BuzzFeed recently ran a post on what it called the New York Times‘ “Twitter graveyard,” which turned out to be a list of accounts set up by the newspaper’s editorial staff that are either dormant or unused, including some that still have the default egg avatar given to Twitter newbies. But does that mean some staffers just haven’t taken to a particular platform, or does it mean the paper’s writers and editors aren’t doing enough to engage with readers?
That was the underlying question behind a discussion I had with a number of senior NYT staffers on Monday — including the paper’s deputy digital editor and co-author of the recent internal “innovation report” — after one (a senior member of the paper’s development team, Jacob Harris) referred to the BuzzFeed piece somewhat dismissively, implying that using Twitter accounts as a proxy for whether journalists are doing their jobs is neither fair nor particularly enlightening (I’ve also created a Storify collection of some of the relevant tweets).
I tried to argue that focusing solely on whether someone is on Twitter is trivial, and may even be unfair, but the larger point being made by BuzzFeed and others is that the Times may be lacking in the area of social engagement with readers. And this is important because it could literally be the key to survival for media companies and journalists alike, as social starts to replace search.
Engaging means more than just listening
A number of Times staffers, including deputy international editor Lydia Polgreen, made the point that there are plenty of reporters and editors who use Twitter regularly and are open to engaging with readers, a group that includes media writerDavid Carr, Polgreen herself, science writer John Schwartz, columnist Nick Kristofand others. As she pointed out, readers have far more engagement potential with NYT writers than they have ever had.
Foreign correspondent Damien Cave and others echoed a common refrain, which is that just because a New York Times reporter or editor doesn’t tweet a lot doesn’t mean that they aren’t listening to readers and following conversations about stories — a point that deputy digital editor Amy O’Leary also made. Others noted that there are lots of different ways to respond to readers and engage with them, including Facebook, email and in person.
As I tried to argue, however, listening is only part of the equation when it comes to engagement, and it’s likely the easiest part. The hard part is having to respond when someone criticizes your piece or points out an error — but that is also when engaging is at its most powerful, and it can ultimately result in better journalism.