AP’s new social media editor, Eric Carvin, 38, got his first computer in grade school. His mom won the IBM PCjr. in one of many sweepstakes contests she regularly entered by mailing in dozens of postcards.
“I was in fourth or fifth grade and someone from the front office stopped me and told me my mom had just won me a computer,” said Carvin. “I was so excited. The one characteristic of this computer that was unusual was it had a keyboard that wasn’t attached to the computer but had an infrared sensor that connected it. You could say it was the Bluetooth of the day.”
It was also a big flop.
“We won it just as it was being discontinued,” said Carvin’s mother, Nancy. “And that kept me from having to pay taxes.”
Carvin’s fascination with computers, and the promise of social media, stem back to his father, an electrical engineer. Bob Carvin introduced Eric and his older brother Andy to computers and programming at an early age. Andy, 40, has been NPR’s social media strategist since 2006.
“Though neither of us stuck with programming, we both continued to use computers a lot,” said Andy in an email. (The family got its first computer, an Atari 800, around 1980.) “If anything, I’d say what he introduced us to was curiosity, which I think is far more important than any particular technology could be.”
The Carvin brothers may have remarkably similar seeming jobs, but the responsibilities are quite different because the AP is a much larger organization with about 2,400 journalists, compared to NPR’s 350 journalists.
Eric comes with a strong news background and is embracing his new role, while last fall Andy, who did advocacy work before NPR, told a Harvard seminar that he’s “sick of the term social media.”
Andy sees himself more as a “guinea-pig-in-residence” at NPR. “My job is to experiment with new forms of journalism and develop strategies for NPR to adopt the ones that make sense for us,” said Andy. Of late, he’s been heavily involved in tweeting the Arab uprising.
Eric’s role is to make sure that social media becomes an integral part of every AP story. In addition to figuring out best practices standards, Eric will be teaching AP staffers how to effectively use social media tools.
“We have people everywhere and their skill levels are widely varied. Most AP journalists have a good understanding of social media’s benefits, but there are people who know more, and people who know less. I’ll be involved with training efforts hoping to get to every last journalist at AP.”
While many U.S. social media editors focus on Twitter, Facebook and Google+, it’s just as likely that Eric will have to delve into Orkut, a social networking site popular in India and Brazil or the leading social networking site in China, renren.com.
The brothers rarely used to talk about social media, but do more now though both see it as a means to an end. “I see us as having journalism in common, not social media,” said Andy. “We just happen to be doing it in such a way that values the role the public can play in the newsgathering process.”
Eric joined AP in 2000 as a news researcher. He graduated from Yale University in 1995 as an English major despite growing up as a math whiz.
“Eric won mathematics competition after competition but was never one to brag,” said Nancy Carvin, who still lives near Indialantic, Florida, where the brothers Carvin grew up. “He was also very good in science. I think he probably got burnt out at the end of high school and went to a school where the English department excelled.”
She said the two brothers are close but had different interests and different friends growing up, although they are only 19 months apart.
“Andy won awards for essays and Eric for math,” said Nancy. “It’s very strange to me that they both ended up in the media and in social media. Eric is very mellow. He’s about the most easy-going person with a very sweet nature. He’s got no ego.” She said they are not competitive. “We’ve never been competitive, though, if anything, we’ve always shared ideas with each other and encourage each other,” said Andy.
Right out of college, Eric became a writer and editor for Facts on File World News Digest, and after five years moved to AP. Soon, Eric said, he joined the National Desk and began paying his dues as an overnight editor.
“One thing about doing the overnight shift was that eventually the Iraq War broke out,” said Eric, who after three years became overnight supervising editor. “Suddenly the most important time of the day was three or four in the morning on the East Coast when the dramatic fighting was taking place. I was effectively running the AP news service and it exposed me to a lot of responsibilities and decision-making.”
In 2005, Eric became a founding news editor of “asap,” AP’s first foray into trying different ways to use digital media to tell stories. He ran “Far and Wide,” AP’s first news blog.
“Asap was an interesting turn in my career,” said Eric. “It was an experimental multimedia-focused news service within the greater news service. We got some interesting results.”
One involved a semi-regular feature where the AP gave cameras to non-professionals to take photos of their daily life. One instance resonated with Eric. An AP photo editor gave cameras to two Iraqi boys in different cities.
“What really floored me was two pictures that came in from one boy where he and his friends were pretending they had taken a hostage and were holding fake guns over their heads,” said Eric. “It was pretty heart-breaking.”
A big part of Eric’s new job will be thinking about ways of using social media across formats, departments and platforms. And finding ways of using and verifying content from sources outside of the AP.
He also will be involved with policing AP staffers’ use of such tools as Twitter and Facebook, and continually tweaking the news co-op’s social media guidelines.
Last July, the AP warned staffers not to express opinions on Twitter after tweets appeared about Casey Anthony’s trial and the New York Senate vote on gay marriage. At least 850 AP staffers have Twitter accounts.
The AP itself runs 18 Twitter accounts, including @APStylebook, @AP_Images, @AP_Video and the popular @AP_Fashion. They also have five AP Facebook accounts.
A week after the warning, AP updated its guidelines, including a proviso to not break news that AP hadn’t published, no matter what format. “What we are looking to do is avoid breaking news in a tweet that hasn’t been distributed through the AP newswire to our customers,” said Eric. “It doesn’t mean that our reporters can’t tweet anything without running it by the home office. Far from it.”
But it means they have to be more careful and strategic in tweeting since the AP is a cooperative of paying news organizations. If the AP created a Twitter feed with lots of breaking news, Eric noted, what value would the newswire be to its customers?
“Maybe we will decide ahead of time to go ahead and tweet that big thing that happens,” he said. “But we need to make those decisions carefully.”
His new job will better define itself as it evolves, he said.