January 22, 2013

Journalists are finding that social media gives them ample opportunities to breathe new life into archived content. Recently, they’ve used social networking sites — while covering deaths, anniversaries, birthdays and ongoing stories — to resurface old content that their audiences may otherwise never see.

Here are some examples of how they’ve done it, along with five related tips.

Use Facebook’s Timeline to organize continuing coverage

The Wall Street Journal used Facebook to create a timeline of its coverage of the Facebook IPO. Instead of inundating its main Facebook page with IPO coverage, the Journal created a separate timeline that would become a social landing page for its coverage of the deal.

The timeline recounts Facebook’s journey since 2004, when it was launched from Mark Zuckerberg’s Harvard dorm room as thefacebook.com, and includes links to related articles on wsj.com.

“We were looking for a unique way to tell the Facebook IPO story on social media,” said Brian Aguilar, a former Wall Street Journal social media editor and now assistant managing editor at Marketwatch. Aguilar and his colleagues closely monitored the timeline, particularly around Facebook’s May 18 IPO, and created a feed to automatically post new stories on the IPO from WSJ.com to the timeline.

“The moment really lent itself to being covered this way,” Aguilar said by phone. The paper knew the IPO was coming, knew it would be an ongoing story and knew readers were interested. These are three key components that Aguilar recommends journalists consider before undertaking an effort like this.

Use Twitter to renew attention to historic figures

Among its many Twitter feeds, WNYC operates two that tweet specifically from its extensive archives. One is meant to serve as the historical voice of the late New York Mayor Fiorello La Guardia. WNYC links to archived audio clips of the mayor’s weekly broadcasts during World War II. Though he died in 1947, the mayor now has close to 400 followers on Twitter.

The other links to audio from WNYC’s archives, including this 1949 piece on the problems of adolescence.

The feeds are meant to showcase the history buried within WNYC’s archives, said Haley Richardson, an assistant archivist at WNYC. “It’s like a treasure hunt. Every day, I listen to something or see something that hasn’t been heard or seen in decades,” she said by phone. “Our job is to piece it all together and make it relevant.”

Use Tumblr to share your photo archives with audiences

In 2012, The New York Times took its Lively Morgue feature to Tumblr. The feature, which began as part of the Times’ Lens blog, regularly highlights photographs from The Times’ archives. Each photograph includes a caption, date and name of the photographer who took it. Some of the captions link back to archived content.

“This is the story of what we have in the morgue,” said Darcy Eveleigh, a photo editor for the Times. She launched The Lively Morgue after getting her first look at the Times’ vast collection of photographs and negatives. “I didn’t know what I was looking for. But I started to pull out pictures that I thought were beautiful,”  Eveleigh said by phone. “They were just sitting there. Nobody was getting to see them, and I wanted to share what I found with people.”

The Times has millions of prints, contact sheets and negatives in its photo archives — enough that Times reporter David Dunlap estimated it would take nearly 2,000 years to post them all online even at a clip of 10 per weekday. Jeff Roth, the so-called keeper of the Times’ morgue, told me the process of finding and digitizing the most interesting archive photos takes time, money and a keen eye.

Use Pinterest, Facebook to tell the story of your news organization’s history

WNYC features milestones in its own history to its Facebook timeline. The posts recall occasions such as the station’s fifth anniversary in 1929, and the launch of wnyc.org in 1998. These posts typically generate noticeable bumps in Web traffic, WNYC’s Richardson said.

The Wall Street Journal maintains a Pinterest board of front pages dating back to its first edition in 1889. Here are some additional ways that the Journal and other sites — including the Orlando Sentinel and The New York Times — are using Pinterest to resurface old content.

Create social media features that resurface old photographs

Vanity Fair has taken advantage of Throwback Thursdays by posting old photos on Facebook with links to related photo galleries. A recent Throwback Thursday Facebook post featured an Annie Leibovitz photo of Angelina Jolie with her son Maddox. The post, which included a caption that linked to a gallery of Vanity Fair photos of Oscar-winning moms, generated more than 3,000 likes and hundreds of shares.

“The intent is to stir up nostalgia in our followers and fans and enhance their feeling of connection to the magazine,” Vanity Fair Social Media Manager John Lockett said via email. Lockett said he started Throwback Thursday on Twitter earlier this year, then moved the feature to Facebook and Google+ because the social networks are more visual.

He’s since started a #VFvintage hashtag on Instagram and a #VFvintage Tumblr for Vanity Fair photos from the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s.

“It reminds our readers why they love the magazine,” he said.

How has your news organization used social media to resurface old content?

Editor’s note: This article stemmed from research the author conducted as part of a master’s degree capstone project at Northwestern University.

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Meena Thiruvengadam is a writer and editorial consultant whose prior stops include Bloomberg, Business Insider, and Yahoo. Her first full-time news job was as a…
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