When tragedy strikes social media can hurt or help

Quite often on this blog I have preached the benefits of social media. However, there are sometimes that it can actually hurt a news situation when it isn’t managed correctly.

The hostage situation at the high school in Marinette, Wis. this week is a prime example of the dangers of unmanaged social media. Rumors shared on social media were reaching people long before actual facts were. In addition to sharing information, journalists and public officials should be monitoring the situation and dispelling rumors.

Media outlets pride themselves on seeking truth and reporting it. The Wisconsin news organizations did a good job of sharing the facts via Facebook and Twitter, but they didn’t counter rumors.

Compare that to when the plane crashed into the IRS building in Austin, Texas. The Austin-American Statesman (@statesman on Twitter) was sharing truth and dispelling rumors. Steve Buttry wrote a great case study based on that event and The Statesman’s coverage.

Buttry has also written other posts, including this one, on how to effectively use Twitter during a breaking news situation.

In a tragedy situation such as the Marinette hostage case it’s hard enough for the media to cover the story well, but it’s well worth the challenge to search out and defeat the rumors that will be flying on social media. And, remember any situation like this involves real humans, tread lightly.


Did news media use social media enough on election night?

Last week I posted a video of Iowa State students describing how they followed Election 2010.  I was surprised by the fairly even mix of people saying they used new media vs. traditional media to follow the results.

Graph showing the analysis of tweets by the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism

This left me thinking. Did the news media use social media enough? Were fewer people following online because they just didn’t think there would be reliable results?

I turned to the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism to find some analysis, which worked with Crimson Hexagon to analyze what was being said on Twitter.

Continue reading

How did Iowa State students follow election 2010?

I have been involved in two elections as a journalist: the 2008 presidential election and the 2010 midterm election. Each provided a very different experience for me. In 2008, I was a new designer and worked during the day to layout the entertainment and opinion sections. In 2010 and I worked about 12 hours straight keeping the website updated with fresh content and the latest results.

Just two years created a lot of new ways to follow the elections. Twitter wasn’t popular in 2008 and Facebook fan pages hadn’t taken off.

So, did the increase in technology matter? How did college students follow the election and its results, if at all?

Video shot, edited and produced by: Brian Smith, Tyler Kingkade and Cicely Gordon.

A new approach to crowdsourcing the story

Yesterday I got an interesting tweet from @NBCElectionDay telling me that I was a piece of art and had been added to an Election Day mosaic.

Of course, a tweet like that got get my attention. But, it was the information behind the tweet that really intrigued me. What was this mosaic and what did I have to do with it?

NBCElectionDay Election Day MosaicWell, as it turns out, there is a company called Hashtag Art that allows users to submit an image, designate a Twitter hashtag and it will capture people’s Twitter avatars to create a mosaic, complete with tweets containing the hashtag.

NBC News’ use of this system is really cool. What better way to discuss the election than capturing what more than 4,000 everyday Americans are saying in a really cool format?

One major downfall is that they are still adding tweets to the mosaic. Based on the account’s Twitter stream, the majority of the avatars have been added in the days after the election. While this does create a cool, lasting depiction of the election, I think it could be even more useful in real time.

Expand your skill sets, try new things

With the media landscape constantly changing, no one can afford to standstill. Waiting too long to adapt to a new technology, technique or delivery method could lead to members of the community going elsewhere for their news.

Attend conferences

One of the best way to stay up-to-date on the changes in the industry is to attend conferences with your peers.

Last week I went to Louisville, Ky. for the National College Media Convention. This is the premiere convention for student journalists and their advisers.

Finding out what your peers are doing is a great way to expose yourself to new ideas and techniques. While in Louisville, I met student journalists from across the nation. I picked up a few ideas from people and helped share my knowledge with others. Where else can you critique newspapers over cereal at midnight,  spend five minutes geeking out about em-dashes or lead a discussion on how to utilize social media? Continue reading

Americans are going mobile — where’s the media?

Pew gadget study

Graphic: Pew Internet & American Life Project

Last week the Pew Research Center released a study called Gadget Ownership, that shows 85 percent of Americans own a cell phone and 96 percent of 18 to 29 year olds own one. The study also looked at ownership of desktop and computers, video game consoles, MP3 players and e-book readers and tablet computers.

The study’s findings show that cell phones are the most popular gadget among Americans. The most recent data available from comScore, which covered June through August, shows that about a quarter of the cell phones in the United States are smart phones. The comScore data also showed that smart phone ownership has increased by 14 percent since the previous three-month period.

People have cell phones. So what?

cell phone ownership

Cell phone ownership by age

Plain and simple, it means that the media should be using mobile devices, applications and websites to connect with people where they are. The Pew study showed that  young people aged 18 to 29, made up the largest group of cell phone owners coming in at 96 percent, and of this age group only 88 percent owned a computer. If the media are going to form a lasting connection with this age group, they need to be prepared to do so on a variety of platforms. Media must provide content in formats that are useful to their viewers.

Steve Buttry has been blogging since 2009 about the overall need for a mobile strategy in the news media. He has developed a strategy for mobile-first, but I think his overall philosophy sums up the problem quite well:

We need to become the mobile news, information and commerce connection for people with the latest iPhone, BlackBerry or Droid (and whatever comes next), but also for people with simpler phones that handle only phone calls and text messages and for non-phone devices such as iPods.

We need to figure the best ways to deliver news and conduct commerce effectively on mobile devices: text messages, email, mobile applications, tweets, easy-to-use mobile web sites, podcasts, location-based news and commercial information.

Media need to combat shrinking print circulation and decreased television viewership. Mobile devices are not the only answer, but the amount of people using them showcases that they cannot be overlooked.

What are local media companies doing?

This data isn’t anything new. Cell phone usage has steadily been on the rise. Steve has been blogging about this for more than a year and the growth was evident well before then. So, have any of the media companies in Central Iowa done anything about it?

The Ames Tribune

The Tribune has a basic mobile website that displays only one photo at the top of the page. The rest of the site is simply a list of recent headlines.

The Des Moines Register

The Register also has a mobile website that operates in a similar fashion to the Ames Tribune. The Register does take it up a notch by allowing readers to sign up for text alerts for various types of news. It has also developed mobile versions of its dining guide and a pothole reporting tool that use the GPS data in your phone to provide content based on your location.


KCCI-TV raises the bar even higher. In addition to a mobile website and text alerts, KCCI has applications for BlackBerrys, iPhones and Android devices. The mobile apps send alerts, provide photos with the article listings and provide weather and business closings.


WHO-TV also has a mobile website that displays photos and a iPhone, Android and Blackberry app. Although, it does not promote or advertise any of these on its main website.


The main media outlets in the area at least have something available for the mobile devices, but no one is a standout leader. All of these companies are missing an opportunity to form a lasting connection with the age groups that will consume their news in the future. They have failed to become a go-to news source for mobile users in the area. Mobile is here, and companies are already behind if they aren’t utilizing it.


Update: Fixed broken link to KCCI mobile site on Oct. 25

Adapting to the changes in technology

Just during my lifetime I have witnessed a fundamental shift in the way people use technology. When I was little, my family owned one computer. My dad used it to type letters and write checks. I used it to play Reader Rabbit. Fast forward 15 years and my family of four owns four desktop computers, three laptops and enough spare parts to probably build a few more desktop computers.

With each passing year, I find myself more and more attached to technology.

So, what does all this new technology mean for the media?

Media have to look at how teens use technology and consume news to know where to move forward and maintain a product that will be prosperous for years to come.

Americans are adapting to technology faster than ever. First quarter sales of Apple’s iPad is more than four times higher than first quarter sales of its iPhone.

technolgy adaption

Comparison of first quarter sales of the iPad, iPhone and DVD player. Figures from http://www.cnbc.com/id/39501308. Graphic: Brian Smith

The iPad and other tablet devices being developed present a new opportunity for media companies to provide information to the public. People are carrying iPads on the go and the applications even allow media outlets to deliver customized alerts directly to an interested public. Publishing mobile alerts doesn’t carry the additional costs of printing extra editions of newspapers or trumping primetime television for a special newscast.

What does the data say?

Today’s youth are using these new technologies. They are less accustom to reading things in print or watching TV news. The future of news will be about providing news in whatever method the public demands.

A recent poll by the Harrison Group shows that tablet users spend 75 percent more time reading newspapers than non-tablet user. A Los Angeles Times blog on the survey shows that users are even more willing to pay for the newspapers they read.

But these are dark days for content publishers, and the survey offers a rare glimmer of hope. Tablet and digital-reader owners are more willing to pay for electronic books and periodicals. Between 82% and 86% say they’d be willing to pay, compared with 62% of the overall population.

While iPads and other moblie devices may not be the savior for media, they certainly present an opportunity to reach with a wider audience. Quick adapters to the iPad will be better positioned to tackle the next big technological breakthrough.