Can’t See It? Then Tweet It!

By now you’ve probably heard about the big story this week. It was an embarrassing gaffe during a live shot about the Michigan and Michigan State football game. It was a game decided on the final play. The on-scene reporter went TV and said the wrong team won. The anchor then had to correct the mistake when the reporter tossed back to the studio.

In this FTVLIVE article the sports anchor is quoted as writing on Facebook that “we tried bringing the most up to date stats as we could as we were going live at the exact moment everything was happening. Had two scripts written and ready to go and got bad information off my phone while on air. And then we immediately corrected it when we could. I’m sorry for getting it wrong but in the end it was corrected and it certainly won’t be a finish forgotten by any of us.”

Now if you have worked in TV news and covered a live event, especially a sports event even once, you know that it can be very hard to get the right information on the air in the final minutes of a newscast. Frankly, I am shocked this kind of gaffe doesn’t happen more often. The biggest reason why is the reporter has to leave the event in order to go live. That’s generally because of where you have to park the live truck and coverage rights, since the live event itself is televised.

So how can the reporter know what is happening when he/she doesn’t have eyes on the event?
There are several ways to prevent this, the biggest being putting someone in the stadium, who has news sense and can let the reporter know. But based on the description of how it went down quoted above, they may have attempted this solution. Guessing whoever was on the phone, or whatever site was used, will not be part of the equation next time.

This gaffe does open up discussion for an even bigger issue, and that is the need to be first, even at great risk of being wrong. This particular flub is making all sorts of rounds because it seems like such an obvious mistake. How could the reporter not know? How could you miss something when you are at the event? Look at his live shot background. He had huge stadium walls separating him. A big part of the blame here, lies with the decision on how to execute bringing the latest about the game to the newscast audience.

There is an age old argument that the people who really give a rip about the game or sporting event you are at, are actually watching it. So the push to be first is irrelevant because the audience that cares is not watching you, they are watching the game. But there is a strong counterpoint that this is a huge event everyone will be talking about in the DMA and you simply cannot ignore it. So here’s where I am going to get bold and ask, why not go non traditional? Why not keep the reporter in the stands, so your eyewitness actually knows what happened? Can you show a live pic, in the place where crews are allowed to be (even if that’s outside the stadium) and mention that your reporter is there, and live tweeting about the event? Can you show tweets fullscreen from your crew in the stands to show that you are all over the coverage? Here’s why this is a win-win scenario: The people watching the game, may still engage with your sports reporter on the scene through social media. The reporter can focus on the experience of the game for those who could not go for TV and tweet about the event with no worries about missing a key play. So the reporter can turn a piece on how much the fans are loving the event, or something controversial that happened earlier that airs in the newscast, then tweet about the here and now in the final minutes of the game. Put the tweets up, put up a live pic and keep your information accurate. It hits more audience because he can even be interacting with people who are still at the game.

The problem TV stations face is how to disseminate information in this digital age. Most stations still want all the biggest information to be on TV first. That means we have to take a crew live at the event. This is sometimes a mistake. You are limiting your possibilities and increasing the risk of an embarrassing mistake like this one at the Michigan/Michigan State game. In the case of live sports events, live shots need to be more about the atmosphere, and eyewitness accounts of what is happening. Relevant facts are already being posted online. I am not saying ignore the facts, but don’t force someone into the situation this reporter was in. The odds were stacked against him. He was OUTSIDE the event with no way to personally witness what was happening. How can he realistically report on what was happening? If you go the social media emphasis route, he could be in the stadium bringing information in a relevant way through Facebook, Twitter and the station website. He could post to these outlets without having to leave the stadium. In order to serve the live newscast audience, remember, the viewers are likely casual fans, they are not watching the game. Do a pkg on the experience and then use graphics of the tweets to update the facts. The biggest payoff is that you serve multiple audiences and are emphasizing what each cares about in the way you are covering the event. TV news is not just about showing up and covering an event anymore. Now the focus has to be on how to do it, and include social media in a relevant way. The reporter being on scene showcases that the station understands this is a big event for the community. Showing what it’s been like at the game in a package, serves the casual sports-viewing audience. Tweeting and posting Facebook updates on the game itself, in real time helps your reporter directly engage with the audience in real time, thus making a connection. Showcasing that he is doing so throughout the newscast generates curiosity and a chance to engage with the reporter if you cannot be there yourself. This is effective even if the person is watching the event live on another channel. It is another way to be a relevant eyewitness and get more of the audience actively involved with your reporter who’s at the event.

Again, you have to look at the regulations for covering these sporting events. Some events prohibit live tweeting. Most of the time mentioning a Tweet works and is still compelling. Especially because the photographer with the live picture would then understand why some fans were walking out looking devastated. The whole scene, inside the stadium and out would have had relevant perspective. As TV stations cover a variety of live events, the bottom line is that they need to discuss how they will engage with the viewers actively. Simply showing up and reporting what you hope is first and right, is not enough anymore. Your viewers use social media to track events, they expect you to as well.


ON PERMANENT RECORD: Social Media Survival Guide

In the last few weeks there has been what seems an unusually high number of social media gaffes by journalists. Survive has focused a lot of attention on trying to help journalists avoid this public and frankly permanent record of embarrassment.  It appears it is time for another round of discussion about this. So let’s dive in to the recurring pitfalls that make journalists look bad on social media, and ways to avoid them.

Top Danger Zones

Selfie backgrounds and tone
Responding to attacks
Teasing a story

The biggest potential pitfall without a doubt, is the background of a selfie and your tone describing it. Look, I get it. Selfies are the way to show where you are and what you are doing. And, yes, a lot of people just love seeing them. I understand that they are an important and effective way to communicate. In and of itself, the concept of a selfie is great. But not when you end up smiling at murder scenes, fatal accidents and just after weather events. The key here is to literally take a step back, and think about your background image. Even if a viewer cannot see the burning house, the crime tape or the tornado damage, the time of day and location of your selfie will out you. We have to remember as journalists that although reporters and anchors are instrumental in telling stories, viewers tune in for the facts and relatable information in the story even more. It is the simple truth. That includes your social media page. They follow you because they like how you share information with them. You and information. Not just you. You are still a stranger. Someone they like to spy on in a way, and seethings vicariously through.. but still a stranger. So you cannot expect the viewer to know your intention by sending a selfie out from a crime scene. And while we are at it headed to a crime scene, murder trial or fire. You come across as harsh, insensitive and frankly narcissistic. I do believe many journalists making these mistakes have good intentions. They want to show they are on a story and think of selfies because they are a natural part of everyday interactions with fans and friends. I think these journalists are often trying to show that they are on a big story and are eager to bring viewers all the information they can. A camera means smile, so they smile out of habit. But remember, viewers do not routinely “hang out” at crime scenes. Many live in gripping fear of large, destructive, weather events. Viewers follow you for information. Selfies for journalists, should not happen on the scene or headed to or from the scene of a story that is serious and/or tragic in nature. It really is that simple. When taking a selfie, stop to consider where you are or are headed to first. If it is serious in nature stick to images of the scene. Keep your selfie out of it.

Lets get more into the idea of the tone of your message. Remember, viewers follow your social media accounts in order to gain information. So, every time you express an opinion, you could be stepping into another dangerous pitfall. FTVLive recently exposed two cases of tweets that came across as very insensitive. A journalist excited at the possibility of covering her first hurricane, and another journalist calling out a “beggar” who seems to always be in the same area looking for a handout.

Both of these tweets express opinions. I am guessing both merely wanted to get a conversation going and hoped to be relatable to followers on Twitter. The problem is, opinions are a very slippery slope. Especially for journalists who are supposed to be objective in their professional lives. Even commenting on sports can be tricky, if you happen to root for a main rival team from the city/state where you work. Seriously. It can cause a backlash. An ND recently told me about a weekend anchor who said he hoped a rival team wins next week against the state team in a huge SEC football town. He got so many complaints about that anchor’s comments he debated firing the anchor to “keep the peace.”  You can talk to your friends and family about your opinions regarding news stories and issues. But don’t plaster them all over social media. Opinions like “I had a great run today.” and “I love drinking coffee.” are fine. Those sorts of comments will likely not create a heated response. But bottom line, social media is full of people who like to start fights. And journalists are a great target especially if they share opinions on things they are supposed to be objective about.

This leads to the third common pitfall, responding to critics. We have addressed this issue before, but it deserves going over again.  There are many wonderful people on social media. There also are a lot of trouble makers who want to incite public figures. On-air talent: On social media, because of your job, you are a public figure. Producers: You are too in many ways. You can be a target for people with an axe to grind against your station, your community or people who they deem to have public influence. Recently a meteorologist in DC shot back at someone on Twitter. He took heat for it too. Another meteorologist in Orlando recently blogged how hard it can be to deal with bullies.

To summarize, in simple terms, think of this analogy: It’s rarely the person who throws the first punch who gets caught and punished. It’s normally the second person. As maddening as it is, you have to take the higher ground. Period. If the bully is exceptionally nasty, let management know. Your safety is critical. These attacks, while totally uncalled for, can do you more harm if you respond with an attack, than if you ignore them. These bullies just do not deserve to get the best of you.
And now the last danger zone. Teases.  Remember that half the burden is gone for you on social media. You are not begging viewers to stay. They are actively seeking you out. Lately there have been several incidents where the “tease writer” on the social media account showed a scene from the station, and it looked insensitive.  I think part of the problem is social media writers are given mandates and try and force a square peg into a round hole. Yes, it can be very good to show “behind the scenes” crews working for you images. But again, think tone. This simple rule can once again help you avoid gaffes. If the story is serious in nature, leave the journalists image out of it. Focus on the scene. Focus on the impact, not the instrument providing the information. Also, a quick reminder. You do not have to make a story relatable by comparing it to a hit show or attempting to be witty. The characters and reason you are covering the story should be enough of a draw.

News organizations are trying to come up with basic guidelines, as a result of so many blunders on social media. The biggest battle all agree is the common thinking it’s only Twitter. Or it’s only Facebook. But unlike TV where we old timers like to say, “now it’s out in the universe” after a show airs, social media is permanent. There are ways to find even the comments you delete. Once you put a Tweet or FB or Instagram post out there, it is always out there for better or worse. It is crucial to understand the comments can and will haunt. As we mentioned before your Twitter account says a lot about you.  You have to make sure it is a good message your parents, minister, rabbi and boss would want to be aligned with. Not just read, but be connected to permanently. So look for these common pitfalls and don’t fall for them. Your reputation is too important.


Mayhem Blogger

The story is a great read.

And for journalists – true, capital-J-on-your-chest, I-can-recite-the-SPJ-Code-of-Ethics journalists – this is also terribly disheartening.

This is what we’re up against.

For better or worse, we can get our “news” from sources that go beyond the traditional (or “legacy,” as I like to call them) media outlets.

I am not ashamed to admit, I love me some Daily Show with John Stewart and what was the Colbert Report. First of all, their archive and research department is insane. As a former investigative and data reporter, the number of clips they dig up that add context and show patterns of (in)consistency makes me drool. Second, under the guise of satire, there’s a whole heck of a lot of fact. The hosts (“anchors”) and correspondents (“reporters”) can add perspectives (opinions?) true by-the-book unbiased journalists can’t.

But when, as in the case of Charles C. Johnson, news consumers are treated to false information, and flat-out lies – without correction, without remorse – all for clicks and notoriety, to say it’s frustrating is an understatement.

I don’t know of any newsroom that is not asking its journalists to do more with less. All while multiple deadlines across platforms with diminishing resources (and salaries) loom daily.

For longevity, it’s not longer sufficient to simply do a darn good job – you must “build a brand.”

Who is to blame? Technology – for giving us more outlets from which to get information? Consumers – who don’t take the time to check the credibility of their “media” outlets? Managers – who demand clicks and name recognition over enterprise and solid reporting? Media companies – bleeding money, desperately seeking revenue? “Journalists” – who’d rather take selfies on scene and post flashy hashtags than report?

None, some and all are probably the correct answers. And here is where I channel my inner cheerleader: to you true journalists, don’t let this stop you from doing your due diligence!
Persevere! Credibility is key. Journalism isn’t just a job – it’s a calling.

This blogger – and others more interested in exposing their brand and notoriety – may become recognizable. And eventually, so will his factual errors and seemingly callous attitude towards the damage they’ve caused.

If you wanna be famous – go on reality tv. Hire an agent. Hire a stylist. Hire a good plastic surgeon and make up artist. Marry – divorce – someone famous.

And I beg of you, please stay out of the way of us JOURNALISTS so we can continue to hold the powerful accountable. Give voice to the voiceless. Inform, enlighten and compel viewers, surfers, and readers.


Victoria Lim is a multi-platform journalism pioneer, newsroom trainer and educator; Frappacino fan and chocoholic. You can reach her @VictoriaLim on Twitter.


How To Have An Edge On Twitter Without Ruining Credibility

Last week’s episode of HBO’s “The Newsroom” (titled: “Run”) tried to make a statement about journalists use of Twitter. In fact, it appears that TV journalists use of social media is going to be a theme this season.

In “Run” the character Hallie sends out a late night tweet from ACN’s account saying “Boston Marathon: Republicans rejoice that there’s finally a national tragedy that doesn’t involve guns.” When asked what made her even think of a tweet like that, the answer is “retweets.”

Ok, so we all know this is hypothetical and some might even say “All journalists know better than a posting a politically charged tweet like that one.” But just within the last several days a real TV network was called out for an insensitive tweet.

And if you read FTVLive or Huffington Post, then you have likely seen the site point out examples of countless insensitive tweets and inappropriate exchanges on the local level. Here are three recent examples: media

Bottom line, journalists and industry leaders are struggling to have an edge on Twitter and other social media. Make fun of “The Newsroom” bringing up retweets all you like, but there’s truth in the not so thinly veiled critique. Journalists are getting a lot of pressure from their bosses to get lots of retweets, followers and influence on social media. So let’s talk about ways to get an edge without ending up embarrassed.

Let’s get something straight first. Journalists are tempted to go too far for two reasons. The influence of so called “citizen journalists” and pressure from above to be influential on social media. So let’s break those ideas down a bit.

Citizen journalists, are eyewitnesses, often with video or still images of newsworthy events. But they also often have biases. They are untrained in how to interpret situations, so they simply show what they see and then try to insert their OPINIONS on the issue.

Actual trained journalists, first and foremost need to keep their opinions off of their “official” social media accounts. That would have fixed several of the above scenarios as well. Now, I know this has been said before to you, but there’s the temptation to inject opinion because of the influence/retweet factor. With few exceptions the most influential “voices” on social media are full of opinions and very clearly state them. So how can you get that edge, and not follow in those same footsteps?

First and foremost, journalists must define their roles on social media. Just like a newsroom defines its news philosophy for its newscasts. Since many TV stations and companies are not willing or able to give you clear guidelines to define that role, let’s set up a framework for you to start doing it yourself.

What Is A Journalist On Twitter?
Educated Witness
Divulger of Information
Conversation Starter

What if journalists defined their roles with those three simple statements I just listed? Let’s dive in a little more.

As an educated witness, you need to fill up your social media accounts with images you see and characters you have met. You need to provide facts or explain you are searching for specific information as you showcase the images. Standing in front of a crime scene saying “We are first on the scene” is what a citizen journalist would do. They want to show off that they are there. A regular schmo, excited at a chance to be a part of something. You are a witness to many events, and go into those situations with some knowledge and the know how to get more information. See how the temptation to post a tweet like standing in front of a crime scene and saying “Here we are” is less likely to happen with the definition educated witness? I want to make sure you understand, viewers and folks on Twitter EXPECT you to be at the scene. And they expect more out of you than showing you are there. They want you to do something with your social media accounts that they can’t just do themselves.

Which leads to the next part of our definition, divulger of information. As you showcase the images you have (because you want to have an edge/influence and plenty of retweets) add a nugget of information.

“Firefighters fear these flames reach higher than their aerial ladder can go.”
“This accident scene looks awful but everyone walked away safely.”
“This pile of documents could change how your child is tested in school.”

Think extra details. Divulge information. Think how and why. Why does this image I am sending look this way? How will people be impacted by this picture? Why care about a pile of documents? What will firefighters face that a citizen journalist cannot easily notice or explain? These nuggets of information make you credible and valuable to follow. You gain an edge. You gain followers. You gain influence.

Finally, when you look at the most influential people on Twitter they are great at interacting with “their peeps.” They engage in conversation. So start some. You can bring up an issue without inserting your opinion. You can ask questions of your followers. Then retweet some of the reactions you get to engage people into talking more. If they see that you are interested in what they have to say, followers respect you more. They are more willing to bring things up to you. Engaging does not have to mean showing your breakfast donut and talking about how you exercise. If you are in an editorial meeting and thinking, does anyone care that city council is voting on allowing a new development, ask. See if you get hits. I know some of you are saying it tips off the competition if you do these things. But if you want to gain social media trust and influence, you have to start letting your followers in on the news of the day. There is a counter argument that they will let their friends know you are considering this story or that story, and encouraging them to tune in to see it. You need to establish credibility and create an edge. That means being willing to give up some nuggets to get the big prize.

So there you go. Define your role as a journalist on social media. How do you want to come across? How do you want the information you have to share to be viewed? If you focus on the information and allowing viewers to converse and engage you can avoid pitfalls. People retweet when they are interested in the topic. You do not have to be the voice of that topic. You can be the instrument by which the topic is explored, through images, nuggets of information and asking viewers to weigh in. You can have an edge on social media without the posts being about you. Remember, you are an educated witness who has information and knows how to get that information discussed. That will make you edgy, interesting and influential. Win, win and win!