The Monitor of McAllen, Texas, is turning reporters loose to act like real people on social networks, relaxing traditional concerns about objectivity and formality.
The paper, with a daily circulation of about 45,000 and a news staff of 42, this week began attaching reporters’ social contact information to every story in the printed edition. Twitter usernames appear next to their bylines, and the end of each story lists how to reach them via Facebook, email and phone.
The obvious goal is to get more people to follow, like or friend the reporters. But that wouldn’t be much help unless the reporters are ready to engage on these platforms. So, Executive Editor Steve Fagan says he is “encouraging reporters to show a little more personality through the social networks than they do normally in print or even online reporting, to make our people a little more human.”
The reforms grew from conversations between management and the publisher about how to strengthen the paper’s social media presence, as its parent company, Freedom Communications, is pushing all its papers to build digital-first strategies.
Fagan also is giving the staff more freedom to express opinions — or at least display some emotion — as they use social networks for reporting and distributing stories. That doesn’t mean there are no boundaries, he said. The newspaper’s publisher this week redistributed copies of the SPJ code of ethics, and the staff is still expected to adhere to “normal guidelines for good-taste reporting,” Fagan said.
Fagan acknowledged this carries some risk and that reporters may make some mistakes as they experiment. Those will be treated as learning opportunities, he said. Newspaper people need to push beyond their comfort zones and use social media to really connect with the audience, he said. And that’s coming not from a 20-something reporter but a veteran who put out papers well before the Internet era.
“I’ve been 40 years in the business. …We (newspaper journalists) have gone out of our way to be invisible people, keeping ourselves out of it. When you’re doing social media, it’s not really possible to keep yourself out of it,” Fagan said.
“One of the things newspapers have always been at a disadvantage at, particularly where TV is concerned, is we have been sort of anonymous. We might be a name, but we’re almost never a face. And we don’t get to giggle in front of the camera and swap little homilies with one another while the weather is being done. This gives us a chance to do that, in a way, to show some personality, to show who we are not only as journalists but as people.”
Correction: This post originally said The Monitor had no written social media policy. While the paper does not have its own policy, its parent company Freedom Communications does have a policy that applies to all employees.