I wish more people would get involved in understanding what the Grand Rapids’ Neghborhood News Bureaus could do for our community.

The Community Media Center and Community Foundation set up this Facebook page.  Almost 300 people have signed up, but the comments are getting fewer and less frequent.  While I don’t speak for the site organizers, I sure wish more people would talk about this.

Another way to keep up and comment is by following GRCitizenNews on Twitter.  There, you can find links to new studies and hear from key bureau folks about their latest progress.

While I would welcome the comments on my blog, I think it’s important anyone who cares about this community has some level of involvement.  As someone in the commercial media in town, having a lot of additional citizen resources to help cover our community can only be a good thing.

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    More and more TV stations – and cable news channels – are going aggressively into social networking, especially Facebook and Twitter.  CNN has a daily show on at 3 every afternoon with Rick Sanchez that feeds off those two sites.  Why so much focus?  In our case at WZZM, it’s all part of our strategy to connect with current and future customers where they are.  CNN says Rick’s show is now #1 in its time period.  There’s something here.

    A new study, written about in TV Newsday,  shows we’re currently half right.  Crawford, Johnson and Northcutt, along with Brand Amplitude, studied 18-30 year olds who are active online.  One key finding was this:

 In a series of online focus groups, young adults across the country indicated a strong interest in local information and said they would welcome the availability of that information on their turf — social networking sites. Further, they said that a local television station would make an impression with them if it had a presence on those sites.

   But it also points out these people are not necessarily going to turn on TV newscasts right now, except in the case of breaking news.

    Here’s what interesting to me.  10 years, even 5 years ago, we weren’t that worried about whether teenagers were going to start watching our newscasts anytime soon.  Now, I hear and read about that more and more.  Most teens I know do not care about local news – yet. They care about weather, snow and school closings and whether the football team won on Friday night.  So we do have some connection with that group right now.  Obviously, we’re all hoping this pays off when today’s 18-year old becomes 25 or 26.

    I also know from looking at my Facebook group that more and more 30 and 40-somethings are joining – and research backs that up.  So, we are hitting our current customers using these tools as well. 

   And what I keep wondering about is this – what’s next?  What’s the next Twitter, Facebook?

More media companies are laying off more workers and filing for bankruptcy.  Two friends from my NBC days recently lost their jobs at Media General and other people I know are facing job elimination.  People ask me if I have ever experienced anything like this and my answer is no.  And I don’t know what’s around the bend.

Whether you are in that position or not, the title of tonight’s post is directed at YOU!

What’s your social media profile?  Do you read blogs, write one, both?  (I do both.)

If you don’t like to Twitter, do you understand it?  If you try it, you’ll probably become addicted.

If someone asked you what feeds do you aggregate in your RSS reader, would you be able to say yes and, hopefully, understand what they’re talking about?  (I read about 20 sites using my Google Reader.)

Are you on LinkedIn?  Facebook?  Have more than 10 friends in each?  (I have about 80 on Facebook, 270 on LinkedIn.)

Here’s my point: do not wait until your job or career is in jeopardy to start building your social profile (Mashable wrote a great article about this recently)

At a January meeting in our Information Center, I asked our team to pick one and work on it, not for us, but for them.  I don’t think you can say you get social media and sit on the sidelines.

And, because I also hire people, I can say this: I do and will search your name if you apply for a job to see if what you say to me about social networking is really what you do.

So, finish reading this and ask yourself: Am I into social media enough to beat out all those other journalists for that job I’m going for?   Or, is this just a diversion, taking our attention away from our traditional TV or print platform.  I’d love to debate.

    I recommend you read this study if you want to know anything about teen behavior online – or spend a few hours in the evening at my house with my teenagers!

    Here was the part that really stuck out to me, as someone in the business of creating and marketing local information:

  1. 94% visit Google or Yahoo! weekly
  2. About half visit cnn.com or msnbc.com
  3. Just 27% visit a local TV site

    Local newspaper sites don’t rank that higher, either.  Where am I going with this?

     I think part of the Neighborhood News Bureau plan needs to focus on what I would call a viral marketing strategy.   Here are a few of my specific ideas:

  1. The crowd we have attracted to our Facebook page is my age, not my teenage daughters’ ages!  We need to produce some content they find interesting (the study showed teens are ‘interestable’.)
  2. We should find a couple teens who know Facebook and ask them how to target those influencers the teens use for content.
  3. Several TV stations in town are affiliates of CNN.  Its site often pulls interesting local content onto either its main site or here on the national page.  I pulled tonight’s Midwest list:

CNN Logo

 Midwest

   Imagine one of the NNB stories on this page.  The traffic – and exposure – would be huge.  That’s one of the benefits working with the commercial TV stations can bring.

There’s been a lot written recently about how teens and young people use media, specifically the web.   The research got me thinking about how we could use this information to help frame the Neighborhood News Bureaus to reach them.

What Millions of Teens Are Doing Daily

What Millions of Teens Are Doing Daily

Tim Windsor (gotta like guys named Tim) wrote a long blog entry about Dan Tapscott’s ‘Grown Up Digital’.  One of the key points has to do with how teens, all of them digital natives, want a tailored message to them or, better yet, one they can customize and personalize.   As we have discussed, we need to tailor some content widgets for their Facebook and MySpace pages.  Frankly, let’s invite teens into the conversation now so we can include them on the front side.

I see this with my own teenage daughters, but Tapscott’s book also talks about how teens like to mix entertainment with work.  Who hasn’t seen a 16-year old doing homework while watching You Tube and listening to their iPod.  And ace the test!  They trust others to help guide them to information.  For these NNB’s to work with a teen crowd, we should try to find those teen influencers in the city’s high schools and community centers.

Tomorrow, where teens go – and don’t go – to get their news and what ;essons we in the media should learn from that.

I know we should more next week about how the Grand Rapids Community Foundation and Community Media Center want to structure the process for opening Neighborhood News Bureaus.  But that hasn’t stopped me from thinking about the project.

We all know the web will be a big part of this: what sites get the content and in what form are still to be decided.  But, beyond the web, what other ways?

Do we set up an automatic Twitter account, the way we have for my station, WZZM 13?  I ask because I have heard from at least one person who uses Twitter on his mobile phone the updates are too short for phones and the URL is tough to get on a cell phone.  That’s one of the questions we’ll need to answer.

TV, despite all of the bashing it’s taken lately, is still a powerful form of media.  We’d have to figure out which content is going air on TV, what station(s) and, most importantly, how to let the community know.

We also cannot forget about that percentage of our community that either by choice or budget does not have home or office access to the internet.  How would we best hit those people?  Would we consider a newsletter that summarizes these?  And how about our Spanish-speaking Southwest side?  Do you create a 2-language bureau on that side of the city and use radio and newspaper to reach them?

Help me fill in the answers?  Join the discussion on the Facebook page the Foundation and CMC set up.

Two big stories are happening at stations owned by Gannett, the same company that owns my station, WZZM.

You have probably heard of both: the Buffalo plane crash and the Florida search for 5-year old Haleigh Cummings.   But I wanted to talk about and show how they are using social media to better engage their customers.

Right now on WGRZ’s web site, they are streaming live coverage of the crash investigation.  But look below that: they are moderating a live web chat using CoverItLive.  The chat has been full all day and more than 4700 people are watching the live video coverage online.

Our Florida station, known as First Coast News, has this page devoted to coverage.  But check back at 4pm this afternoon; they are doing 2 and a half-hours of news with a lot of Haleigh coverage and, if the past holds true, they will also encourage the web community to talk.

I know people in our West Michigan community are offended by some of the comments our customers leave on individual stories.  And we have not had a story this big to try out live web conversations for hours on end.

If you have time, please check out what our stations are doing and let me know what you think: great use of social media, waste of time or somewhere in between?