I remember when I started in television 21 years ago.  Back then – as in many newsrooms – you dreaded answering the phone in case a ‘viewer’ had a question or wanted to tell you what they thought of the newscast.  Who wanted to hear that?

How wrong we were.

Today, I rarely say we have viewers; we have customers.  And we definitely want to know what stories are on their minds, what they think of our newscasts and more!

I know we have a lot of work left to do – when I respond to someone’s e-mail or join the comments on our website, customers are amazed someone at the station actually cares about what they have to say.

Do we have a lot of work to do!

So, we have set up a lot of ways for people to give us the feedback I argue we don’t just want, we need in order to thrive in the world.  One example is the live chat my station, News10, does on big story days.

One Way of Connecting
One Way of Connecting

We’re building a culture where everyone realizes how important this is.  And hopefully, in a year or two, people aren’t so surprised when we talk back.

Take the poll, comment – give me some feedback.

I am keeping up on our annual broadcasters convention on Twitter (hashtags #rtnda and #nab), as well as the RTNDA web site, which is using CoverItLive to cover the biggest seminars.)

Today’s big event seemed to be about how to use new technology to better cover our communities.   And I think it looks and feels like entrepreneurial thinking  because there is always some risk in using new technology in place of old.

There are a quickly growing number of journalists using tools like TwitPic, Twitterific and dozens more to bring their followers to news conferences, breaking news and more – and it’s not on the station’s website!  Twitter didn’t promote this as a journalistic tool – some bright journalist started using it and word-of-mouth spread its use.

I’m not knocking it; I full support the use of Twitter in my newsroom, or Information Center.  We have found stories; we have lined up interview subjects for our newscasts; we have hundreds of followers just on our automated feed of story headlines.  And I will bet 1/2 of those followers don’t watch our TV newscasts.

So why do it?  Because, as an entrepreneur would do, we have to take risks.  We have to try different ways to reach our customers on their turf, knowing we will make nothing now and, perhaps, ever.  You can change out Twitter for Facebook and make the same argument – and I’ll discuss Facebook at a later time.

My point is this: Bravo to Steve Safran and Chip Mahaney for leading a discussion of new technology, risk-taking, flag-planting toward our journalistic, entrepreneurial future.  It’s meetings like this that keep me so excited about what’s going on now and what’s to come.

    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.