtual workshop, soliciting questions on Facebook, Twitter, through your email newsletter and on your website and providing answers from local experts. With a little more work, you could also organize a real-life workshop.

You may be publshing editorials, op-eds and letters about the rising costs of college, a trend Jordan Weissmann at The Atlantic labled a “surge of tuition rates and student debt that, for many Americans, is threatening to turn higher education into an unaffordable luxury.”

A reader-focused media company can do more than that.

Some editors may be asking: is this our job — to help families pay for college? Think of a related question: is it our job to provide a resource where members of our community can find information they need to solve their most pressing problems?

Newsrooms deepen community engagement by providing a platform for community voices, by providing information that leads to solutions for community problems and by convening like-minded groups to exchange news and ideas. Would a workshop fit that mission?

In Torrington CT and Winnipeg, Manitoba, newsrooms are opening their doors, inviting the community into the room. The Nonprofit Journalism Hub recently examined these two initiatives in an article: News Cafes and Open Newsrooms.

The Winnipeg Free Press News Cafe wants to find a way to reconnect with a younger demographic as well as become more transparent and accessible to the public. The Register Citizen Open Newsroom Cafe wants to help the community become more involved in the journalism process and let the public use the open newsroom space as a community center for gatherings, discussions, and educational opportunities.

Connect to younger people? Provide educational opportunities? Strengthen communities? What better way than to help families new to the process learn to conquer the daunting forms involved in paying for college.

The basic steps for either a virtual or real-life workshop include: announce the event, find a local expert, announce the event, provide a resource box of links in print and online, announce the event, tell families what they have to provide (a W-2, other financial information), announce the event.

For the offline workshop, you need a room, a way to make sure coffee and snacks are available, a person who will be responsible for stocking the room with paper, pens, pencils, and, if possible, an available copying machine and scanner.

In either case, the project is also a way to generate plenty of content — frequently asked questions, profiles of local experts, list of deadlines, process graphic, success stories of families that have reaped the benefit of completing the application, videos.

Keep a list of all the names, contact information and what your newsroom learned. In 11 and a half months, it will make it easier to do all over again.

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10 Lessons for Newsrooms: On Accuracy and Apologies

It’s easy to point a finger at a student news site that published inaccurate information. It’s humbling to see the managing editor there take responsibility and resign. It’s harder for the pros who run established newsrooms to look in the mirror and acknowledge where we’ve made mistakes. Harder still to share those lessons with our staffs and our community. Editors who takes those steps, however, build trust with readers. There will be time this coming week to carefully review what happened in your newsroom on Saturday evening, what might have been done differently, where you fell short and where you hit the mark.

Jeff Sonderman at Poynter has a good overview of the original error and correction about Joe Paterno’s condition. This post is about the second ring of error, the newsrooms that repeated the inaccurate information. There were many.

As I watched the error and the correct information spread across my Twitter and Facebook feeds and on a range of news sites, I saw problems along 10 decision points, five that came before a news organization published the first, inaccurate information and five more after it was published. In the days ahead, others will describe their own lessons learned. I offer this in the hope that it will inspire some thoughtful reflection — and improved newsroom procedures.
10 Errors, 10 Lessons: What Not to do in Your Newsroom

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New Year, New Carl Lavin Blog

I’ve switched to Carl Lavin: The Business of News.

TypePad has served me well. WordPress is right for right now.

A core reality of how business works is the idea of creative disruption. The more journalists and others in the media business learn about that force and the opportunities it presents, the better it will be for us and for our communities.

07Newsroom, my Typepad blog, seemed to be focused on the future when I started it in 2006. That’s where I will continue to focus. Many thanks to Austin Lavin for urging me to take this step and to Seth Lavin who did the work on WordPress, including migrating all the old content — both posts and comments. You can also get to the new blog with www.carllavin.com.

Shorter items are on twitter @FromCarl.

See you on and off line.

Thanks for reading.

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News About Jobs News, Facebook Tips, Happy Birthday Roanoke

Some thoughts and tips for editors, with short urls included to make sharing easier.

Jobless Rate

New unemployment numbers come out on Friday, Dec. 2. Early in the week, economists polled by Reuters said they expect employers to have added 122,000 new jobs, up from the 80,000 jobs added in October. To keep pace with population growth, about 150,000 net new jobs are needed each month.

A positive number on Friday could continue to help push stock prices higher. A worse-than-expected showing can dampen the post-Thanksgiving rally.

Retailers are adding about 600,000 jobs around the country: 9 Companies Hiring for the Holidays – TheStreet http://bit.ly/tHcKVU Continue reading

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Buy Nothing or Seek Bargains: Ready for Black Friday

Tips for editors, short url’s included to promote sharing.

The group that provided the idea for the Occupy Wall Street movement is also taking aim at shopping with an annual promotion for what it calls Buy Nothing Day:  | Adbusters Culturejammer Headquarters http://bit.ly/tTxB7w. This will be the 20th year that the Adbusters group has run its Buy Nothing campaign on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving and an annual festival of sales kicking off the holiday shopping season.

Background on the editors of the Canadian magazine Adbusters: Kalle Lasn and Micah White, the Creators of Occupy Wall Street: The New Yorker http://nyr.kr/tycsF9

Another group of people is also protesting the extraordinary overnight shopping hours and the sales that in some cases will start at 10 PM on Thanksgiving Day. A petition started by one Target worker in Omaha, Neb., now has 130,000 names on it. Many retail workers and their families don’t want their holiday interrupted: Retail backlash over Thanksgiving night openings http://bit.ly/uhqeVt Continue reading

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Praising Newspapers, Praising the Newsroom’s Next Generation: Meet Sara Ganim

Sara Ganim has a police scanner on her nightstand. She is one of those hard-working Millenials who caught the reporting bug in high school, worked for her college paper, wrote freelance pieces for her hometown paper and was an AP intern. Then she joined a newspaper with a reporting staff that might have reached 10 in the glory days but now numbers about six, the Centre Daily Times. One of the smallest McClatchy newspapers, it is edited by Bob Heisse, a skilled veteran with deep local roots and a side passion for rodeos. Continue reading

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