Using the Web’s newest addiction – Twitter – is easier than you think

Twitter‘s all the rage lately. The Chicago Tribune “Twitterized” its masthead this month, replacing execs’ names with their Twitter IDs, and Nielsen recently declared it among the Web’s fastest-growing “member community destinations.”

So what’s the big deal? And can it really help a community newspaper?

For a primer on Twitter, check out this USA Today story from last year (ignore the talk about the site’s failing infrastructure, that’s no longer an issue).

Obviously in 140 characters, one can’t do much storytelling, which means the site doesn’t really have many benefits when it comes to storytelling like many new media tools do.

Twitter can still be a great tool, however, when it comes to promoting your site’s content and connecting with your readers.

The best way to learn about Twitter, though, is to just try it. It takes less than a minute to sign up for an account. Check out some of the best newspaper feeds such as the Austin American-Statesman‘s @statesman.

We also have a guide from a few popular members of the Twitterverse at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram (@startelegram) that you can download here. That’s courtesy of Eva Ayala (@fwstayala), Andrea Jares (@andreajares) and Kathy Vetter (@klvet).

There are also more links on the Twitter page in our New Media Tools database and I’ll be posting more soon about how to use free services to automate a Twitter feed.

And don’t forget to follow us at @tccj.

If you have any experience with Twitter (good or bad) or advice to share with other community journalists, post it below.


Metro dailies now want to do community journalism

If your teenager takes a bite of dinner and announces that the dish is “sick,” don’t be upset. Sick is a good thing in teenlanguage. It means cool.

As writers, we know that the general semanticists are certainly right when they say that words don’t have meanings — only people have meanings. And meanings change.

King George I of England once looked at the architecture of St. Paul’s Cathedral and told Sir Christopher Wren that his work was “amusing, awful, and artificial.” Wren was delighted. In that day, amusing meant amazing, awful meant awe-inspiring and artificial meant artistic.

Words and definitions certainly aren’t static, but a lot of us didn’t anticipate a change in the meaning of community journalism.

According to Bill Reader of the Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University, the term “community journalism” is at least 50 years old. It was first used by Kenneth Byerly at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, who taught a course — and wrote a textbook — by that name.

And though scholars have written many pages on just what community journalism is, most of us have always seen it as journalism that’s tied to a community — most frequently a smaller town or suburb, but also other types of communities, like the Jewish community or the farming community or a religious or political community.

At the other end of the spectrum were metro dailies. They served large groups and covered news of interest to the city as a whole, including news of the state and the nation and the world.

But remember that word meanings change. Community journalism is no longer associated merely with rural areas, small towns and specialized groups. Now even large media companies realize that community journalism is where it’s at.

What newspapers are turning to community journalism?

The New York Times, for one. Check out this hyper-local Times-sponsored blog. It’s even called The Local.

The editor, Andy Newman, kicked off the first edition with an introductory piece that could have appeared in any small town in Texas:

Welcome to our big little experiment.

Greetings, Fort Greene and Clinton Hill. This is your Local speaking. Soon, we hope, you will talk back to it.

Starting today, The Local is an online news site for these communities. But if we build it right together, The Local will be something much more: a glorious if cacophonous chorus of your voices singing the song of life itself in these astoundingly varied and vibrant neighborhoods.

With your input, The Local will tell stories that matter: crime and politics and culture and civic life and everything else. Some stories will be snapshots, mere moments. Others will unfold over days or weeks or marking periods – the birth pangs of a food coop or a high school newspaper, the aftermath of a crime, and, as the unstoppable wave of local gentrification crashes into the unstoppable wave of global economic meltdown, an ever-growing tale of loss and struggle.

Through all this, I will be your co-curator, moderator, referee and Local recruiter. I will also be doing old-fashioned journalism. Because my affiliation means that I can usually get city agencies to at least take my calls, and because I have all day to devote to this stuff, I might be able to get help and answers where you have hit walls.

And that’s not just The New York Times; the Chicago Tribune is also launching a community journalism site, along with a growing list of other metros.

So if community journalism can be practiced in the city or in the country, at a large paper or small, and on the Web or in the dead-tree editions, what then are the real defining characteristics of community journalism?

All I can do is to start the answer and trust the Texas journalism community to add to it, but let’s begin with these bedrock characteristics of what we can call community journalism:

Community journalism is personal. If you’re never likely to run into the people you write about or interview, it isn’t community journalism. If you’re writing about — and for — the folk you attend church with or buy your groceries from or who coach your kid’s Little League team, you’re in community journalism. Besides, in community journalism people can walk right into the newsroom and tell you what they’re thinking.

If you want to cover the complete pageant of your community’s life, what has been called “micronews,” you’re involved in community journalism. Sure, you cover the city council, but you also chronicle high school sports and local church news and the winners of the Bridge tournament and the women’s club meetings and the lunch menus at the elementary school.

Community journalism means you care about what happens in the community. I love the motto of the Mason Valley (Nevada) News: “The only newspaper in the world that gives a damn about Yerrington.” The contents of your paper and Website aren’t just stories, they represent news that can build people up or tear them down. Sometimes you have to uncover wrongdoing, but you don’t do it with a “gotcha” attitude and an eye toward journalism prizes. You’re sensitive to the needs of the community.

Community journalism has a focus — it’s what Charles Kuralt once called “relentlessly local.” Community journalism is the news people care about, because it’s about people they know or events that affect them. Or maybe Pulitzer Prize-winning weekly editor Bernard Stein said it best: “Our job is the everyday lives of ordinary people.”

In all the journalism periodicals, people are debating what community journalism is — is it public journalism or citizen journalism or civic journalism? And can The New York Times engage in community journalism just like the Goldthwaite Eagle?

All of the old definitions of community journalism are changing. So remember what Humpty Dumpty told Alice: “When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean….”

Dumpty was right. So don’t be surprised as more and more metro dailies come out with announcements that they’re “doing community journalism.”

You probably never realized that you were the wave of the future….

Can you add to my “definition” of community journalism? If you think of something I’ve left out, please post a response.


New Media for the News Media workshop resources

Here you can review the materials we presented during the second New Media for the News Media workshop at TCU.

Watch this site in the future for new opportunities to attend our workshops.

Presentation Materials

Ask an Expert Questions and Answers Reporting

Our reporters have difficulty getting public officials to return phone calls about controversial issues. How can we prod those officials into being more responsive?

For starters, make the officials accountable for not talking to the newspaper. If the county commissioner’s role is part of a larger story, report that he or she would not return phone calls or would not discuss the issue, make sure to place that fact where readers would otherwise expect the official’s response to be. Placing it at the end of the story only trivializes the official’s failure to act responsibly.

And, remember that sometimes, that official’s failure to respond might change the complexion of your story to the extent that that failure now becomes the news peg.

And if a pattern emerges, you’ve got a great opportunity to use the opinion page as leverage. But make sure it’s clear that the official’s failure to respond isn’t a sore point with your newspaper — that sounds like whining — but is a failure to meet his or her responsibility to the general public. Make sure you’re readers know that it’s them, and not you, getting the short end of the stick.

In the meantime, here’s what your reporters can do to strengthen their own case with the official and readers, in case you do have to play hardball.

  • Make sure they’ve done their research before they start asking questions. They ought to be just about as knowledgable on the subject as the official.
  • Make sure they call as far in advance as possible
  • And make sure they make numerous good faith efforts.
  • And, if it’s a last-minute or breaking story, and it’s reasonable that an official might not have time to reply before your deadline, soften the blow, you might write that “the mayor couldn’t be reached at press time” rather than “the mayor did not return phone calls.” Both may be accurate, but only one will fairly depict the context of the situation.

The future is now for Texas community journalism

In Washington Irving’s famous tale, Rip Van Winkle sleeps for 20 years and is amazed at the changes that have occurred over two decades when he wakes up and returns to his community.

In our world, 20 years seems like an eternity. Our community journalism landscape has changed more over the past several years than Rip’s did over two decades. True, we’ve seen changes in our communities, changes in readership patterns, changes in the technology with which we produce our newspapers, and certainly changes in economic conditions. But there was always one constant: While we knew that circulation and ad revenues would change, the expense and uncertainty of starting a new newspaper would pretty much guarantee that it would be difficult for potential competitors to start up a rival newspaper.

And that’s still true, if you’re thinking about another ink-on-newsprint product. But if you’re thinking of another medium that can provide what a newspaper does-perhaps more-and do it more cheaply and with more up-to-the-minute news and advertising … then we’re living in that day, right now.

The old A.J. Liebling principle that the freedom of the press belongs to those who own one, no longer applies. Today, anyone who can put up a Website is a journalist. And your competition.

We’re not talking about the future, either. This is now. All kinds of sites offer templates and suggestions for starting an online newspaper. Go to Google and put “start an online newspaper” into the search box. You’ll be amazed. Go to a site like and see how easy it is to become a publisher/journalist/columnist/photojournalist. Or check out the Knight Digital Media Center; the Knight Foundation is offering grants for groups to set up their own hyper-local news and information sites. Here’s how the site describes the program: “The Knight Citizen News Network is a self-help portal that guides both ordinary citizens and traditional journalists in launching and responsibly operating community news and information sites and that assembles news innovations and research on citizen media projects.”

This Website put up by the Texas Center for Community Journalism is a great example. Less than a decade ago, if we had begun the Center and wanted to communicate with the state’s newspapers, we would have thought about publishing a tabloid. That means printing and mailing and a host of additional costs — the costs you live with daily. But now, all the need is a Website. Our “staff” writes for free. We can publish as much as we want – as many pages, as many pictures, video, audio … you name it. All for free. And we can change it daily. Free.

What we can do for the Center, anyone can do in your community. If your new cyber-competitor shoots a basketball game, he or she does not have to select one or two good shots. They can use all the good ones and make a slide show. Back it up with music. Include video. Use a podcast of the coach’s postgame press conference. How long will it be before advertisers discover just how many people are checking out that basketball coverage?

A thoughtful writer on a Chicago media blog recently reminded his readers that “the future of newspapers is not the same as the future of journalism.” Journalism, he said, will survive. After all, journalism is news; it’s storytelling; it’s information; it’s images we want to see; it’s what we want to know and need to know.

But then there’s the issue of how news is packaged and delivered. That can and most certainly will change. The only question is this: Will Texas newspapers be pro-active in developing their presence in digital media, or will we sit by while others draw the audience that we have worked so hard to attract?

Quick hits

  • According to the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, 40 percent of Americans get most of their national and international news from the Internet. That’s up from 24 percent in 2007. In comparison, 35 percent rely on newspapers and 70 percent on TV as their main source for news. But the most important finding may be Pew’s research on Americans under 30. Among the under-30 crowd, 59 percent indicated that they get most of their news from the Internet. TV tied with the Internet at 59 percent.
  • Nielsen Online is reporting that nine out of the top 10 newspapers experienced growth in online traffic between December 2007 to December 2008. The average growth across the board equated to 16 percent. While online traffic is up, print circulation and advertising is falling off. Also, the industry experienced roughly 15,554 newspapers job cuts in 2008.
  • Check out the top 10 newspaper Websites
Ask an Expert Questions and Answers

Business in my community is really bad. I know businesses should advertise, but I can’t persuade them and should they agree to continue their advertising, I am not sure what we should advertise.

First and foremost, you should never agree with anyone in your community that business is bad. Likewise, you should never say “business is bad.” Anywhere in Texas, or for that matter in the U.S. “Business is not Bad!” “Business is tough to get!!”

Your advertisers, both current, new and old, are asking or going to be asking the question … why advertise? Why advertise in a possible recessionary period or when business is tough to get?

Simply put …those retailers, service providers, professional businesses and companies that maintain or increase their advertising spending during a difficult or challenging economic environment do, indeed, get ahead.

For those local retailers, service providers, professional businesses or companies who take an assertive, yet well-thought-out, consistent and ongoing advertising program, opportunities do exist to increase sales and profits, which in turn leads to an increase in market share.

Whereas, a reduction in advertising expenditures guarantees reduced profits, sales and lost market share due, in part, to three significant impacts … loss of top-of-mind awareness, loss of image in the marketplace and your community and a change in attitudes and perceptions held about the retailer, service provider, professional business or company.

To be successful, to grow and to survive, a retailer, a service provider, a professional business or company needs to have a constant presence in their community. This presence comes through a community awareness of that business and ‘who they are’ and ‘what they do’. This awareness and presence takes place through a consistent and ongoing advertising program.

What strategy might you suggest to assist your client in seizing the opportunity presented by a economic downturn? Consider the following:

  • Stress benefits. Talk value. Your readers and advertisers and their customers are looking for reassurances. Reiterate to your advertisers the importance of reducing (buying) risk by stressing benefits and values, rather than just price, in their advertising message.
  • Capitalize on local awareness and familiarity. Leverage the awareness and familiarity that your local retailers, service providers, professional businesses and companies have built through past ad campaigns to reduce (buying) reluctance while reinforcing the advantages of safety and security in shopping locally. The best advice and the best value … always come from someone you know!
  • Maximize competitive advantages. Help your advertisers seize the moment when their competitors may be cutting back or eliminating their advertising, by identifying and articulating what separates and makes them unique or different from others.
  • It’s all about long term. Coach your advertisers to plan and prepae for growth when the economic uncertainty ends. Don’t seek to reinvent the past or worry about the present, look to and design the future!
  • Don’t sell an ad. Sell an idea, a campaign. Talk to advertisers about investing in a series of ads … rather than placing one time, single shot ads or promotions.
Ask an Expert Questions and Answers

My headlines just don’t work. What can I do?

The most frequent problem brought to me by news editors at design workshops is how to manage the headlines on their front page.

Editors often comment, “Headlines just don’t work on my 1A.” A few will admit, “I even tried using four different headline fonts on my pages and stories still didn’t pop out.”

I understand their frustration. The situation is especially trying when editors are not only trying to make the page look good but also create a more comfortable experience for their readers.

Working with type is challenging for folks who have no formal training in design or little time to find out what works by trial and error. I compensate for those gaps by suggesting three guidelines for working with type.

Simplicity and Contrast

The more headline fonts on a page, the more confusion for the reader.

There should be one font for headlines on the page.

That font should have a personality that reflects your news philosophy and a bold, regular and italic version. Use that contrasting weight and posture to guide the reader.

The bold version is used for news stories that require prominence and impact, the lighter version for other stories. The italic and lighter versions can be used for feature stories. Those versions can also be used for “decks”, the longer, smaller headlines you strip under a story’s main head.

Most software programs include a package of fonts that use selections in a style menu (the “B” and “i” buttons”) to mechanically convert the font to bold and italic. That is satisfactory for most news editors.

But, if you are more selective, you can purchase a font that contains the true bold and italic fonts. These fonts are more distinctive and might even have an extra-bold and light version of the headline font.

A single headline font unifies the page.

Contrast guides the reader.

Hierarchy and Contrast

The more headlines of similar weight and size that appear on a page, the more confusion for the reader.

Editors should establish a hierarchy as to what type of stories appear in certain positions on the front page and establish a schedule as to the headline size and weight those positions will display.


The most important story of the day goes into position one or position two in the top half of the page and will always have a bold headline that ranges from 60 – 80 points. It can also carry a deck head below it in regular weight that is 30 point. The second most important story goes into position three or four in the middle of the page and has a regular headline that ranges from 42 – 48 points and can have a deck head below it that is 24 point.

As you move down page, the headlines get lighter and smaller.

As you move down page, the content of the stories gets lighter and has less impact.

The editor is grading the stories for the reader.

The theory is that the reader will scan the page and gather a sense of what is more important by the weight and size of the headline. The eye reads in clusters and recognizes the proximity of type, photos and text as an individual package.

The more contrast and space between these packages, the more distinct each becomes.

Hierarchy grades the importance of stories on the page.

Contrast guides the reader.

Discipline and Contrast

Once an editor has hierarchy established, she has to stick to it. A headline schedule of position, weight and size is useless if it is compromised every other edition.

The challenge for the headline writer is to write the headline to fit the schedule, not fit the headline into the layout.
Quality headline writing is a combination of science and art.

There is a certain number and combination of characters that fit into a two-column, two-line, 48-point bold headline. That is the science.

Crafting a 48-point headline that attracts the reader, tells the story and fits within that two-column width is the art.

I’ve had editors tell me that their headline schedule doesn’t work. As we dig into the reasons, it is often because headlines are written first and someone is changing its weight and size so it fits into the space, regardless of what the headline schedule indicates.

Soon, 60-point bold headlines are scaled down to 48 regular heads and 36-point heads are boosted to 42. Elsewhere, 48-point heads are reduced to 42 and 24-point heads enlarged to 30. Repeat that a few more times and the headline schedule that ranged from 18 point to 72 suddenly has a range from 30 point to 48. There is not much difference in the size or impact of those headlines. There is not much contrast.

I’ll be the first one to agree: It is very, very hard to write headlines to fit. But the Thesaurus is a valuable ally in making the job less stressful.

Having the discipline to follow the headline schedule will not only produce a better page but also make one a better headline writer with a greater variety of words to employ and an understanding of the power in their placement.

Discipline establishes form and confidence.

Contrast guides the reader.

Following these guidelines will not only help an editor feel like her typography is more successful but also give the page structure and organization.

I believe you have to guide the reader through your pages every day and can never train the reader to think the way an editor thinks. However, one can establish a routine through which the reader finds certain types of stories in certain positions and develops a comfort factor with your pages.

And, hopefully, that comfort will bring the reader back to your pages on a regular (read here: home subscription!) basis.

Ask an Expert Questions and Answers Newswriting

Civic organization meetings are a staple of our newspaper, and they’re obviously interesting to the members of those organizations. But how can we make them more interesting to a wider range of readers?

The first rule of thumb is, don’t fall into the trap of writing the story in the same chronological order as items or issues appear on the agenda. If the organization always meets on the same date, it’s not relevant merely that they met, so the fact they “met” probably ought not to even be in the story. Nor should the fact that they “discussed” some issue. They always do discuss issues; that’s why they meet.

Your wider range of readers will probably want to know is what they thought about the issue or what decisions the members reached on an issue. And that ought to be in the first, or lead, paragraph. And the reporter must look objectively at the agenda or follow the meeting closely to best determine which issue, if there are several, is most important.

Most boards, whether they’re civic or governmental, see to list the most important or controversial items at the bottom of their agendas, which obviously means they’re the last to be discussed. Who knows why, but sometimes it seems it’s so casual attendees will have left the building before the hot stuff comes up, or maybe they think it signals that the issue isn’t so controversial if they’re not burning to address it before the pledge out of the way. But it also means that reporters who aren’t objectively covering the meeting can slip into writing chronologically. That means the meat of the story is buried, and it can guarantee that the story’s headline doesn’t draw attention to the controversial issue.

On the other hand, you want to attract readers, so make sure that main or controversial issue is the main focus in the lead and that there’s a headline drawn from that lead, when readers get to the story.

Ask an Expert Questions and Answers

A small retailer, a pizza shop, in my community wants to run a coupon to test if my newspaper works. What should I do?

Coupons should not be used by a retailer or potential advertiser to count response in a particular media vehicle (… direct mail, Internet, magazine, newspaper). If a retailer or potential advertiser wishes to count or track response to a particular advertisement or a series of ads, the retailer should monitor a variable (total number of transactions, sales totals for all inventory, sales totals for advertised item(s) or revenue) over a given time period.

As you mentioned, many variables may affect the response to a retailer’s coupon offer — price, merchandise, percent of discount offered, coupon face value, store inventory, media used, weather, competitive offerings and location of the coupon within the media (… location on the page, page location within the vehicle, coupon location among other coupons within the vehicle). Additionally, market characteristics or demos may preclude high coupon redemption plus the age-old adage … “I forgot it!”

Coupons … Don’t Count!

Coupons are a promotional tool. When a retailer or potential advertiser considers using a coupon, he is reducing his profitability on that particular product or service. Non – coupon ads that include a simple, easily recognizable layout, with a dominant element (illustration/artwork) or theme, and an attention-grabbing benefit headline may generate a more loyal and profitable customer!

Last but not least, whether your potential advertiser is planning to use a coupon or not, a successful selling strategy for you, your newspaper, and your (potential) advertiser to always utilize is selling an advertising campaign as opposed to a single ad or single ad insertion. An ad campaign selling strategy affords your advertiser, your newspaper, and you a number of benefits. Major benefits include, but are not limited to, frequency which builds awareness to your advertiser (‘who they are and what they do’), time and advertising investment costs savings and creating, if not enhancing, results.