The shortest and probably most effective social media workshop I presented was for local reporters in Westchester County, N.Y.
It took three minutes:
1. Open laptops.
2. Go to your town Facebook page.
3. Type in a question (“what should we be covering in town?”) or make a comment (“meeting with editors today to talk about story ideas”).
4. Hit “enter.”
Just Do It. The lesson from the Nike ad applies to journalists who encounter new digital tools and new daily workflows.
The simple act of doing it helped each of us become more familiar with the tools we all hope to master to be better journalists. Each of us is new to something. A few months ago, I had never used Storify. Two weeks ago, I had never used Pinterest. The first time I live-blogged a speech, it was an experiment for me — a live blog of the 2010 State of the Union. While it was an important speech for the president, it was not a core assignment for Forbes.com, the business news site where I was managing editor. In a very important sense, it was my place to experiment and learn.
Every week I hear from journalists who want to improve their skills, who are neophytes at something. It’s common to meet a reporter who expresses some variation of these two worries: a) how do I learn this new tool and b) should I live tweet a boring meeting.
Yes, live tweet that boring meeting and use it to learn about Twitter. Live blog that routine lacrosse practice, and you’ll learn your way around the blogging software.
This stuff won’t show up on the homepage — it doesn’t diminish your name or the media brand. Make your mistakes when few people are paying attention. You’ll be more confident when you go to the murder trial. You’ll be ready for the school shooting or the deadly storm.
There is an even more basic way to start that doesn’t involve the dull meeting or routine sports practice. Start by asking a question that’s on your mind: What’s going on? What should I be reading? What’s happening tomorrow?
As you start on a new digital platform, there may be no audience and no response. Keep going. Ask everyday questions — what are you doing this weekend? did you see Venus last night? what’s your secret deer repellent recipe? It builds familiarity and steadily builds community. Then the community will be there when you need to say — who can join the shovel brigade at the Bar & Grill? Who can fill sandbags?