Twitter party? Reporters take social networking ‘offline’

As you already know, news is no longer a one-way lecture. It’s conversation.

It started with comments on stories and blog posts and has evolved in the age of social networking with Facebook and Twitter. So what’s next? Going “offline” and actually meeting with readers and sources, face-to-face.

A small-but-growing number of reporters is finding power in emphasizing the “social” in social networking. Tweetups, meetups and other gatherings allow the people behind the news company’s brand to come out from behind the curtain, shake hands, press the flesh and have real conversations with real people.

What a concept.

“People were giddy, taking pictures of the presses running and everything. It was fun,” said Jude Seymour, a political reporter with the Watertown Daily Times in New York, in reference to an event the newspaper hosted recently. “We wanted people to know who we are. We didn’t want to be faceless. We are real human beings and we’re interacting with their lives.”

The Times has hosted a handful of events that only get promoted on Facebook and Twitter. So the turnout isn’t huge, but the interaction is valuable. Oh, and there is also a little be of marketing involved, but don’t tell anyone.

“We felt like we’ve got to reward people for doing this, for being part of our community,” Seymour said. “So we had a party and brought people to our operation. People really connected to it. One guy who’s become active won a 3-month subscription to the paper. The whole thing doesn’t cost much money and we’re able to hit them over the head with all we’re doing to cover the community.”

The Times hosted a “party,” to celebrate hitting the 100-fan mark on its Facebook page, at the newspaper that drew 30-35 people in May. The meetings at a local Panera Bread only draw about a dozen people, but still allows reporters and editors to “tear down a lot of the preconceptions” people have about the news organization, according to Seymour.

Coffee shop meetings with reporters and columnists have been going on for years, of course. But the constant and immediate interaction that Facebook and Twitter provide create a much different relationship between journalists and readers. Instead of meeting a reporter once a year, a reader can now communicate constantly with a number of reporters and editors. Or at least maintain “ambient awareness” of what the journalists are up to now.

To my knowledge, Monica Guzman of the Seattle P-I was one of the first to go offline with the social network she created and cultivated for the news organization. Even though the P-I no longer prints, she is still active in hosting meetups and meeting with readers to discuss news and the news site’s role in covering the community.

“I get A LOT out of it,” Guzman told me via email, referring to the meetups she started more than a year ago. “And so, I think, do the people who come. I’ve met a lot of awesome people, some of whom have shared good ideas and good tips, and some who have even become friends. I’ve gotten to get to know all different parts of the city, too. It’s amazing what you can know of a neighborhood’s character from its coffee shop.”

The future or news means more interaction, not less. So journalists had better embrace the concept of mixing it up with their readers, sources and other “customers.” Yes, there will always be the occasional nutjob who tries to ruin the party because of an old grudge against the news organization. But the return on investment here for the journalists, the readers and the news company are worth the risk.

Our first Northern New York tweetup was held April 4 at Panera Bread, Watertown. We had nine people, including four from the Watertown Daily Times.

Our Facebook page ( went live on May 12. We hit 100 fans by May 17, and threw a party – which I’d say 30 people attended – at our building on May 27.

Tonight’s NNY tweetup was organized by @mandeewidrick and is at the Lyric Coffee House in Clayton, about a 25 minute drive from Watertown.

“The meetups are one of the ways I try to make sure I stay accessible, spontaneous and open to new ideas,” Guzman says. “I never know who’s going to show up or what they’re going to say, and most weeks, there are new faces. Just this Wednesday I met a young Microsoft employee who’s active in local soccer teams, a Google employee who’s met New York Times puzzlemaster Will Shortz and a Boeing employee who sits on the board of Solid Ground.

“At this point, I can’t imagine doing my job without them.”

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One Response to “Twitter party? Reporters take social networking ‘offline’”

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