Liz Heron of New York Times: How to be distinctive in social media

I’m doing my News Rewired blogging a bit out of order because I’m also doing moderator duty.

Liz Heron, the social media editor for the New York Times, kicked off News Rewired.

She succinctly summed up the goal of the New York Times with social media as:

Engaging users without wavering from our high journalistic standards.

She started by talking about how social media had moved into the mainstream in newsrooms. In 2010, she and her team were focused on evangelising, but in 2011, her team was in demand due to events such as the Arab Spring and the Occupy Wall Street protests.

Some 400 New York Times journalists are on Twitter, and she said that 50 journalists had enabled the subscribe feature in Facebook. She said that a Times’ reporter reached out to Facebook users for a story about students and depression. The reporter interviewed dozens of people on Facebook and had a sidebar focusing just on the comments on Facebook.

She gave another example of using social media to enhance New York Times’ journalism. On the recent story that they did looking at labour conditions at Apple contract manufacturer Foxconn in China, they translated the story into Mandarin and released this on Chinese social media, gathering comments there that then supplemented the main story.

As social media has moved to the mainstream of journalism she said it was becoming more of a challenge to become distinctive. Adam Tinworth, who has an excellent live blog of the session, had this great insight from Liz:

The question is no longer “wether to engage” on social media, but how to distinguish themselves from  others doing it. And how do they scale as new platforms emerge?

In focusing on being distinctive, she said that they had to pick and choose from new platforms. She said that Google+ originally “flummoxed” them. She said Google+ had a “very exciting but very uncertain future”. However, they have found that Google+ has some deep discussions and a “potentially revolutionary feature” with Hangouts.

The Times is also evaluating Tumblr and Quora.

Her three tips for news organisation social media success:

  • Be strategic.
  • Be different.
  • Strive for meaningful interactions. “Don’t be content to skate on social media’s surface.”

The first question came from Darren Waters of MSN who asked how to measure success.

A lot of people will focus on traffic, but they were looking more at engagement metrics. She also said the Times asked:

Did we get something out of journalistic value? Were we there first with the story? Did we start an excellent conversation? Did we get our content out there in the global conversation?


NewsRewired: Marc Reeves,

I had to dash out for a lunch meeting, but I was happy to make it back for Marc Reeves keynote. He is the editor of West Midlands. I found myself applauding over my morning coffee when I read his recent speech to the CBI. His frankness and lack of sentimentality was refreshing. He started that speech with this statement:

Journalism has no God-given right to exist and journalists are owed a living by nobody.

Here is summary (not word perfect and and many places paraphrase) of his keynote at NewsRewired. It was nice to hear his lack of sentimentality in person:

Three main points, in a niche not enough to be a journalist, have to provide other stuff too. Need to provide more than just information. Niche audience needs a niche approach not a mass market approach. Why has this subject risen up the agenda?

The internet didn’t create this. We publishers forced them into buckets because it was more profitable for us. By lassoing 100 interests, we deluded ourselves into thinking they were a unified whole. It actually created some ineffectual and inefficient advertising models.

Not all niches created equal. Football readers deliver half of the audience. Most of the advertising wasn’t on those football pages. Many readers online bypassed the home page and went straight to football pages.

Now, the internet has revealed the niches in the mass. Financial model is there. Can’t talk about journalistic approaches to serving audiences without talking about how the businesses are organised and how they relate to their audiences, and I include advertises as an audiences.

Are you going to hope that by sitting back and writing about what they do in those niches? No. You have to produce other content that is relevant to their lives. In business terms, it’s always been about the relationship you have with your audiences. You turn acquaintances to transactions. Once you have attracted them, you need to think of other ways to interact with them. Events, get them to sell things to each other, get them to interact with each and sell services to them.

To people who say that I’m just a journalist and I don’t do events, he said: “Tough. That’s the way it is now.” By putting the noisy people called advertising in one room and the studious in another room was a big mistake. Just giving the audience journalism alone is not enough in the long term.

They now have 40,000 registered users across their regions. They hit their target of registered users in Birmingham in four and a half months. They have a daily email in the morning that drives 80% of their traffic.

We ignore the CPM race and refuse to become SEO tarts

At the centre of their business is the intelligence that they have about their users. He tries to personally review every new sign-up. He calls up some and thanks them for registering.

As a small business, we avoid waste. I reject things that don’t deliver audience, revenue or attention.

He says that this might be a way to support journalism in the future.

Q: Do newspapers not get the ‘net?

A: Yes, I’m afraid so. That is not because there aren’t brilliant individuals and editors who do get it. Structurally, I don’t think they can turn themselves around to make money on the internet.

I asked him to follow up with that. It is said you loose a pound in print for a penny online. That’s often true, but he said that the high fixed costs of newspapers – print plant, pensions, staff costs – make it almost impossible to ‘turn that super-tanker around’ and sustain their business with a digital revenue.

He uses Google Analytics to monitor his traffic and track the performance of their morning email.

Q: What is there that helps you re-engineer the cost base?

A: I’m not dragging behind a 100 ton press behind me or having to manufacture the most perishable product daily. Taking that cost out of the business makes all the difference. When we launched in February, it was me and my deputy in a serviced office with two laptops. In terms of when we scale up, we’ll keep on that trajectory.

One thing that stands out is their focus on keeping costs low and developing multiple revenue streams. They hold physical events. They do mail shots for promotion.

NewsRewired: Mobile news and services

This is a live blog. I work to be as accurate and comprehensive as possible, but you might see some grammatical errors and the odd typo.

Ilicco Elia has been working at Reuters for 20 years. He got into mobile when redesigning the mobile site 8 years ago or so when people had PDAs and synced them to read the news. The news was as fresh as their last sync.

Two or three years ago, they started the mojo or mobile journalism project. Christian Payne aka Documentally said you never should have called it mobile journalism. Journalists should all be mobile. Reuters gave them a Nokia N95 and told them to take video, pics and write story. Immediate reaction from journalists: “Are you going to pay me three times as much?” No.

However, every journalist they gave the kit to came back and raved about how it allowed them to tell the story in the way that they wanted, whether that was with audio, video, pictures or text. He quoted one of their award winning journalists talking about using the N95 covering conflict in Chad. The journalist said that it didn’t replace a camera with a £3,000 body, but that it added to the coverage.

Michael Targett, online and digital development editor at Flightglobal. Industry events are key to their coverage. They sent a reporter Jon Ostrower to cover the maiden flight of the Boeing 787. He took an iPhone, a ‘decent’ camera and a laptop. He wrote 14 long blog posts. He posted 142 tweets, 282 images and four videos. He did 25 ‘live shows’. It shows what can be done with the right attitude and the right kit.

A reader lauded Ostrower and Flightglobal’s coverage saying it made him feel as if he was there.

They also cover air shows. A quarter of their annual display advertising budget came from the landing page of the Paris Air Show last year. They have added features to their show coverage. For the Dubai air show, one of their readers said that FlightGlobal’s.

The next presentation was about Yelp. It was basically an overview of the review service. They have been adding a million uniques a month, and as Glyn Mottershead noted on Twitter:

yelp are getting 27% of searches from iphone app #newsrw every 5 seconds call made from the app!

The last speaker, Sam Jones, is director of strategy of Kyte. Mobile is the fastest growing segment of video consumption. It increased by 55% in 2009. (I wonder how low of a starting point that was.) Trinity Mirror, Fox News and the Huffington Post are all working with Kyte. Kyte has a moble video producer app. They showed footage from the iPhone taken by a Fox News reporter. Mobile networks remained up even as they struggled with other connectivity.

I think that one key point was that this really reduced the cost of video production. Kyte is also allowing reporters to take a bit of video and easily post to a publisher’s website, Facebook and mobile web, iPhone and iPad almost instantaneously. People can also interact around the video with a similar app across platforms.

Mobile data costs

The first question from the audience was about data costs. Elia said that he’s a heavy corporate and personal mobile data user, he usually uses 500 to 600MB. He asked his provider, Vodafone, how much it would cost him to upload 100MB of data on their network. They couldn’t answer. That was the biggest issue Elia said, the lack of pricing predictability. Targett said that during a recent coverage trip in Europe, Ostrower, in the course of doing his job, ran up a £700 data bill. Fascinating issue.

When I was travelling in the US in 2008 for work, I hired local data gear, both for better coverage and for lower cost.


In terms of fragmentation, Elia was talking about the huge number of platforms that he has to support currently for mobile: iPhone, Android, Blackberry and a myriad of Nokia platforms. He hope that HTML5 would end this issue. Sam Jones talked about how divisive HTML5 was in the industry and the fear of a VHS versus Betamax style format war. He also added that the growth in apps was bigger in terms of growth than anything Apple had seen on the iTunes store.

Apps and workflow

Targett of Flightglobal made a really great point that apps were providing a better workflow for journalists in the field. People didn’t need to offload images from a digital SLR to a laptop to upload them. They could upload the images directly from the phone.

Mobile has changed his newsroom. “Talented and able reporters are becoming more autonomous,” he said. They do have a support team in the office who edit some of the video, but mobile tools have allowed journalists to be out in the field more. It’s a great point, and one that I make often. Technology can be liberating. Most journalists who use it want to spend more time out in the field and closer to the story.

I have my own thoughts, but if the technology allows for more mobility, why do journalists spend more time in the office? (That’s assuming that you think they are in the office more.) Discuss.