Detroit News Anchor Realizes How Twitter Has Changed How He Engages With Viewers

One of the key points we tried to hammer home at our Techdirt Saves* Journalism event in June was the importance of realizing that news organizations are really in the business of building community. So many in the news business focus on the belief that they’re in the “news” business, but that’s never really been the case. The news has always been the piece that brings together a community (and the business of a news organization has usually been to then sell that community’s attention to advertisers). The biggest problem that news organizations face these days isn’t scary “news aggregators,” but that there are now many, many, many other communities that people can join, and most of them treat their members a lot better. Many traditional news organizations, in contrast, seem to have a rather condescending view on “community.” They lock up comments, they complain about readers, and they focus on just delivering the news, not engaging with their community or enabling their community to do anything useful.

Thankfully, that’s not true of all news organizations (or individuals within news organizations). More and more are recognizing this important point, even if they do so in unexpected ways. krharrison points us to a great block post from Stephen Clark, a newscaster for a local Detroit TV station, about his realization of how Twitter is changing the way he relates to the community of folks who watch the news:

As I’ve reported in this blog before I have had a very long one-sided relationship with the people who watch my newscasts. I talk, they listen. If they had something to say to me they yelled it at the TV screen like Don Quixote tilting at windmills. Twitter changed all that. I can now hear you and I can now answer you…

I can’t speak for the dozens of people who check in regularly every night… sometimes at 6 or 7:00.. but mostly 11:00. I don’t know exactly what they get out of it except a kind of cool experience of actually conversing in real time with the guy on TV. But I can tell you what I get out of it. For the first time in years I actually feel like I’m talking to someone rather than at them. Frankly it’s energizing!

Of course, the next step is to go beyond just talking “to” them and to talking “with” them. But that will come. In fact, getting to that point, Clark explains an amusing way that the community tried to connect with him, picking up on the recent Old Spice commercial meme of “Silverfish Hand Catch!”, where some of his viewers started saying that if 100 people retweeted the request, Clark would close the broadcast by saying the line on TV. He didn’t get the 100 retweets, and admits that he wouldn’t have said it anyways (noting he probably would have lost his job), but he did do an “air” silverfish hand catch surreptitiously, to let folks know he was paying attention.

But, much more interesting was the realization he had while all of this was happening:

It was all a bit silly sure, but I realized something else was going on. The audience of our 11:00 newscast wasn’t just talking to me… they were talking to each other! I felt like Alexander Graham Bell when he made his first call to Watson. The backchannel worked!

I know that many folks around here still like to mock and dismiss communications tools like Twitter, but many people are realizing what powerful tools they are for conversations and for building communities where none really existed before. And, in businesses where community and relationships are everything, that’s quite powerful for those who figure it out.

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