There are two comments the industry regularly hears from its readers, listeners and viewers: “That’s not news!” is one of them, followed by “All you guys ever care about is negative news.”
When journalists are told to cover Casey Anthony or a shooting in a really crummy part of town, it’s hard to argue with readers and viewers who tire of the salacious and violent news cycle. However, the birth of social media five years ago, and its more-recent widespread adaptation by anyone with a computer, a tablet or a smartphone, gives newsrooms the rare opportunity to do something revolutionary: Let the customers set the newsroom agenda.
One of the nice things about working the weekend at the San Francisco television station where I’m employed is it affords me the opportunity to venture outside the norm and experiment a little. During a particularly busy news cycle, I decided to experiment with our Facebook audience by allowing them to choose the most-important story to them. Using the Facebook Questions feature, I gave our audience a choice of four news stories with the promise that whatever was important to them would be the top story on the website later in the day.
The result was this:
At the end of voting, the US Debt Showdown won with a nearly-overwhelming amount of the votes. Over 100 of the 7,000 Facebook fans participated in the polling, and the latest wire story on the US Debt situation was moved to the top of the website for an hour at 6 p.m. The experiment was later written about in Lost Remote.
Did we gain a massive amount of traffic? Not any more than we would normally get on an Associated Press wire story. But we did send a message to our viewers that their opinion on what is and is not newsworthy mattered, and it gave us a better idea of what they’re looking for in a news product.