Television news used to be a secretive business. In the ‘dark ages’ before mobile telephones, we communicated by two-way radios, often in code. We protected sources, assignments, whereabouts, and plans. If we broke a big story, got a great quote, or captured nifty video, we kept it to ourselves and surprised our competition.
Not anymore, thanks to social media. As deadlines have become hourly if not constant, we don’t keep secrets. Newsrooms monitor Twitter feeds with the same diligence they used to give chattering teletype machines. In the process, our universe has flipped.
By most standards, I am a dinosaur - a guy who has been reporting and now also shooting since 1969. I have survived by adapting to ever-changing formats, philosophies, and methods of delivering content. Then, social media came along. “Real men don’t tweet,” I used to say.
To be blunt, most tweets and Facebook postings, even by fellow journalists, struck me as being self-serving and mundane. Many of their efforts still read like traditional broadcast teases. So what if you have a segment at 5pm. Learn to sell it and tell it in a post. Only, do it in 140 characters.
As a narrative writer and MMJ, I challenged myself to duplicate the style in social media, and began posting casual snapshots with captions, a new take on the traditional photo essay. Twitter narratives unfold progressively. People have always responded to episodic serials, and still do. Were you hooked on Breaking Bad? You wanted to know what happened next, right? Apply it to journalism.
If you follow me on Facebook or on Twitter @WayneFreedman, you’ll see that I tend to post once or twice a day in short, multiple bursts, with updates if or when necessary. I use a smartphone when hurried, but prefer a high quality pocket camera. The content ranges from facts, to updates, observations, or even quips. At day’s end, the sum of those pictures and captions often tell a story of their own.
Is this an additional task piled on top of an already heavy workload? Yes. And, it can be a burden until you build the process into your daily flow, but then you can make it work. Take the time to focus. Use those posts to record notes, thoughts, and lines for use in later scripts. Before long, the body of work will begin to look and feel like a daily journal. The results can even be rewarding.
And, there is anther bonus. In social media like Facebook and Twitter, likes, mentions, and re-tweets lead to interactions with potential viewers who might also become virtual partners. Remember, we’re not a traditional, one-way communication business any more. Now, we tweet, they comment, and those comments can often lead to adjustments in our coverage... another question, a new angle.
Here are some examples from my Facebook feed (the Twitter posts were similar):
- A drought story:
- This accompanied a story about dangerous waves on the Pacific Coast:
- This was a last look inside Candlestick Park before its last game:
It is worth noting that, for all of my multiple picture narratives, one single photograph of a die-hard football fan named Dan Kane has outperformed all of them. Dan was standing outside Stanford stadium before last season’s showdown with Oregon, and he carried a sign which read, “Marry Me Shaylie Gibbons. I swear the ring cost more than my Ducks, tix.”
Can one picture rock the Internet? I pulled the pocket camera, tweeted that photo, and later added it to my ABC7 Facebook page with this caption: “No matter what the outcome of tonight’s game, we know one sure winner. She said, ‘Yes.’”
Within hours, that one post reached almost four-thousand people.
Ironic, isn’t it? In an era when television screens have become sharper and larger, we now put so much effort into the smaller ones.