Some Newspapers to Staff: Social Media Isn’t Optional, It’s Mandatory
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June 3, 2014

Over the past year, the editors of the Los Angeles Times led a newsroom-wide effort to better marshal the power of social media in efforts to distribute the paper’s content more widely.

They have begun to replace automated tweets on their brand accounts with staff members and have also started using a service called Simply Measured, which analyzes reporters’ use of social media. And they set a goal to move all their bylined writers onto Twitter and Google+.

They’re not alone. Newspapers across the country are paying more attention to how to motivate staff members to post articles to social media as a means to drive site traffic, especially amid print circulation declines and the dwindling relevance of the front page (and even the homepage).

Efforts to ramp up social media efforts vary by company, but American Journalism Review interviews with a random selection of 18 newspapers in March and April found that most encourage or recommend staff to be on social media, but few require it. The majority of the papers place more responsibility on editors, social media managers or digital producers to bring readers to their sites — most reporters don’t have traffic quotas, according to interviews.

A select few newspapers, including The Los Angeles Times, require all bylined staff to be on social media.

Some Journalists Use Social Media — and Some Don’t.

The New York Times is among the papers examining its social media strategy. In its recently leaked internal innovation report, authors documented missteps in the paper’s social media efforts and how it was falling behind its rivals in terms of distributing its content online.

In one example, report authors pointed to how the paper handled its recent five-part “Invisible Child” series, which took a year to produce and documented the bleak prospects an 11-year-old homeless girl faces in New York City. The series didn’t receive any social media promotion prior to its publication because marketing and PR colleagues didn’t learn about it until it was too late, according to the report.

The report acknowledged that there are “no rules, but no real guidance, either” in regard to how its reporters should use social media. Going forward, the report recommended that leaders don’t require social media use, but “explicitly urge reporters and editors to promote their work …. and thank those who make the extra effort.”

The efforts among those in the news industry trying to mobilize journalists to promote their work online is rooted in the fact that social platforms drive traffic to news content. Out of all Facebook and Twitter users, half use the social networks to consume news. On Reddit, that number jumps to 62 percent, according to the Pew Research Center’s Journalism Project.

Even so, not all journalists have embraced social media. Nearly 60 percent of journalists were on Twitter in 2013, according to a survey done by Oriella PR Network.

San Francisco Chronicle managing editor Audrey Cooper said the lack of social media activity is more pronounced among print journalists.

“If you look at your average newspaper editor, they don’t have thousands of followers like the editors of BuzzFeed,” she said. “As a group we tend to have not embraced digital media as much. That’s not good or bad, but it does raise the question of how do you perform in that space if you’re not a user of digital media.”

Cooper’s hunch about newspaper editors may be right on.

Newly appointed New York Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet apparently has not tweeted yet, despite having more than 6,000 followers on his account. (A New York Times spokeswoman confirmed that that was indeed his account.)

A recent screenshot of New York Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet’s Twitter feed

By contrast, BuzzFeed Editor in Chief Ben Smith has tweeted more than 81,000 times from his verified account, with more than 178,000 followers.

‘It Really Takes An Entire Newsroom’ To Drive Traffic

The newspapers that mandate participation on social media emphasize a newsroom-wide approach to traffic growth. The Gannett-owned Jackson Clarion-Ledger, for instance, requires its writers to maintain Facebook and Twitter profiles and everyone on staff helps draw attention to the site, Executive Editor and Director of Audience Engagement Brian Tolley wrote in an email.

Editors and social media managers play a bigger role in audience-building than other staffers, though, Tolley said.

The Jackson Clarion-Ledger reporters on Twitter use a mixture of humor, information and personal tidbits to populate their feeds. On a recent week, reporter Clay Chandler posted updates about a political campaign that had canceled a meeting with the paper’s editorial board. They said “they’d reschedule, but try telling that to a broken heart,” he tweeted.

Crime reporter Therese Apel says on her profile she covers “crime/disaster/mayhem/war/etc.” and on a recent day she tweeted:

The Indianapolis Star, too, emphasizes social media as an inherent part of every journalist’s job and plans to hold a workshop to that effect, Amy Bartner, the Star’s engagement and utility manager, wrote in an email.

“We view having a presence in online communities as vital as other skills a reporter must have in 2014, and include that in our job descriptions,” Bartner wrote. “Similarly, being out in the social communities — online or otherwise — is important to an IndyStar journalist’s role, and they choose the platforms based on where their readers or potential readers are. In many cases, this means Facebook and Twitter — but we’re involved in Pinterest, Instagram, LinkedIn, Google+ and other platforms where our audience is.”

The Orlando Sentinel and Sun Sentinel require their reporters to be on Google+ and link their bylines to their Google+ profiles, social media manager Lori Todd wrote in an email. The Tribune-owned papers also emphasize Twitter, and all the “bylined editorial staff” have a presence there, Todd wrote.

While the Sacramento Bee doesn’t require reporters to be on any social media platform, it strongly recommends Twitter and Facebook and is providing training for Google+. The paper is also implementing a policy on social media ethics, according to executive editor Joyce Terhaar.

One “person can’t be the sole driver of traffic,” Terhaar wrote in an email. “It really takes an entire newsroom.”

Social Media Guidelines for Newsrooms

Mallary Tenore, former managing editor of, said she doesn’t believe newspapers should require all staff to have social media accounts because people tend to have negative reactions to words such as “mandatory.”

And Tenore, now the managing director of Images & Voices of Hope, a nonprofit that shows how the media can be a force for good, said if newsrooms want to make it a requirement, they should train their staffs to use social media.

Newsrooms can also provide guidance by distributing social media guidelines, she said. She recommended NPR’s ethics handbook, which has a section on social media, which, amid other tips, counsels journalists to be transparent about what has and hasn’t been confirmed.

“If you’re going to invest the time in actually creating these guidelines,” Tenore said, “you need to make sure that they’re living, breathing documents that people are referring to and that you’re updating as you start using more social media tools.”

Former BBC journalist Nic Newman, a digital strategist, said newspapers should use social media to leverage their brand and traditional journalism values.

“[My advice would be] to try and take and adapt those values into social media rather than trying to be pushed by what social media’s doing into something you’re not really about,” he said.

  • Kelly Fincham

    Mallary Tenore is right to advise news orgs to be transparent. Perhaps more could follow NPR’s lead and share their social media policies. My research shows that few do.

  • billboy

    I follow a number of LAT reporters, as well as Chicago Tribune reporters, on Twitter. I think it’s great.

    • Scott Kleinberg

      We appreciate that very much, @billboy:disqus. Thank you.

      – Scott Kleinberg, Chicago Tribune Social Media Editor

    • Lisa Rossi

      Who are your fav LAT reporters and Trib reporters on Twitter? AJR editors are always on the hunt for great journos to follow on Twitter. …

  • Michelle Maltais

    Interesting piece. I’m not sure whether the writer reached out to L.A. Times to learn more about the social media efforts, but I know we have engaged in extensive ongoing training in our newsroom.

    And Mallary Tenore is absolutely correct about transparency and keeping the guidelines current.

    I have personally found that strategic as well as regular use of social media are key to keeping good journalism relevant and to reaching our intended audiences where they are. It’s a way to provide sense through the noise.

  • Follow Conservatives

    Bye bye newspapers—you have brought it on yourselves.

  • Gregory Hitchcock

    Social media reporting is key to reporting in the 21st century. As a ‘brick-n-mortar’ reporter, I hadn’t the experience of using cyberspace in my writing, but it is needed in the newsroom now. It is very challenging juggling writing, photography, editing, and social media responsibilities for one news professional.

  • newseducator

    “Follow Conservatives • 15 hours ago
    Bye bye newspapers—you have brought it on yourselves.”

    I am not certain why there is so much glee at the thought of the demise of newspapers, The death of every form of communication is a lockstep march to the end of freedom.
    Instead of wagging a finger at “newspapers,” perhaps you should be regretting mistakes made by businesspeople who never were journalists in the first place, and who continue to fail to understand why people read newspapers in the first place. People who read newspapers like to READ. They don’t want snippets of information that they can get elsewhere; they want meat as part of a 10-course meal, not appetizers and finger-foods.
    Our new-age business owners look at newspapers as being bottom-line organizations; instead, the penny-pinchers have turned newspapers into the bottom lining of bird cages. They have slashed staffing and newshole, leaving the few employees who are left to frantically put out a product that they often don’t respect.
    I don’t like to read newspapers, either … today … because what is out there is no longer what I consider, with rare exception, to be a newspaper.
    Use social media to drive traffic to the newspaper? Sure. But when social media becomes the sole vehicle, we have all lost something.
    And ridiculing its possible demise is shameful and shortsighted.

    • Former Journalist

      Ah the myth that it is all the bean counters fault. As someone who used to work in the media business I can tell you that the reverse was true. Oftentimes journalists were promoted to management positions with no understanding of ROI, budgeting and revenue. They were not able to change with the times because they couldn’t separate themselves from a print product and realize that the world was going digital.

  • JoeJohnsonABH

    I’ve been posting my stories to social media for three years and regularly send tweets duri a breaking news event.
    I put a lot of effort into developing my work Facebook page to the point I’ve become a brand in ther local market.
    All of my stories online and in print have this shirttail:

    Follow Criminal Justice reporter Joe Johnson at or

  • billboy

    I follow Mitchell Landsberg (@LATlands), Mary MacVean (@mmacvean), Lisa Mascaro (@LisaMascaroDC), Karen Kaplan (@LATkarenkaplan), and at the Tribune, Ray Long (@RayLong) and Peter Frost (@peterfrost)

    • Lisa Rossi


  • Beth Martinson

    I follow @tinyjoenelson and @rickkupchella from

  • Jeff Thomas

    What is this, 2009? Are there honestly serious news organizations out there that remain undecided about the necessity to be present in the place where the public discovers and shares news? It is astounding that, at this date, establishing a social-media profile is even an option.

  • Toby Bloomberg

    Enjoying the discussion. Question for journalists: how important is it to engauge directly with your individual social community members versus using social as only another distribution channel?