Covering breaking news: A Social Reporting Case Study

There’s a lot of water in Texas today, more than there’s been in a long time. As a result there is historical flooding in places like central Texas and in the Houston area (which happens to be under sea level on a sunny day).

It’s been interesting to watch the coverage from our colleagues. There’s only one way to play a story as big as this, in real time. That means social reporting: using social media as a tool to report information to readers. This is different than crowdsourcing or curation. Both of those techniques are used for engagement and rely on readers to do some heavy lifting. Social reporting, which could have some engagement, is very reader focused, meeting readers where they already are to give them the information that they need quickly.

What does this mean for the social media manager in a newsroom? They’re about to have a long day. It also means that their social schedule they have spent so long pre-scheduling is out the window. In short, they are playing everything live and has to be part of the decision making discussions since they are on the front lines.

Role of the social media manager

  1. This person works closely with the digital or web/packaging editor or whoever is manning the website..
  2. They create a Twitter list of emergency accounts like the National Weather Service, firefighters, cops, other news agencies, head of organizations (like president of the university) etc. That list should be up on either Tweetdeck or Hootsuite next to a list of your staffers.
  3. Retweet important information. Like always, you work for the reader. This is never more important than during a situation like this. Anticipate what will be asked and give them the information. You can do that by following hashtags and reading what’s going to be out there on social. Twitter is the best for this. If you need to know what’s being said in a certain area, either use the zip code search on Twitter search, use an app like Banjo, or, if your Hootsuite is connected to your google maps, use that.
  4. Basically, the social person is the air traffic controller for the reader and can be support for reporters at in the field and/or editors needing info to make decisions.

Now, let’s talk about tools. This is usually my favorite part. With social reporting, most of it can be done with a smart phone. Seriously, it’s going to be the most powerful thing to use.

  1. Periscope — Essentially live video through Twitter. Watch it though because it can be a battery sucker. Right now the app is for iPhones only and the quality isn’t that great but it can do in a pinch.
  2. Instagram and Vine — Short, short video, it’s 15 seconds/6 seconds respectively. I’m a fan of Instagram video because a complete story can be told in 15 seconds. In 6 seconds, you can show flooding but there less of an opportunity to tell that story. Remember, we’re in the storytelling business.
  3. ProCamera  — I’ve used this in the past and by far it’s a mobile journalist favorite for iPhone photography. The app essentially ups the camera on the phone and makes it as close to a professional DSLR version as it can. Does great video as well.
  4. Vyclone — This is a little known app and I’m surprised more people don’t use this more often. The app allows people to video the same thing from different angles and then edit that video out in the field very simply.
  5. iRig – Audio made easy. Just the app records very clear and crisp audio, however, along the microphone it’s pretty professional grade for an out in the field moment on breaking news. It transfers pretty easily into something like Audacity for editing.

Back in the newsroom, the digital/packaging/person who’s manning the website also has some work to do. Lots of content is coming in very quickly from several directions. Their role is to figure out how best to package or display the information in a format that is useful for the reader. Here’s a couple of ways they can do that.

  1. Youtube live stream — This can actually be done in the newsroom.  In the past, news agencies have used Google Hangout to stream live news. That doesn’t need to be done any more. Youtube is allows live streaming. So giving updates to readers straight from the newsroom is possible with a webcam and an HTML code.
  2. Timeline JS — This is an easy way to tell a story. Putting a timeline together is a great, basic way to tell a story. This timeline allows you to put visuals like photo and video right in the time line. That can be pretty dynamic.
  3. Storify — We already do this well but thought I’d mention it here. While the social media person is doing their thing, this person could be curating a storify of storm pictures, people’s reactions, or real time information from social media.
  4. Live blog — This is a way to get a lot of information out in a direct stream. I know I’ve mentioned it before.  A live stream can bring in stories, tweets, photo, video, and tidbits from reporting across platforms in one place and is sortable. A live blog works when the most recent information is the first entry. Each entry gives context to the story as it develops. The Washington Post does this well. As does The Guardian.
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About Icess Fernandez Rojas

Icess is a writer, professor, and blogger. She is a graduate of Goddard College's MFA program. Her work has been published in Rabble Lit, Minerva Rising Literary Journal, and the Feminine Collective's anthology Notes from Humanity. Her nonfiction has appeared in Dear Hope,, HuffPost and the Guardian. She is a recipient of the Owl of Minerva Award, a VONA/Voices of Our Nation Arts Foundation alum, and is also a Kimbilio Fellow. She's currently working on her first novel.

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