Tweets on the Times: “Getting” Social Media, or Not?

While I generally don’t like the dismissive attitude embodied in the assertion that a person or organization doesn’t “get” something, a couple of recent tweets relating to the New York Times and social media make me at least ask the question.

As I was checking my Tweetdeck on the bus this morning, I noted this tweet from Jeremiah Owyang (@jowyang):

…which linked to this article about the NY Times hiring 12 techies and a social media whiz. That was encouraging to read, but as I scrolled down a bit through last night’s #Oscars tweets I came across this one from Jay Rosen (@jayrosen_NYU):

…which linked to this post about the reasons behind a plagiarism problem at the Times, and how the culture there and at the Wall Street Journal is antithetical to the world of social media. Felix Salmon’s (@felixsalmon) post (to which I have added emphasis) begins as follows:

Clark Hoyt, the NYT’s public editor, has a good post-mortem on l’affaire Zachary Kouwe, and asks whether “the culture of DealBook, the hyper-competitive news blog on which Kouwe worked” was partly to blame for his plagiarism.

It’s a good question, but also a dangerous one, because I fear it will help to keep blogs marginalized at the NYT and elsewhere: is there something inherent to the culture of blogging which breeds a degree of carelessness ill suited to a venerable newspaper?

The answer, in truth, is not that the NYT has gone too far down the bloggish rabbit hole, but rather that it hasn’t gone far enough. Kouwe was a reporter for the newspaper as well as for Dealbook, and as far as I know he has never had a blog of his own before or since. Big mainstream-media publications, when they hire people to write their blogs, generally hire people with no blogging experience at all — something which is both ill-conceived and dangerous. Some journalists make good bloggers; most don’t. So rather than gamble that you’ve found one of the rare exceptions, why not make prior blogging experience a prerequisite for such positions?

The fundamental problem with Kouwe was that when he saw good stories elsewhere, he felt the need to re-report them himself, rather than simply linking to what he had found, as any real blogger would do as a matter of course.

I hope the actions highlighted in Jeremiah’s tweet mean that the Times will begin to change its approach and will start linking externally. Bringing in some fresh people who don’t have the print reporter mindset may help. But if the paper’s policy against linking externally remains, it will hasten the Times‘ decline, for two reasons:

  1. There will inevitably be additional plagiarism incidents, as print culture tries (and fails) to keep up with the speed of the Web. This will lead to further embarrassment and reduced respect for the Times.
  2. By trying to re-write everything (to avoid linking), the Times will be wasting effort to be later with its reports than it would be if it immediately linked. So people will go elsewhere for timely news.

This post took less than half an hour on the bus. I could have tried to rewrite arguments, but what good would that have done? Excerpting and linking is both the right thing to do and the smart thing to do. It’s wasteful for print media to expend so much energy to avoid giving other people credit.

Hopefully the new social media whiz the Times is hiring will help management understand that.

Thesis 20: Social media tools enable authentic communication if you don’t purposefully complicate things

Among the most important benefits of social media tools are their ease of use. While updating a static Web site can be onerous, and video shooting, editing and distribution also can be complicated, the beauty of blogs, Flip cameras (or Kodaks) and YouTube is the nimble authenticity they bring to communication.

Of course, it’s possible to develop bureaucratic processes that will completely erase the advantages of social media. By trying to fix perceived shortcomings of the standard social media tools by upgrading production values, you can lose their freshness and authenticity.

Don’t do that. Don’t complicate things.

To encourage you in this, I’m sharing a couple of examples from our Mayo Clinic experience, in which the nimbleness of social media tools enabled us to capture compelling stories that formerly would have been impossible, or at least impractical.

Exhibit A: Sharing Patient Stories

On Friday, September 18, 200, I received a late-afternoon call from one of our Mayo Clinic cardiologists, Dr. Michael Ackerman, telling me about an infant patient from the San Francisco area he had been evaluating. The call came about 3 p.m., and within an hour I was interviewing Trevor’s mom in the courtyard near their hotel. Here’s what she had to say:

See the rest of Brenda’s story.

The Kings were leaving for home the next morning, and if I had been unable to shoot the interview, we would not have been able to tell this story. Getting one of our professional videographers to break away on short notice would have added one more complicating factor to the equation, making it unlikely to work. But with the Flip, we captured the authentic moment.

Here’s another story from Sharing Mayo Clinic about Dr. Ackerman that will warm your heart. It doesn’t necessarily fit the theme of this post, but you should check it out anyway.

Exhibit B: Late-Breaking News

On Tuesday, June 3, 2008 at 8:45 a.m. I got some good news and some bad news. The good news was that one of our Mayo Clinic researchers, Dr. Victor Montori, had a paper being published in a major medical journal, Journal of the American Medical Association, or JAMA.

The bad news: the paper was being published that day, and was coming “off embargo” in just over six hours. This left us no time to prepare a formal news release or shoot and edit broadcast-quality video. In the era before our Mayo Clinic News Blog, we would have had no good options for calling attention to this research.

But since we had the blog and the Flip camera, called Dr. Montori and interviewed him at 10:20. By 11:55 we had uploaded the video to YouTube and had also prepared this blog post about the diabetes research. We sent “pitches” by email and Facebook to some journalists starting at noon, and the next day the Wall Street Journal Health Blog carried the story and embedded this video from our YouTube channel:

These are just two case studies of the practical advantages of using social media tools as more efficient and effective means of doing your work, if you don’t purposefully complicate things.

How have you used the Flip or similar tools for authentic storytelling?

Multimedia Reporting

I’m at the Association of Health Care Journalists’ annual conference, called Health Journalism 2008, in Washington, D.C. I just met Scott Hensley from the Wall Street Journal‘s Health Blog, who is one of the panelists in this session on new media tools for telling stories. Appropriately, his presentation is going to be a blog. He set it up here free on

Other panelists include Amy Eisman, director of writing programs, American University School of Communications, and Joy Robertson, anchor/reporter, KOLR-Springfield, Mo.


Amy sees the following trends in news:

  • need more video, more pictures, better presentation
  • Better text – SEO
  • Social networking
  • More readers finding content “sideways”
  • Hyper-link off site
  • Mobility (information on mobile phones)
  • Transparency
  • Experimentation

She also said you need to think about what you can do on the web that you can’t do in print. Think interactivity, links to archives and multimedia. Covering an event for users who can’t attend, via liveblogging.

She recommended Steve Krug’s “Don’t Make Me Think” as a handbook for writing and web design.


Scott Hensley says the WSJ Health Blog has over 2,000 posts in the last year, and more than 21,000 comments. You really should check out his presentation on the blog he set up for this purpose. Here are some highlights:

Continue reading “Multimedia Reporting”