Social media may have changed the way news gets reported, but some old school rules still apply.
Namely, if you’re at a meeting and you hear a scoop and no other journalists are in the room – and it never reached Twitter – save that morsel for a story tomorrow.
That’s what Washington Post reporter Aaron Davis says he’s done.
Davis covers DC politics and government and recently sat on a Society of Professional Journalists panel with two others to discuss challenges with covering the District.
“The internet has changed how the entire news operation works,” Davis says, mentioning that the Post always considers timing when publishing a story. “The whole publishing schedule has gone upside down.”
Many Washington Post top stories get pushed online early – around 6 a.m. or 7 a.m. – literally when folks are waking up to read the news on their phones. The next chunk of stories gets released just before lunch, when readers again are online to check what’s breaking.
The strategy further intensifies when it comes to holding stories that could publish in the afternoon or whether they’re worth holding for the following morning.
Then there’s the reader experience to consider.
What’s trending online on the Washington Post may not be the same five print stories holding for the front page the next day. Ultimately, what shakes out depends on how the day unfolds, Davis says.
Washington’s not really unique – it’s like any town with a myriad of local stories.
So what wins when it comes to local coverage? You might be tempted to say politics, and while that’s not incorrect, DC is chock full of other news.
Kavitha Cardoza, who covers education with WAMU (FM) Washington and is an adjunct faculty member of American University’s Department of Communication, says the station is adding new beats.
Among them, race and ethnicity now is a beat. Previously, WAMU split up news according to geography, with someone covering DC, Maryland, and Virginia.
Washington Post also is keeping a close eye on DC as a city in transition – economically, racially, and socially, Davis says.
“The race issue in DC is a pretty interesting issue,” he said, adding that the city used to have a black majority. “Now, [it’s] a majority of none, but it’s still very segregated.”
Twitter as Your Notebook
Cuneyt Dil, founder of the District Links e-newsletter and freelancer with Washington’s Current newspapers, says he keeps an eye on development-type stories.
Whether it’s the District’s neighborhoods facing a big development or businesses tackling minimum wage or paid leave, Dil always is trying “to find a DC angle.”
The Washington Post’s Davis brought up an analogy another journalist used that once shocked him.
“Use Twitter almost as your notebook,” Davis said. “Tweet the most interesting things, [allowing] readers to learn the facts almost as soon as you learn them. Then go back and craft a story.”
The panel also gave parting advice for new journalists coming into the fold.
- Build a Twitter following. Have an online profile that speaks to who you are.
- Write fast. As far as writing goes, you still must be able to grab people; your writing has to hit an editor fast. “Don’t count on the publication to get you better,” Davis says. “You have to get yourself better.”
- Learn how to do everything. Become familiar with audio and video. Take photographs. Be able to build graphs.
- Learn your craft. Cardoza added that interning at a print job is critical. “You just have to start with print,” she said. “Sometimes when I see young kids who intern with us and want to be journalists, they’re so focused on social media. But there are basics of journalism that you have to know.”