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National | State | Tech and Journalism | Sunday, July 4th, 2010, 5:11 pm

More bad news for traditional media: Readers don’t trust ‘em


Update: Angie Muhs, of the Portland Press Herald, points out that the Press Herald does not automate its Twitter feed.

A new poll by Zogby says that Americans are more likely to trust social media such as Facebook and Twitter than mainstream media outlets, delivering a swift kick in the gut to an industry that’s still unsure what this Internet thing is all about.

What this all means for Maine’s media outlets — which have so far been lucky because Mainers, for the most part, still like their paper product — is unknown. But social media hasn’t always been a strong point for them. For the most part, the Twitter and Facebook feeds of the MaineToday Media papers KJ and MS are automated through RSS feeds — known disdainfully to some as “shovelware.” The result is a feed that includes one article a day — oftentimes posted long after the article was published — and spurs little interaction. The Kennebec Journal has 678 fans on Facebook and 818 followers on Twitter, and few people comment or reply to posts.

By contrast, the Sun Journal of Lewiston curates articles for its Facebook and Twitter accounts by hand and frequently responds to @replies on Twitter or comments on Facebook. The results show: The number of followers dwarfs both the Portland Press Herald and the Bangor Daily News, who are just about tied for the title of largest paper in the state.

The Sun Journal also aggressively promotes breaking news on its social media accounts, posting updates as they come in and retweeting eyewitness photos and comments.

There are, of course, times when social media has led us astray. It is a common story to hear about rashes of tweets spreading false news. After Michael Jackson’s demise, news of other celebrity deaths spread through Twitter like wildfire. It is easy for rumors to take off on the Web and it oftentimes takes a while to ring them back — you just have to read the comments section to see that.

What the poll really indicates is that media companies need to pay really close attention to readers, and that means being reliable and personable. If the local newspaper isn’t consistently the first organization to report breaking news — even if that means promoting the news through social media before there’s a story on the website — how are readers to trust that paper to deliver any news at all?

(Hat tip to the BDN’s Todd Benoit for the link.)

Full disclosure: The author just finished a stint with the Kennebec Journal, a MaineToday Media newspaper, and will in short order work for the Bangor Daily News.

William P. Davis is editor of MaineMedia and a founding editor of the Observer.

6 Responses to “More bad news for traditional media: Readers don’t trust ‘em”

  1. Jack says:

    Hey copy editor – try copy editing your stuff. “Spur,” not “Spurn.”

  2. Tony Ronzio says:

    Interesting thoughts, Will, but I think your readers need some additional context.

    The KJ/MS automates their Facebook/Twitter accounts out of necessity; we do not, unlike the Sun Journal and its amazing Patti Reaves, have a dedicated position solely for new media.

    Your readers should know that the intent to cultivate our social media presence into something more personable (read, not automated) remains a high priority for the KJ/MS.

    And I have hired staff with those goals in mind.

    We value our followers and fans too highly to just throw canned content at them, and we won’t do it longer than we must.

    Also, I think your source material – the Zogby poll – is flawed. Here’s the link to the results: http://www.zogby.com/news/ReadNews.cfm?ID=1871

    As brands, “THE MEDIA” rates worse than New Coke or the Ford Edsel. But how does that relate to trust of news coverage?

    Zogby is silent on that point.

  3. sturty says:

    Interesting piece William. I originally set up the KJ/MS FB/Tw accounts. I would like to point out that during my tenure, we had the Twitter feed set up to display only that day’s breaking news updates. We had upwards to 30 on a busy day. I would argue having access to a feed like that – whether on FB, Twitter or wherever — is valuable. Yes, it could be much better and encourage more “social” interaction, but I wouldn’t call what we originally pushed out canned content. Tony is right, of course, about the KJ/MS predicament with regards to web development. Connor pretty much gutted the small, but determined web team we had. I’m glad to see Tony is planning to rebuild and put more emphasis on the web. Keep up the good work.

  4. Eryk Salvaggio says:

    The number of followers is a poor metric of success, I think. If you fill a hen house with a thousand sterile chickens, you’re never going to make an omelette.

    If you tally the number of local users on any given media feed, you’ll come closer, in my opinion, to determining the real value of that particular stream.

    At the BDN, we have a smaller number by design: I don’t follow non-human accounts, and I make sure humans are from Maine, NH, Vermont or our neighboring Canadian communities. As a result, the spammers (I mean spammers in the literal sense) tend to lose interest and go away. No matter: They weren’t contributing anything to the community engagement or raw traffic.

    The LSJ excels at creating interesting dialog and interaction with its audience, but it doesn’t have the same approach to who it follows; which is fine. Ultimately, a filtered-out spambot is neutral. But I’d like to point out that pure numbers are not what “wins” Twitter, and a small weekly shouldn’t have an inferiority complex if it lacks the Twitter audience of an NYT or Wolf Blitzer.

    Twitter is about being available to your audience, facilitating dialog in the community and getting information out as quickly as possible.

    The LSJ’s Twitter feed is a role model because of its degree of community involvement and community building: Do that right and you have a powerful tool. Chase pure numbers and you may find yourself tweeting to Justin Bieber impersonators and 4500 spambots in Ljubljana.

  5. Kara says:

    Does “mainstream media” no longer include television or radio?

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