In this tweeting, liking, posting world, WLBT in Jackson, Miss. is trying to stand out. Throughout the Raycom-owned newsroom are signs reminding everyone to engage the viewer all day on the website, mobile app, Twitter and Facebook.
Charley Jones, executive producer for WLBT, says social media is a bridge to information.
“It’s this personal device right here,” Jones said pulling out his iPhone, “that’s the first bridge you have to cross.”
Jones explained that WLBT’s goal is to carry viewers from social media platforms over to the television set.
Bob Burks, the director of new media at WLBT, is tasked with bringing the station to screens beyond the television. He has overseen the development of an app for mobile users and is instrumental in regularly updating WLBT’s website and Facebook presence.
Recently, the newsroom managers started requiring newscast producers to update the station’s Web and social media presence, as well. Some producers divide their time between updating social media platforms and preparing for their shows.
Darrell Brown, who is the producer for the 6 p.m. broadcast, comes in at 1 p.m. and puts together that day’s show. After 6:30 p.m., he then works on posting stories to the Web and Facebook.
All producers have to include a “Web push,” which urges viewers to read more about the story on the WLBT website. They also are required to have a social media push for Facebook and Twitter.
WLBT community Web producer, Morgan Carlson, is a recent graduate of the University of Florida. While there she paid attention to the influence that social media was beginning to have on the news industry and took classes that emphasized writing for the Web to prepare.
“I was lucky enough to be in a journalism program that realized they had to switch focus,” she said.
She stressed that it is important that journalism students pick up as many skills as they can and gain as much experience as possible.
One thing that has surprised Carlson is how many of their viewers check Facebook first. She said that it is common for viewers to comment that a certain story is not on Facebook, even though it is posted to the station’s website.
However, where the audience goes for the station’s content is not the real issue. Carlson says the goal is for people to say, “They saw it [the story] on a WLBT platform.”
Although, she works the typical eight hours, five days a week, she along with Burks, producers and reporters ensure that social media is monitored and updated 24-7.
For example, when a major accident occurred involving an 18-wheeler and a pickup truck, Carlson worked off the clock in order to update the story on the Web and social media. WLBT was the first station to have the story posted on the Web and to a mobile app.
The debate over how to use tools such as Facebook and Twitter without losing story quality is a concern for the journalistic community. One hundred and forty characters don’t provide enough room for a full explanation, and there is no guarantee that readers will click over from social media to the website, watch a newscast or buy a newspaper or magazine.
For now, though, it appears that a news outlet that wishes to be successful in today’s market cannot thrive without social media.
Bracey Harris is a journalism major who took part in the Meek School of Journalism and New Media’s inaugural newscast producing internship program. She and three other students spent 6-8 weeks at Jackson television stations, learning how to craft a newscast and producing their own shows. To apply for the summer 2013 internship, please contact Deb Wenger: firstname.lastname@example.org.