A newspaper in Texas is placing reporters' Twitter handles underneath bylines in an effort to drive more eyeballs and engagement to the social media site.
It's an interesting idea and I see some real value in the move.
For years, newspapers have been moving away from the words "staff reporter" under a reporter's byline, replaced with the reporter's email address.
Placing a reporter's Twitter handle under a byline, some will argue, is how readers will interact in the future. An email address only offers a reader access to send a message, it doesn't offer all the engagement that Twitter does. Just consider all that Twitter gives a reader if a reporter is fully optimizing Twitter: Links to a reporter's stories, Tweets from coverage of meetings and events, Tweets of other interesting and related news that reporter finds newsworthy and the opportunity to see how other readers are engaging with that reporter.
Clearly, there's major upside.
But obviously if you want to head down this path, reporters will need individual Twitter accounts that are set up to be professional accounts. If a reporter today has a Twitter account and what they're Tweeting is a mix of work and what they ate for dinner, that's not the kind of handle you want to share. While it's great for readers to get to know reporters, we have to understand that readers are following reporters, not because they really care what that reporter did with their kids over the weekend or where they ate dinner, but because they value that reporter's expertise. So, it's important to make the account a newspaper promotes, a professional one.
It's also important for there to be expectations around what kind of things the reporter would Tweet and how much each day they would Tweet. You don't want to promote a Twitter handle if that account hasn't been updated regularly.
If you like this idea, you should do an analysis of how many reporters actually have Twitter accounts, how much personal stuff is in those accounts and understand how many new ones you would need to create. You then would want to understand the training that would need to go into this initiative to make it successful (training reporters who don't have accounts). Clearly, at larger dailies, this is a bigger job than at smaller newspapers (because of the number of accounts to be created and training needed), but it's worthwhile for all size newspapers, just quicker to accomplish with a smaller size staff.
Training resources: Read our Twitter guidelines and download a PowerPoint on optimizing social media opportunities.
If you decide to go down this path, you should place promotions to a reporter or editor's Twitter account in other areas of your newspaper, as well. Here are some examples:
• Folios: Many newspapers have boxes that appear to the right of the name of a section. This would be a great place to tease a reporter's Twitter handle or mention what you could specifically find at their Twitter account from the day before.
• Contact us boxes: In the area where you highlight key folks to contact at your newspaper, you could offer a list of reporters who have Twitter accounts. This is extremely effective online, in your contact us area.
• Rails: If you have local news, sports or lifestyle rails, use a mug shot of a reporter and tease their Twitter account. If you have more than one reporter who writes for a section — like local news — you could create a nice rotation.
• Navigation: Under your online news navigation you could create links to your reporters' Twitter accounts. You could also create a page where all of your reporters' Twitter accounts are featured. The New York Times has an extensive list of their journalists' Twitter accounts. Our newspapers may not have this kind of detail, but it's nice to give readers an overall picture of what you do have, broken down by author and topic.
Not everyone is on Twitter, so in a tagline at the end of your story, you should still include your reporter's phone number and email, so your readers can reach your reporters in a variety of ways.
The way we connect with our audiences is changing. How we use Twitter and other social tools will continue to evolve. It's extremely important that newsroom leaders are evaluating how to utilize new tools and promote those platforms effectively and consistently.
David Arkin is the executive director of the News & Interactive Division for GateHouse Media. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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