From headline to hashtag

In recent years, politics in Raleigh, North Carolina, have been pretty polite. Elections for City Council and mayor have rarely seen negative campaigning.

That changed this week when this full-page advertisement with a provocative headline appeared in two community newspapers owned by The News & Observer.

drunktown

The impetus for the ad is a debate regarding outdoor drinking at some bars. Earlier this year, the City Council narrowly passed an ordinance to address concerns about noise and crowded, dirty sidewalks. Bar owners said the ordinance has failed to address the problems while cutting into their business.

What struck me about the ad is how quickly it became the topic of conversation on social media. The hashtag #DrunkTown began trending almost immediately. There’s already a T-shirt.

The hubbub prompted local media organizations, including The News & Observer itself, to write stories about the ad. Other stories included a look at Raleigh’s “besotted past.” The ad even inspired an Onion-style bit of satire.

The “DrunkTown” campaign has since expanded to radio and direct mail. But it started in print.

It’s interesting that even today, with revenue for newspaper advertising in steady decline, an ad in print would become the talk of the town. The newspaper is sometimes still a conversation starter. I imagine that publishers will make a toast to that.

Q&A with Kelly Poe, reporter at AL.com

Kelly Poe is a business reporter at AL.com in Birmingham, Alabama. She previously worked at the News & Record in Greensboro, North Carolina. In this interview, conducted by email, Poe discusses her job, social media and the job market in journalism.

Q. Describe your job. What is your typical day like?

A. My typical day starts with checking my email (usually in bed on my phone) and checking in on a group news chat to see if there’s anything that needs immediate attention. Usually there’s not, so the day starts with a statewide morning news meeting.

I’m the only dedicated business reporter and Birmingham is about the size of Raleigh, so I’m never searching for things to do. I write everything I’d do if I had unlimited time on a to-do list, prioritize and cross off as much as I can in a day. Sometimes I only write one story a day; sometimes I write six.

Occasionally, I write about country music too, just because that’s a thing that I like (and that Alabama likes) and we have an incredible amount of freedom to write what we want here.

Q. In Greensboro, you worked for a daily newspaper. In Birmingham, you work for a publication that goes to press three times a week. How has that change affected your job as a reporter?

A. The number of days we go to press has had little to no effect on my job, as my responsibility first and foremost is to our website — and that is something very different from the other places I’ve worked. We post news as soon as it’s ready, and I actually rarely know which of my stories go into the print editions until I read them. Since we only print three times a week, it’s only a fraction of our content.

In a daily paper, you worry about length a lot more. You’re told by an editor to make something 12 inches and sometimes it would be best at 10, but you fill in those last two inches anyway. When you’re writing for the web, length is rarely a consideration — a story gets exactly what it needs, no more, no less. I also write my own headlines on the Web, something I never did for the print paper.

Q. You are active on Twitter. How do you use it as a journalism tool and resource?

A. Twitter is actually how I got this job!

While in Greensboro, I needed a phone number for a developer I couldn’t find online. So I followed an AL.com reporter who had written about him before, and when he followed me back, I direct-messaged him and asked him for the developer’s phone number, and he gave it to me. A few months later, the reporter contacted me to let me know about a job opening, and now I’m here! Twitter is a fantastic networking tool for journalism jobs.

As for how I use it in reporting, I often use it to gauge local interest in a story – I like to ask my followers if they think something is worth a story or not. I also use it to promote my own content, and I’ll frequently embed tweets for quick reaction posts to big news.

But Twitter’s just the tip of the social network iceberg. While Twitter has been the most valuable for professional networking and self-promotion within the journalism world, Facebook and Reddit have been far more valuable for me in news gathering.

Q. The job market in news is tough. What advice do you have for student journalists on how to break into a competitive field?

A. Introduce yourself to people who work where you want to work. When I was in college, I hated the concept of networking – but get over it, because if you’re not good at networking, you probably won’t be terribly good at reporting.

Introduce yourself to every professional journalist you’re ever in the same room with, and stay in touch, because the people you know will be your most valuable resource in job hunting. I promise it gets less weird, and especially if you end up covering something like business, introducing yourself to strangers in a room full of people in suits is a valuable skill for news gathering.

Learn at least one skill that most people don’t have. I know that when I was first looking for a job, I had great luck in getting interviews in Texas because of my Spanish. That didn’t help me everywhere, but it definitely made me stand out in certain markets.

Be willing to move. It’s a lot easier to get the job you want if you’re not restricting yourself to a certain geographic location. And look outside of the big cities, too!

I can’t tell you the incredible amount Birmingham has to offer 20-somethings, and I never considered moving to Alabama until the opportunity fell into my lap. Keep an open mind, and don’t rule out a job just because you don’t know much about the location – it could end up being the best place you’ve ever lived.

Q&A with Caroline McCain, account associate at communications firm Javelin

Caroline McCain is an account associate at Javelin, a communications firm in the D.C. area. In this interview, conducted by email, McCain discusses her work at Javelin, which has a social media focus, and prior jobs at two churches.

Q. Describe your job. What is your typical workday like?

A. Javelin is a growing communications firm in Old Town, Alexandria. We do everything from public relations to digital to books to social media. I work as an account associate, and I help with PR projects and lead our growing social media offerings to clients.

Days are pretty full and fast-paced — you’re basically as busy as the news cycle is. Particularly in the world of digital media, there is always something to be done, so it’s not hard to stay busy. I love the fast pace and the range of clients we work with. It keeps me on my toes.

With social media, my days are spent in a pretty consistent rhythm of creation, publishing, measuring and tweaking. Some of our core values at Javelin are continual improvement and accountability — and those are two things that are absolutely necessary in any client-facing relationship, but particularly in social media.

Social is great and can be fun, but unless it’s leading to an actual return on investment, you’re just spinning your wheels. So I spend a lot of time checking in with clients about what’s working, what’s not, and how we can get better results.

Q. You previously worked at as communications director at a Virginia church. What was it like to make a transition from a religious organization to a secular one?

A. The transition, in and of itself, was one that I had wanted to make for a while. But it was a matter of making sure the timing was right. My time spent working for both the church in Virginia, and previously for a church in Durham, North Carolina, was vital to my professional development. Anyone who works in the nonprofit sector knows what it’s like to be given a lot of responsibility, but very limited resources. It forces you to grow quickly.

I was deeply passionate about where I was working, and so I wanted our communications across media to be as effective and excellent as possible. But often that looked like me learning how to code, or learning graphic design, or getting my feet wet with video. We didn’t always have the resources to hire someone who already knew how to do those things.

So those four years working with churches was so great for me. Out of necessity, I developed a whole new skill set, and I had the chance to lead teams of people.

Q. Your surname is a notable one in Washington politics. How has that affected your career, if at all?

A. Ha-ha. Honestly, it doesn’t affect things for me that much. I am immensely proud of my grandfather, and I am proud to call him family. But I hope that my work — both in scope and ethic — stands on its own.

I am more than happy to talk about my name when asked, but it’s rarely something I bring up from the get-go. I imagine here in D.C. people might wonder, but I don’t get asked about it as often as I thought I might. Then again, 2008 was a long time ago. People have moved on.:)

Q. You graduated from the journalism school at UNC-Chapel Hill in 2010. What skills that you learned there do you use in your job now, and what new ones have you picked up? What advice do you have for the Class of 2015?

A. It’s become trendy these days to knock on journalism degrees. But the skills and the relationships I gained at UNC are so invaluable. I took away some very practical skills: reporting, editing, what makes for a good story, asking the right questions. And in some of my classes, I was learning how to write good tweets and what Tumblr was long before either social network became as ubiquitous as they are now.

I was on a track to become a reporter, and now I’ve crossed over to the “dark side” and am working in PR! I never took one PR course when I was at UNC, and so it was a surprising step for me.

A lot of the skills I use day-to-day in terms of social media, growing audiences online, etc., are things I learned after graduation. A lot of learning by trial and error, self-education, etc. In the digital space, things are constantly evolving, and so you have to be committed to learning new things every day and adapting to change so you can keep getting better.

My biggest advice to the class of 2015 is to diversify your skill set as much as you can! The j-school already does a great job of this, but I’d encourage you to go beyond what’s required. Take that photo class, learn how to code, actually learn to speak a language conversationally. They seem like requirements now while you’re in school, but all those things will serve you well when you graduate.

UPDATE: In November 2105, McCain left Javelin to oversee social media for Sen. Marco Rubio’s presidential campaign.

Q&A with Philip Jones, social media community leader for UNC-Chapel Hill

Philip Jones is social media community leader at UNC-Chapel Hill, his alma mater. He previously held a similar position at Elon University. Jones has worked as an anchor and reporter for North Carolina TV stations WFMY and WNCT. He started his career in print journalism. In this interview, conducted by email, Jones talks about his position at UNC and how the university uses social media. 

Q. Describe your job. What is your typical workday like?

A. I’m part of a team of three folks who manage UNC’s main social media presence on platforms such as Twitter (@UNC), Facebook (/uncchapelhill), Instagram (@uncchapelhill) and Snapchat (unc-chapelhill). We each have different strengths and backgrounds, which ideally makes for fun, diverse and creative content for our users.

Every workday is a little different. We rotate which platforms we’re covering each day so that the content and experience don’t become stale for us or for the audience.

There’s a fair amount of time spent at my desk doing customer service (i.e. fielding questions we receive about UNC via social or participating in conversations about Carolina), there’s a bit of time spent looking for content about or related to UNC, there’s time spent with other members of the Office of Communications and Public Affairs going over what they’re working on and how we can amplify it through social media, and of course there’s time spent walking around campus or attending events looking for great photos, videos and posts.

We also do a lot of listening. We monitor conversations and news reports about Carolina, and we love jumping in and engaging with people who seek us out. We can’t respond to every tweet or post, but we do see and take note of all the ones directed our way.

Q. You held a similar job at Elon University. From a social media perspective, how is a big public university like UNC different from a smaller, private school like Elon?

A. The basics are the same: Our goal is to have fun and find ways to resonate with students, parents, alumni, faculty, staff, prospective students, the local community and the public at large.

There are big differences, though, in the sizes of the followings, the scope of the issues facing each university and how much conversation there is about the institutions. If I screw up something now, more people are likely to notice!

But it’s important that Carolina takes ownership of telling its story and making sure people understand what’s remarkable about this place. It’s exciting to share in doing that through social media.

My hope at UNC is the same as what it was at Elon – to inform and entertain our users. If someone learns something, feels some nostalgia, cracks a smile or takes a little more pride in their institution because of what we’ve done that day on social media, I’m happy. It is a bit more personal for me now, though, as Carolina is a place I’ve loved since I was a child.

Q. On occasion, universities have to respond to bad news via social media. What is UNC’s approach on events such as the release of the Wainstein report or the fatal shooting of three students off campus?

A. On those occasions, we aim to use social media as a way to complement and amplify the university’s traditional messaging. However, I do believe social media has inspired institutions to organize and publish that messaging more quickly than in the past.

We know an hours-later press release isn’t sufficient these days. So when there’s significant news, our team immediately begins thinking of ways we can share information quickly and even differently – perhaps through photos, videos or graphics.

Social media also gives us an opportunity to humanize the university during exciting or challenging events. There’s a person behind each of our posts, tweets and pics – and we’re likely experiencing the same feelings and emotions our community is. When appropriate, social media allows us to convey that and make clear that what we’re doing isn’t branding, but is instead relating.

Q. Before getting into social media professionally, you worked in television and, before that, for newspapers and magazines. How were you able to make those transitions?

A. What a long, strange trip it’s been! At my core, I *love* words. That’s what has enabled and fueled me as I embarked on each new adventure.

I love telling stories, and I’ve been blessed to tell them in a bunch of different ways. The biggest transition was leaving TV and moving to social media full-time. But social media had become such a central part of my reporting process that it felt like a natural move.

I used social media to find sources and story ideas on a routine basis – it wasn’t just about attempting to showcase my work and churn out links to the masses. How I used my social media accounts became a “digital resume” I was able to use to help earn the job at Elon and show that I was capable of representing it well online.

Q. Many journalism students are interested in careers in social media. What advice do you have for them?

A. The biggest point I always make is to keep the “social” in social media. Whether you’re representing yourself or an organization, you have to interact. You have to be genuine. And you have to be an active part of the online community.

Know that you’re going to screw up, and don’t be afraid of a flop. Typos happen. Sometimes you don’t do a good job of reading the room. Every once in a while, your community won’t have any interest in that post you thought would go viral. Even the best-ever hitters in baseball only got it right about 40 percent of the time!

So do your best on every effort but know that sometimes it just ain’t gonna work. And that’s OK. Social media is an inexact science. It didn’t even exist in its current form when I graduated from Carolina in 2006, so you’re going to have to work hard to stay ahead of the curve.

I also believe that if you’re going to be a great producer, you have to be a great consumer. That goes for journalism and social media. Read a lot. Consume a lot. Experiment. And have fun.

Follow Philip Jones on Twitter and connect with him on LinkedIn.

Student guest post: Swipe left for news

Students in JOMC 457, Advanced Editing, are writing guests posts for this blog this semester. This is the third of those posts. Juanita Chavarro Arias is a junior majoring in journalism at UNC-Chapel Hill with a minor in composition, rhetoric and digital literacy. She enjoys keeping up with entertainment news and is a self-proclaimed TV junkie.

In an age where we want everything now and in one place, media companies are looking for ways to get their content more easily in the palm of our hands. We can open our smartphone’s Twitter app and find out what’s going on in the world before we even get out of bed in the morning.

Increasing technology developments have forever changed the standards for reporting news. Consumers no longer rely on traditional media outlets for news and stories. Facebook posts, tweets and Instagram photos can provide information more efficiently and easily to anyone who scrolls through a feed and doesn’t want to follow a link.

Social media may seem daunting or unnecessary for a news organization to use. But they are essential tools for promoting content, gaining traffic and communicating with readers, viewers and listeners.

The Wrap reported last week that NowThis News, a video news source, recently decided to operate exclusively on social media and shut down its website. NowThisNews.com displays a message saying, “Homepage. Even the word sounds old. Today the news lives where you live.”

The media industry has experienced the decline of print news, the transition to the Internet and the incorporation of social media, but how long will it be before even websites become obsolete? Apps and social media are on the rise, so if NTN’s move away from its website is an indication, it could be a possibility in the future.

Last week, the popular messaging app Snapchat unveiled Discover, a new service which allows users to look through stories made up of text, video and pictures. The stories are only available on the app for 24 hours before Discover refreshes and releases new ones. Discover launched as a collaboration with CNN, Comedy Central, Cosmopolitan, Daily Mail, ESPN, Food Network, National Geographic, People, Vice, Yahoo! News and Warner Music Group.

Snapchat’s Discover works from the social media ideal that content should be gathered in one place so consumers don’t have to click around or switch from app to app to find what they want. Through the app, people can communicate with friends and swipe to the left to get their fill of news such as a feature on a potty-trained sloth to a story about RadioShack’s bankruptcy.

“How do we edit for Snapchat?” is probably a question the news media weren’t expecting to ask themselves. However, editing on this platform is just as important as editing for print and online media as short, concise stories are what audiences want.

Most of the time, readers spend seconds on a story before clicking or swiping away, so editors have the difficult task of creating attention-grabbing, short and accurate headlines to pull in readers. Writers and editors are adjusting their skills and story formats to fit technological constraints and the short attention spans of consumers who have grown accustomed to getting everything in 140-character tweets.

It may be difficult to adjust to changing consumer habits and media platforms, but it’s worth working through. News outlets should embrace the technology that becomes available to them because each new app or social media network provides an additional opportunity to share content and attract a greater audience.

This wasn’t the “Star Wars” trailer I was looking for

Editors care deeply about accuracy. Sites such as Emergent, Politifact and Snopes are helpful resources to make sure we get things right before publishing, posting and sharing.

In my editing courses, fact-checking and verification are important elements. And I always take care to be sure something is real before sharing it on social media.

Well, almost always. Earlier, this week, my fandom for “Star Wars” eclipsed my usual caution. I saw a link on Twitter to what was purported to be the trailer for the new movie in the series. After a quick look at the preview, I retweeted the link and posted it to Facebook with the message “stay on target.”

Several friends and my cousin pointed out within minutes that the trailer was made by fans and not the real preview of the movie. I edited my status update on Facebook and sent a followup tweet.

How did I fall for a fake and share it? Here are some possible explanations:

  • The person who tweeted the link is an editor with many years of experience. I trusted him and still do, but even reliable sources make mistakes.
  • I knew the official trailer was set to be released on Nov. 28, so a leaked version appearing on YouTube a couple of days beforehand seemed plausible.
  • The fan-generated trailer is pretty convincing. It even fooled Rolling Stone magazine.
  • I didn’t read the comments on the YouTube post that would have tipped me off. But I tend to ignore reader comments, especially on that site.
  • I am a big fan of the original “Star Wars” trilogy, and my excitement about a new movie let my defenses down. It was a trap.

I regret the error, and I apologize for sharing bad information. I will double my efforts.

Q&A with Brian Long of the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Affairs

Brian Long is director public affairs North Carolina’s Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. In that role, he oversees the department’s communication efforts, including the N.C. State Fair. He is a 1988 graduate of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at UNC-Chapel Hill. In this interview, conducted by email, Long talks about his job and what to expect at this year’s fair.

Q. Describe your job. What is your typical day like?

A. Unpredictable. It doesn’t matter what I’m planning to get done on any given day, there’s always the possibility that I’ll end up spending my day working on something entirely different.

The Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has a lot of service and regulatory responsibilities, so there’s always a possibility of some issue popping up. The unpredictability keeps my job from being boring, but some days can definitely be a challenge.

I usually start my day reviewing news stories related to agriculture or other topics the department has some connection to. I spend a good chunk of time editing news releases, speeches and blog posts written by the other members of the Public Affairs staff. I also do a bit of writing myself, though not as much as I would like because I find myself pulled into a good number of meetings.

Q. It’s almost time for the State Fair. How does your job change in the weeks leading up to this event? In the aftermath?

A. We begin working on the State Fair in the winter, developing a theme and working with the fair’s ad agency on a media plan and creative concepts. We do some publicity during the summer — announcing the theme, updating the website and publicizing the concert lineup and advance ticket sales, which usually start in early August.

We get more focused on the fair in September, planning what I call “events within the event.” Our staff is responsible for organizing a pre-fair media lunch, a press conference focused on safety, an opening ceremony and the annual State Fair Livestock Hall of Fame induction. We move our office from downtown to the fairgrounds a week before the fair opens.

Once the fair opens, our duties involve responding to media requests and helping reporters with story ideas, publicizing winners of livestock and cooking contests and taking photos of the fair. After the fair, we typically deal with any follow-up media requests regarding attendance and our overall impression of the fair, and we announce any remaining livestock show results.

And before we know it, we’re getting ready for the next year. I also should mention that even though we’re absorbed by the fair, we still have responsibilities for assisting the rest of the agriculture department with any communications needs.

Q. Each year, the fair has a theme. This year it’s “the October Original.” How do those themes come about?

A. Caffeine and sugar usually play a role in our theme development. We get together and brainstorm ideas based on the fair’s characteristics.

We strive for themes that create a certain mood or feel. For this year’s theme, we wanted to play up the fact that the fair is a unique North Carolina experience.

Q. Unfortunately, the fair is not just fun, food and games. Last year, an accident on a ride injured several people. This year, a concealed-carry group said it wants to bring guns to the fair, bringing a political debate to the event. How does your office handle these situations?

A. We believe in transparency and accuracy.

When the ride accident happened last year, we immediately began gathering as many known facts as possible so that we could hold a news briefing and put out a news release. The initial focus was on what happened, because we didn’t know when the investigation would determine why it happened. By providing accurate information as quickly as possible, we hope to guard against speculation and rumors.

When situations like this occur, the relationships we’ve built with news media over time are invaluable. We have a track record of being accessible and helpful to the media, and there is a mutual respect for our respective jobs.

Q. Social media must play a role in the fair nowadays. Any advice for those of us visiting on how and what to tweet and post to Instagram this year?

A. Because of the popularity of selfies, we are rebranding our photo-op spots as “selfie stations” this year. We also encourage visitors to post about their favorite things at the fair, whether it’s the food, the exhibits, the rides, the animals or the entertainment. Use #ncstatefair or #octoberoriginal (this year’s theme).