Social Media

Can Social Media Save Newspapers? This Editor Says ‘Yes’

April 23, 2009

Traditional news outlets may be gasping for air amid some of the toughest times their industry has ever seen – but some innovative journalists in the space are confronting the challenge head on with the help of social media. Can blogs and social networks provide the necessary oxygen to help embattled media outlets thrive?

360i interviewed Scott Kleinberg, Senior News Editor at RedEye Chicago – the Tribune daily aimed at young Chicago urbanites – to learn more about the interplay between social media and journalism. Kleinberg’s publication embraces what it calls “print media 2.0” to the fullest, utilizing a popular Twitter feed, several blogs and even a proprietary Facebook app called RedEye Five on Five, which pits sports fans against a panel of RedEye columnists.

360i: Why do you think there is a growing trend of journalists and news outlets marketing their content online? Is the news industry especially conducive to social marketing?

SK: I think it’s more inevitable than a choice. Today’s generation just doesn’t see the need to get their fingers dirty reading a newspaper when much more current information is available online. Journalists were warned of this day, but I don’t think they expected it to come so soon. But because journalists are a creative bunch, coming up with unique ways to stay relevant shouldn’t be difficult, just a new challenge, which, like anything else, will take some getting used to. And we can all learn from each other. When I’m on Twitter, I’m always retweeting content from papers that some would consider the competition. Sure, we still compete, but the most important thing is getting today’s readers the information they need – no matter where it comes from.

360i: Do you think social marketing initiatives like the ones you have launched at RedEye would be as effective at more conventional publications? Or, does the innovative approach only work with alternative dailies?

SK: In this case, size definitely doesn’t matter. I think social media initiatives work at newspapers large and small. The Tribune uses social media a lot and does it well, although engaging different audiences means different ways of interacting. Innovation works everywhere and the only limit is imagination. My only advice to newspapers starting out is not to be afraid. You still have to be professional and unbiased, but you can have fun and interact with followers/friends. Show them that you’re human.

RedEyes 5 on 5 Facebook app engages young Chicago sports fans.
RedEye’s ‘Five on Five’ Facebook app engages Chicago sports fans.

360i: When did you recognize the opportunity to market RedEye via social media and what were some of the first steps you took? Was there any skepticism at first? How did your readers react?

SK: It was 2 a.m. on a Saturday. I knew of Twitter but I never really knew of a newspaper that was taking the initiative to interact with readers/followers on an extremely personal level. So without telling a single editor, I started @redeyechicago. I had no idea what to post – first I was doing a bunch of links to stories that we were running. Then I learned about retweeting. And then I learned that just because you’re a newspaper, you don’t have to tweet newspaper stories. Twitter is all about the conversation and being interesting, so I talk about everything from the weather to the big news of the day. And what sets RedEye apart from just about every other paper is our level of interaction. I ask questions on Twitter and Facebook that have to do with stories we’re running and then we print those tweets in the paper. People love seeing their name in the paper. We do the same thing with other popular features and are the only newspaper – at least that I know of – that prints Twitter-sized movie reviews. The skepticism was mostly in the industry because this was such a radical and unproven way of reaching out to readers, but readers loved how we were embracing the cool factor of social media. All in all, it’s been a gigantic success.

RedEyes popular Twitter feed provides fuses news with conversation.
RedEye’s popular Twitter feed provides fuses news with conversation.

360i: Do you think integrating traditional journalism with new media is the only path to survival for the embattled news industry?

SK: Yep. I really do. Journalists and newspapers still have a responsibility to the public, but just like newspapers from 100 years ago are totally different than newspapers of today, we’ve got to embrace change. I don’t think there will be paper newspapers 100 years from now, but I don’t think journalism will ever be dead. The combination of blogging, reporting and technology will still make journalists relevant.

Follow Scott @redeyechicago and @scottkleinberg to keep up with RedEye’s future social media initiatives.