The Lansing State Journal on Twitter: engage or feed?

As a former full-time journalist and now a university instructor on the subject who still writes freelance articles, I have little patience for the continuing self-mutilation of the news industry. That’s partly why I’m not only critical of what I see and read in the Lansing State Journal but openly share my opinions with them via reader comments and Twitter.

To the paper’s credit, the person handling the @LSJNews Twitter account is starting to engage with people who point out errors or have suggestions for improvement. This led to an interesting exchange the other day after I complained about the paper’s Twitter feed posting outdated information.

The tweet referred to a severe thunderstorm warning being in effect for my area. When I clicked on the link, however, I discovered that the tweet at 12:41 p.m. was referring to a warning that expired 11 minutes earlier. When I told the LSJ that this was a rather useless piece of news, the account operator apologized, noting that the warning had gotten caught in the RSS feed of the newspaper’s headlines. That led to a question from the LSJ:

And, a warning to be careful what you wish for:

I acknowledged the dilemma and suggested a reader poll. I’m not sure if the LSJ will actually do a reader poll on this or if they thought asking the question with one tweet was the way to go. So, I’m going to conduct a poll here. I understand the struggle of not having enough people to cover all the news that’s happening, but taking a social media tool and using it as an automated broadcast mechanism doesn’t seem to be the answer either.

So, what do you think? Should the LSJ use an RSS feed of its headlines to populate its Twitter account, leading to potentially inaccurate information being distributed? Should they shut it down and only update the feed as they have staff available (which would be rarely)? Or could they operate as a hybrid, with automated tweets from their RSS feed supplemented by someone assigned to directly engage via the account during breaking news occurrences?

Cast your vote, offer a comment or two and let me know what you think. I’ll share the results with the Lansing State Journal. After all, that paper knows all too well that I won’t keep anything from them!

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21 comments on “The Lansing State Journal on Twitter: engage or feed?

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention The Lansing State Journal on Twitter: engage or feed? « Here Comes Later -- Topsy.com

    • Ari,

      I think the choice of “automated but engage during breaking news” is the best we can hope for from the Lansing State Journal right now given its shrunken newsroom staff. I agree that the paper should be focused on engaging more via social media, but I wanted people to choose among more realistic options for the LSJ right now.

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  2. I don’t mind the automated tweets for promoting their published articles. For example, the business news feeds are great. The breaking news tweets should be in the moment. I thought they did a great job, for example, responding to information they were getting from Tweeps during the time that gunman was on the loose in Okemos. It was great to see them experiencing the news and sending out information in the moment.

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    • Thanks Lisa. The LSJ was one of the more accurate places to get information about the gunman in Meridian Township the other night. That’s because they actually engaged on Twitter and kept things as real time as possible. Perhaps more instances of using Twitter to engage during breaking news events will prove the value to the publisher and editors there.

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  3. As a whole, news organizations have a huge responsibility. As a society we expect them to cover everything that interests us, do it accurately and without bias, and then make sure we know they have covered it. At the same time newspaper circulation has continued to plummet making it necessary for them to cut staff. I don’t think it’s realistic under these circumstances to have a live person tweeting at all times. I do agree, however, that every attempt should be made to disseminate accurate information at all times.

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    • It certainly isn’t an easy situation, but the news industry has faced it for generations. The difference now is that a lot things are reported in such a superficial way. Plus, the newspapers and TV stations have listened to consultants too much and started making entertainment news and other trivial crap the items they spend a lot of time on while real news simply goes unreported. Perhaps getting engaged with folks on Twitter and getting more direct feedback, as they get from me, my wife and others who hold their feet to fire at the LSJ will help swing the pendulum back.

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  4. I’m in favor of the combination, I think it combines the best of both worlds. I understand the staffing issues, but if you’re going to engage social media, it makes far more sense to do it in a way that won’t drive away the people you’re trying to reach. Also, this is the kind of thing that could be shared among staff – with appropriate training and coordination, of course.

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    • The combo approach seems the most logical to me given the LSJ’s weak newsroom situation at the moment. I hate to have yet another task placed on the shoulders of State Journal reporters, but something has to be done to make a local newspaper like the LSJ as relevant as possible to local readers again.

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  5. This seems like another case of somebody decided the LSJ needed a twitter account without understanding just what to do with one. From what I have seen some one at the LSJ has been doing their best to fulfill option 3 which really is the best we can hope for from a news outlet with such limited resources.

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    • I agree, Dan, when the LSJ started its Twitter account, they really didn’t have much of a clue about what to do with it. I’ve seen that change and they seem to be willing to keep trying and to learn from their efforts. That’s part of why I wrote this post and started the poll. I don’t want the LSJ bosses to just decide that Twitter is too tough and abandon it. There on the verge of something great and we need to encourage and support that.

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  6. Just having is send the RSS feed is pointless to me. If I wanted to read thier RSS feed, I’d subscribe in my newsreader.

    Twitter is about two-way communication, sharing and networking. While I appreciate headline/breaking news being tweeted, I’d much prefer more interaction with followers, insights or background stories that don’t make the articles, etc. I know that is hard with limited budgets, but making some effort will show they care. Maybe the folks in charge of the budget will see how beneficial it is to the community and toss a few more bucks in that direction to keep it going!

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    • Thanks for the comment Kate. I, too, hope the leadership at the State Journal will see the potential for Twitter and how beneficial it could be to engage directly with their community of readers via social media. That’s part of why I did this post and poll.

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  7. I believe that news should be timely, accurate, and without commentary. A news agency on a social network should act accordingly. To this end, I think feeding RSS into Twitter is fine, provided they regulate the flow of information. More 10 tweets a day on articles that really have little significance would be too much. (A number of the “Breaking News” text alerts that LSJ has put out would break the above criteria).

    On the other hand, Social Media should be a two way street. If they post about a specific topic and I have a question about their article, I would expect the LSJNews twitter handler to provide me an answer to my question, eventually.

    As many of the other commenters have noted, to be useful as a news organization on Twitter, they must also have a real-time component. If there is a major storm, or a significant incident occurs in a local neighborhood, I would expect the news organization to provide real-time updates on what is happening. This could be accomplished through RSS feeds to Twitter, if the LSJ updated those feeds frequently enough and pushed those to Twitter on a regular basis.

    Personally, I don’t follow the LSJNews feed (nearly 17000 tweets in just over 800 days! way too much information!), and rarely visit the LSJ website (due to the quantity and quality of their advertisements). I instead follow locals like yourself and @westhorp on Twitter, and get Nixle alerts from government agencies for major news in the area. The power of the medium makes this possible; If the message is interesting enough, someone in my social graph will relay it.

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    • Interesting note Charles — that you don’t follow the LSJ directly because other people in your social media circle will help relay important news. What if the LSJ toned down its stream of news feeds, saving it for breaking or front page news only? As you mentioned, what the State Journal considers “breaking news” for its Twitter feed isn’t what everyone else would consider all that important. It’s a struggle I’m sure many newsrooms are having right now given the lack of resources, staffing, etc.

      Of course, to be fair, what many of us consider interesting enough to tweet about is, I’m sure, of no interest to others who are following us. LOL

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      • Ari, if the LSJ had a newsfeed for breaking news and alerts (and it was actually that), I’d likely follow it. Provided the information was timely.

        I’d suggest that they look to the Chicago Tribune’s twitter feed as a guide. About five tweets per day maximum, useful headlines, and links direct to the articles (without popups asking for zip code, age, race and sex before you can see the article). Not strictly all breaking news, but the information serves their community’s specific interests.

        Compare to today’s tweet by the LSJ: “Photo gallery: Elvis fans mourn the King. It’s Elvis week. Elvis died Aug. 16, 1977.” Not exactly relevant news to the area, breaking news, or news of broad interest.

        You make a interesting point on having narrowed focus. To take it one step further — Why not have LSJBreaking, LSJTech, LSJLocalEvents, etc. List each news item in one category and let the readers subscribe to the twitter feeds they have interest in.

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        • Great ideas Charles! I know the State Journal has a main Twitter feed and a business feed. Perhaps breaking their feeds that align with their sections more is something that would get people to follow at least some of their accounts. The BBC does that with their accounts.

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  8. I am comfortable with the automated service. If I am looking for breaking news, the LSJ is not my source. If I am looking for a local flavor, like the controversy surrounding Tasty Twist, then the LSJ is and should be my source. I think it’s time for the LSJ to recognize it is a community paper. With the exception of MSU coverage, it’s reach is not statewide.

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    • Thanks for the comment Peter — although I’m curious to know what your source for breaking news is? I’m sure the Lansing State Journal would like to know that, too!

      Your note about local flavor is interesting, and the State Journal isn’t alone in trying to be all things to too many people. Years ago when I worked for The Argus Press in Owosso, the publishers decided to make it more of large-town paper, adding more statewide and national news to compete with the State Journal to the west and the Flint Journal to the east. The trouble is, their plans backfired. Readers complained about not getting their local news in the Argus Press, noting that if they wanted the other stuff they would buy the bigger papers or watch TV. (This was well before the Internet was a household appliance.) We reverted back by dumping some broad based news and focusing on more local information. That seemed to keep the subscribers happy.

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  9. Pingback: The votes are in and readers want engagement « Here Comes Later

  10. I also think they need to go back to their short domain name, lsj.com. Yes, I know it forwards, but it’s short and pretty, that’s a premium domain. I wish I could afford a 3 letter domain, I wouldn’t care what it was, I’d come up for a use for it.

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