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Tips for Storytellers: How to make the most of your tweets

My Grandma Helfrey was a master storyteller, using voices and just the right sense of humor. Over the years at Poynter, I’ve met a host of great storytellers and I’ve loved seeing them perfect the tools of their trade—for writing, audio, video, photography, graphics, social media and more.

To summarize a few of the ideas that have stuck with me, I’ve created a series of graphics with tips for storytellers. Think of it as bite-sized inspiration. Here’s the first one: How to make the most of your tweets. On Friday: Tips for great video, with Regina McCombs and others.

Poynter Tips for Storyteller: How to Make the Most of Your Tweets by Sara Quinn
Poynter Tips for Storyteller: How to Make the Most of Your Tweets by Sara Quinn

For a PDF: Tips for Storytellers: How to make the most of your tweets Read more

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At a conference in Cannes, BuzzFeed President Jon Steinberg said that “We feel strongly that traditional media have given up on young people” and that news organizations should focus on sharing throughout their processes.

“More so than the technology, you have to write and produce news for the social web: it has to be novel, important and have this social imperative behind it,” he said, suggesting that some media have yet to move on from an SEO-focused approach optimised for Google’s search engine rather than social sharing.

“That allowed people to write very boring news that was aggregated and unoriginal. And that doesn’t work well on social,” he said. “The most important thing you can do is to think to yourself ‘why would somebody share this content?’ And that’s very high-quality content.”

Stuart Dredge, the Guardian

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newspaperman

Pew surveys of audience habits suggest perilous future for news

News organizations have been confronting the problem of a shrinking audience for more than a decade, but trends strongly suggest that these difficulties may only worsen over time. Today’s younger and middle-aged audience seems unlikely to ever match the avid news interest of the generations they will replace, even as they enthusiastically transition to the Internet as their principal source of news.

Pew Research longitudinal surveys find that Gen Xers (33-47 years old) and Millennials (18-31 years old), who spent less time than older people following the news at the outset of their adulthood, have so far shown little indication that that they will become heavier news consumers as they age.

Notably, a 2012 Pew Research national poll found members of the Silent generation (67-84 years old) spending 84 minutes watching, reading or listening to the news the day before the survey interview. Boomers (48-66 years old), did not lag far behind (77 minutes), but Xers and Millennials spent much less time: 66 minutes and 46 minutes, respectively.

The truly troubling trend for the media is that Pew Research surveys give little indication that news consumption increases among members of the younger age groups as they get older. For example, in 2004 Xers reported following the news about as often as they did in 2012 (63 minutes versus 66 minutes). The eight-year trend for Millennials was equally flat (43 minutes versus 46 minutes).

Younger generations just don’t enjoy following news

The relatively modest levels of news consumption among the younger generations may be the result of any number of factors – more activities that compete with following the news, fewer compelling major historical events during childhood and adolescence, and so forth. But a critical factor that emerges from the surveys is that older people simply enjoy the news more than the young do. The Pew Research Center’s latest surveys find 58 percent of Silents and Boomers reporting they enjoy following the news a lot, compared to 45% of Xers and just 29 percent of Millennials. This generational difference has been consistently apparent in the surveys over the years.

The audience for newspapers among younger Americans has been modest from the outset of their adulthood, and has not increased as these people have matured. In fact, as they have gotten older Xers and Millennials have become even less inclined to read newspapers.

While much has been made about the potential appeal, especially to younger audiences, of reading newspapers on digital devices such as iPhones, iPads and Kindles, such readership is modest (8 percent and 6 percent respectively) among both Millennials and Xers, and has done little to offset declines in newspaper readership among these groups in recent years.

Television news viewership is markedly lower among younger age groups compared to older people, with no sign of it increasing as Xers and Millennials age. However, unlike newspapers, there is little indication that this TV news viewership declines with age.

In sharp contrast, Xers and Millennials have increasingly turned to the Internet for news as they have gotten older. Among Xers the Internet news audience jumped from 29 percent to 49 percent between 2004 and 2012. It now matches turning to TV for news, which also declined (by 20 percentage points over this period). Similar patterns are apparent among Millennials, but they are more extreme. More of those born between 1982 and 1995 (43 percent) now turn to the Internet for news than to TV (35 percent).

Radio is the traditional news source that has held its own the best among the younger cohorts as they have aged. Fully 38 percent of Xers say they got news from radio “yesterday” and 27 percent of Millennials said the same. Both measures are little changed since the middle of the last decade.

Older Americans’ habits show little change

The percentage of Silents and Boomers who turn to TV for news has not declined since the mid 1990s, when we first began these surveys. In fact, as Boomers have aged a growing percentage have turned to TV for news. Strikingly, many fewer Silents and Boomers get news from radio than they did in the mid-1990s.

The surveys indicate much more change with respect to newspaper readership. The percentage of Boomers who “read a paper yesterday” is much lower today than it was in the mid-1990s – 49 percent in 1996 versus 36 percent in 2012. Digital newspapers are read by minuscule numbers of Silents (3 percent) and Boomers (6 percent). But Silents stand out as heavy consumers of newspapers — every bit as much as they were in the mid-1990s.

Over the years, only modest numbers of Boomers and Silents have adopted the Internet as a source of news — 23 percent and 35 percent, respectively.

For all the potential bad news for the traditional news media, social media looms as a potential booster of news consumption among the younger generation, albeit a modest one so far. Pew Research’s 2012 survey found a third of Millennials and 20 percent of Xers saying they regularly see news or news headlines on social-networking sites. However, only about 35 percent of those who get news from social network sites say they follow up and seek out full news stories.

News organizations clearly and correctly see digital readership as vital to their future. But again, this data suggests that expectations have to be modest with respect to regaining the huge audience the media once enjoyed. The raw material — high levels of news engagement among the younger generations — just has not been there, at least for now.

Andrew Kohut is the Founding Director of the Pew Research Center, in Washington, D.C.

Correction: A paragraph about news consumption increasing among members of  younger age groups as they get older has been updated to reflect more accurate figures. Read more

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This clickbait headline generator will change your life

NewsWhip | TheWrap | Joy Mayer

NewsWhip has a new tool for publishers befuddled by the move from headlines optimized for search engines toward those optimized for sharing.

Its “Clickbait Headline Generator” quickly gives you content like “Is Netflix CEO Reed Hastings getting high with Vladimir Putin?” and “Is John Kerry teasing Ben Affleck at your parents’ place?” Throw some pictures under them, fire up Chartbeat and watch your Christmas bonus grow!

The service is not only “definitely a robot, it’s also guaranteed not to be an art project,” Tom Lowe writes, referring to the disappointment experienced by a certain segment of Internet elites when they found out the @Horse_ebooks Twitter account was the latter.

The headlines are funny, but the imperative behind such story packaging is deadly serious for publishers. BuzzFeed was the top publisher on Facebook in August 2013. Read more

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Pinterest sees growing number of journalists using the site, makes related changes

Oh, How Pinteresting!

Pinterest introduced new article pins Tuesday; links to articles you’ve pinned can include a story’s headline and byline, plus a description as well as a link. The site says its users share more than 5 million articles each day. In that description, you can also throw in a photo credit.

News organizations with the right code should start seeing “rich pins” Wednesday,  Pinterest spokesperson Malorie Lucich told Poynter in an email. Pinterest is making the change because it’s “seeing a growing number or journalists and media sites use Pinterest,” Lucich wrote.

Some rich pins from Men’s Journal

The site’s ability to drive Web traffic may be a draw for news organizations and journalists. BuzzFeed CEO Jonah Peretti said in his interview for the “Riptide” project that Pinterest sends more traffic to his site than Twitter does. (The service is also a great way to search for images, BuzzFeed’s Ashley McCollum wrote in May.) Articles shared on Pinterest have an especially long “half-life,” John Koetsier wrote in June:

The key difference is that while Pinterest is a social network, it’s also an ideas-and-inspiration website, whereas Twitter and Facebook are social networks with a massive emphasis on immediacy. When people visit Pinterest, they browse, they search, they surf, and they uncover more pins.

Pinterest CEO Ben Silbermann recently announced the company would introduce “promoted pins.” Such ads “should be about stuff you’re actually interested in, like a delicious recipe, or a jacket that’s your style,” Silbermann wrote. Read more

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Bird words

New York Times experiments with tweetable highlights in ‘SNL’ story

Dave Itzkoff’s oral history of “Saturday Night Live” auditions has a new feature for a New York Times article page: highlighted sentences that you can click to tweet.

“It’s a one-off experiment on this story,” Times Deputy Editor of Interactive News Marc Lavallee told Poynter by phone. “It’s not like a feature that’s in the pipeline to be rolled out sitewide.” The Times is continuing to experiment with article presentation online in advance of a redesign next year.

Itzkoff — with whom I used to work at Spin — and social media editor Michael Roston chose the sentences, Lavallee said, at least one of which is actually too long for a tweet. That one gets abridged, Lavallee said. You’re not required to tweet the same sentences the Times chose, but a tweet using that link will drop you onto that exact point on the page.

“I think that gives us comfort in providing these prompts without making us feel like we’re putting words in people’s mouths,” he said. Read more

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Emailinterviews2

College media outlets work through evolution of email, social media interviews

“I don’t allow email interviews in any of the classes I teach — except one. If I didn’t allow email interviews in the class tied to The Lantern, we’d never put out a paper.”

I’ve recited those lines to students and others here at Ohio State many times in the three years I’ve served as student media adviser.

Am I being dramatic? I’ve been told I can be.

Am I exaggerating? No.

Some college newspapers have made headlines in the last year for “banning” email interviews: This Poynter story has a nice roundup of bans announced by three of them.

Reading about such edicts, I wondered how the papers could truly ban email interviews and continue to function. With that in mind, I spoke to and, yes, emailed with the editors of 10 prominent college-media outlets. When discussing interview preferences, all ranked email a distant third behind in-person and telephone calls by staff writers, treating them as a last resort.

That’s as it should be — but problems enforcing these standards persist, notably high-profile sources that insist on email interviews. The college papers also have differing views on conducting interviews via social media.

“Incredibly frustrating” — but better than nothing

I spoke with editors at Ohio State, South Florida, Syracuse, Penn State, Harvard, Princeton, Oregon, Wisconsin, Iowa and Maryland and the reality is that none of those college papers has actually banned email interviews. What they have done, though, is clearly defined the order of preference for communicating with sources and pledged transparency on the occasions when email is used.

From those conversations, a number of reasons emerged for why sources in and around universities continue to insist on email interviews:

  • They say they have been misquoted and burned in the past.
  • Their office/department/college requires it because of perceived legal liability or other concerns.
  • They know that email interviews are the only way to completely control their messages.
  • College journalists often don’t ask for in-person or phone interviews, and/or gladly accept when offered email as an alternative.

Divya Kumar, editor-in-chief at The Oracle, the University of South Florida’s paper, said email interviews were banned earlier this year, sparking a reaction she called “interesting.”

The editors at the Tampa-based campus decided to act after noticing an increase in the number of sources requiring written questions in advance of an interview and then using the answers as the interview.

“We felt that was a way of prior review so we decided not to do it,” Kumar said in a phone interview.

Kumar said the high turnover rate among reporters has made it challenging to ensure all contributors know the policy and understand the reason for it, something she said will be a main focus for the upcoming year. Kumar said that after the policy was announced, Oracle editors spiked a story that relied solely on email interviews.

In the rare cases where email interviews are used, Kumar said editors let readers know that the quotes came from emails and why — for example, email is sometimes needed because a source is traveling.

At Princeton, the previous editorial board noticed that too many sources were declining in-person or phone interviews, “putting the reporter in a difficult negotiating position,” said Luc Cohen, editor-in-chief of The Daily Princetonian.

“An interview should be a conversation … we tell our reporters never to leave an interview until they’re sure they’re confident they fully understand the source’s perspective and comments, which isn’t possible in a medium devoid of meaningful, real-time interaction,” Cohen wrote in an email. “Over email, sources often skipped over certain questions on the list, or ignored the reporter’s questions altogether in their response.”

Brittany Horn, editor-in-chief of The Daily Collegian at Penn State, said in the past the paper limited email interviews to its dealings with former president Graham Spanier, noting that email was “the only way he would communicate with us.”

“However, in the fallout from the Jerry Sandusky case, we’ve seen many more professors and administrators turning to email-only correspondence, citing fears of being misquoted or wanting to be able to think more about what they’re saying before speaking to our student journalists,” Horn said in an email. “Obviously, from a journalism standpoint, this is incredibly frustrating.”

Despite that hindrance, Horn said there are no changes planned to the paper’s interviewing polices, “mainly because some members of the administration won’t speak with us any other way, and I’d rather have some comment versus none at all.”

Casey Fabris, editor-in-chief of The Daily Orange at Syracuse, said email interviews are usually conducted by reporters when one source is the authority on a certain subject and will only answer written questions. The paper will then try to ensure that other email interviews in those stories are limited, Fabris said in a phone interview.

Banning quote review

Cohen said The Princetonian’s new policy “emboldened reporters to conduct in-person or phone interviews when sources were initially reluctant.” Sources that complained generally cited concerns over being misquoted or difficulty finding a mutually beneficial time to talk.

“We made it clear that we would continue to allow sources to see their quotes before publication upon request to ensure that there are no factual inaccuracies in what they said and that they have not been misquoted,” Cohen said. But he added that this is not quote review — the paper maintains sole discretion over the quotations published.

Cohen said reporters have tried to avoid email by conducting interviews with administrators early in the morning and using Skype to talk with sources in foreign countries late at night. The Daily Princetonian allows email interviews only in “extraordinary circumstances, as determined by the news editors and the editor-in-chief,” he said.

Rebecca Robbins, managing editor at The Harvard Crimson, said email interviews are “highly discouraged.” That point was reinforced when editors banned quote review last fall.

Email interviews had many of the “same problems that precipitated the quote-review change,” Robbins said in a phone interview, adding that email quotes often weren’t frank and lacked “insight and reflection on what are often complex issues.”

Crimson editors allow email interviews, Robbins said, but mostly limit them to discussions with spokespeople who are stating facts, not opinions.

Policies differ on social-media interviews

While email interviews are clearly discouraged, college outlets have differing views on whether interviews conducted via social media are acceptable. Editors thought interviews via Skype and other video messaging were fine, but opinions differed on interviews conducted using Facebook or Twitter.

At The Lantern, editors don’t use information from Facebook or from Twitter direct messages, since verifying the identity of the sender is more difficult than with an email. (Think about how many times your Facebook or Twitter page has been open in a room that you left, even for a few minutes.)

This story about a man wanted by police in multiple states who had been spotted near campus came to mind as an exception to that rule. But I thought the editors handled the issue well by letting readers know why a Facebook interview was used.

Kristen East, editor-in-chief of The Daily Iowan, said her reporters haven’t used Facebook interviews often, “but I think of it the same as email … as a way to make initial contact.”

“We used Facebook messaging as a prominent source during the events of the Boston Marathon bombings to find and communicate with sources in the area,” East said in an email. She added that Iowan editors caution against Twitter because source verification can be more difficult.

Kumar said other ways of interviewing don’t come up often at The Oracle, but recalled a Facebook interview conducted because a student was studying abroad without a reliable phone. Kumar said she would probably prefer Facebook interviews to email exchanges “because there is a real-time connection and less of a filter.”

It’s a different story at Syracuse, where reporters — particularly in sports — have received information from sources via text or Twitter message. But Fabris said Daily Orange staffers then work to verify that information through normal reporting channels.

How does your college newspaper handle email interviews?

Related: How journalists decide whether to interview by phone, email or face-to-face Read more

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The New York Times looks for wedding-themed Instagram photos

The New York Times

Your wedding may never make The New York Times, but your Instagrams might! “Starting this summer, the Vows section will publish Wedding Album, an occasional series of your wedding-themed Instagram photos,” an announcement published this weekend says. “Please avoid generic images, like a posed shot of the couple or a table setting.”

Every month, the Times will gather photos with a theme. This month’s is “How wedding rituals are evolving” — though “any poignant photos — even ones that do not fit a theme — are welcome.”


Instagram photo of Poynter.org Managing Editor Mallary Tenore’s mother’s wedding dress.

Related: How the New York Times’ ‘Perfect Wedding Announcement’ came together Read more

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Journalists’ tweets about Bradley Manning verdict show need for nuance, context

For a moment on Tuesday, I thought the biggest news of the year had broken when a newsroom colleague turned to me wide-eyed and announced: “Manning acquitted.”

The adrenaline subsided seconds later when we saw the fuller context: Army Pfc. Bradley Manning was acquitted of the most serious charge against him — aiding the enemy — for providing secret documents to WikiLeaks, but he was convicted on many other counts and could still spend his life in prison.

That critical conjunction — “but” — was missing in the majority of breaking-news tweets, hence my brief confusion.

Journalists weren’t wrong per se. This tweet by the Washington Post, for example, was factually correct:

But it didn’t tell the full story, and, with its all-caps “NOT GUILTY” could have given readers the impression that it was all good news for Manning. Here’s how a few other large U.S. newspapers first tweeted the verdict:

 

 

 

Of these, the Los Angeles Times came closest to suggesting the acquittal wasn’t all there was to the story by alluding to the existence of other charges. And less than a minute later, it added another tweet saying Manning will still face a lengthy prison sentence. The Wall Street Journal tweeted details about Manning being found guilty on lesser offenses about 20 minutes after its first tweet, and USA Today did so about 10 minutes later.

My favorite tweets from that 25-minute window were by those unafraid to use a conjunction or a comma and come a little closer to that 140-character limit:

 

 

 

Any tweet could be someone’s first opportunity to hear a piece of news, so those news outlets that embraced completeness over succinctness served their readers best. Given criticism that the mainstream media didn’t cover the Manning trial enough, readers easily could have been confused by tweets lacking context.

Meanwhile, newspapers’ front pages on Wednesday also reflected the difficulties of the verdict. Was it good news for Manning and those who saw his leaks as valuable whistleblowing? Bad news? Mixed?

Most of the top-10 newspapers used the acquittal in their main headlines, explaining that he was still found guilty of espionage in their decks. A notable outlier was the Denver Post, with its “Verdict could mean life” headline.

Denver Post front page.

My favorite headline from the day? The Poynter-owned Tampa Bay Times, which eschewed the generic and managed to get at both sides of the story in a tight space: “Not a traitor, but many times guilty.”

Tampa Bay Times cover.

 

The goals of tweeting breaking news and writing news headlines are similar: be accurate, be complete and be concise. With a breaking-news tweet you have less time to be mindful of the subtle ways it might be misconstrued. While you can quickly post a follow-up tweet, you don’t have the benefit of a deck below, but you often have more room than you’d get in a newspaper headline. There are enough characters there to provide nuance. Let’s use them.

(Full disclosure: I interned at Poynter’s Tampa Bay Times in summer 2012. I currently work as a digital editor at the Chicago Sun-Times. Follow me on Twitter here.) Read more

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Bird words

NPR’s Scott Simon turns the personal into the universal with tweets about his mom’s death

Scott Simon’s tweets about his mom’s final days in the ICU were well-written and deeply personal. They gave us a glimpse into Simon’s past and showed a grown man’s struggle to part with his dying mom.

Simon, host of NPR’s “Weekend Edition Saturday,” tweeted that he wished he had held his mom’s hand more throughout the years. He tweeted about her reaction to the Royal Baby’s birth (“Every baby boy is a little king to his parents“), his appreciation for the ICU nurses, and the powerful role reversal he experienced when holding his mom like a baby as she fell asleep in his arms.

Simon’s mother died in Chicago Monday night. He didn’t tweet much about the way he felt the moment she passed away, but he didn’t have to. His tweets leading up to her death revealed his raw emotions, and this tweet about her death summed it up well: “She will make the face of heaven shine so fine that all the world will be in love with night.” It conveys hope that things will be ok. Read more

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