Lauren McCullough: Twitter can be a “streamlining savior” for journalists

Lauren McCullough is an award-winning journalist and social media strategist. She has traveled the country, speaking on the use and importance of digital and social media tools.

In her role as Audience and Engagement Manager for The Associated Press, Lauren oversees the newsroom’s social media efforts, including the flagship accounts on Facebook and Twitter and more than 20 other corporate accounts. She directs the work of AP’s journalists around the world in pursuing sources from social networks, as well as promoting AP and member content.

Lauren was recognized by the Associated Press Managing Editors Association with the 2008 John L. Dougherty Award. She has also been awarded two AP Beat of the Week awards for her work with citizen journalists during the 2009 Hudson River plane splashdown and the 2007 Minnesota bridge collapse.

Lauren was a 2010 fellow in The Punch Sulzberger Executive News Media Leadership Program at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. She’s a 2004 graduate of Hofstra University. Prior to joining the AP, Lauren worked for Newsday.com in Melville, N.Y., and The Post-Star in Glens Falls, N.Y.

  

When did you start using Twitter?

I joined Twitter on February 29, 2008. I’m a leap year tweeter, which is the next best thing to being a leap year baby.

Like most people, my first few tweets were variations on: “What is the point of this platform?” and “Is anyone listening?” But I quickly saw the value as I followed people and started using Twitter as a newsgathering tool during breaking news.

  

Do you use other social media to connect with readers?

I’m active on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, LinkedIn, Foursquare and Instagram, and I dabble in a few others like Gowalla and GetGlue.

 

Roughly how many tweets do you send out on an average day?

Generally 10-20 times per weekday on @lfmccullough, including @replies.

  

Do you have separate Twitter identities for your personal and professional activities?  If you have just one Twitter ID, roughly what proportion of your tweets each day are related to your beat, and what proportion are personal/fun/quirky?

I’m a big proponent of having one account per social network that you use personally and professionally. It’s what we encourage AP’s journalists to do. I’d guesstimate that I’m about 2/3 professional, 1/3 personal, but it really depends on the day (and how bad my commute was).

  

Can you explain exactly what your role is and how that fits into the overall AP hierarchy?

I oversee AP’s social media strategy, based out of the newsroom. I’m part of our headquarters operation, called the Nerve Center. I’ve been involved in social media at AP since 2007, and have been working full time on it since 2009.

  

Tell us a bit about the day-to-day operation of the “Nerve Center”. What does it do, who’s doing it, and where does it fit into the overall journalistic process?

The Nerve Center was formed last year to coordinate the work of AP’s field leaders who direct coverage in their areas. It’s also used as a hub to experiment with new kinds of storytelling. It works closely with AP customers and uses social networks to discover fresh ways to engage readers and viewers. There are about 25 people who work on the Nerve Center 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

  

What’s been the biggest challenge for you in helping move a “traditional” media organization into a new social media environment?

The biggest challenge we have at AP has less to do with being a “traditional” media organization, and more to do with being a global organization. Social media usage by the public varies greatly depending on where in the world you are, as does the access and government controls on how you use it. We’re empowering AP journalists to use these tools in their newsgathering and also trying to provide training and mentorship that applies to everyone in the company and addresses specific needs.

 

And what’s been the most positive thing you’ve discovered?

AP’s journalists have been really enthusiastic about social media and it’s rewarding to see the impact their use is having on their newsgathering. They’re building communities around their beats on Twitter and Facebook. For the first time, users are able to connect with our journalists directly to share feedback and suggestions. We really believe this will improve our newsgathering and serve our members and customers.

  

Presumably the AP has a social media policy or formal guidelines about what you can and can’t do on Twitter?

AP issued its first set of social media guidelines for our staff in 2009. We appended them in 2010, with the addition of a social media section to the AP Stylebook. We discuss our guidelines regularly with staff at social media training sessions and send out clarifications when issues come up.

 

Tell us a bit about the #APStyleChat?

The AP Stylebook has some of the most active, engaged users of any AP social media account. We wanted to create an environment for users of the Stylebook products to connect with its editors, to ask questions and get some of the backstory on how style decisions are made.

Colleen Newvine, Eric Carvin and the Stylebook editors — Darrell Christian, Sally Jacobsen, David Minthorn — run the recurring #APStyleChat on the @APStylebook account. Lately, they’ve been bringing in guest chatters to discuss specific parts of the book. I’m joining them on July 18 at 2:30 p.m. EDT to discuss the social media section of the 2011 AP Stylebook.

 

What’s the next big step for the AP in terms of developing the relationship with its readers?

I wouldn’t say it’s a next big step, more of a continuation of our current path: We are very focused on supporting our journalists and helping them find ways to incorporate social media into their newsgathering. We’re doing this with training, lots of communication and sharing of success stories. Social media enables our reporters, photographers, videojournalists, artists  and editors to connect with people who use our content. We believe this engagement will continue to be an essential part of our journalism going forward.

 

For journalists in general – not just those at the AP –  what do you think are the most and least beneficial aspects of being on Twitter?

Twitter can be a streamlining savior for journalists to keep up with information related to their beats. But I think many journalists balk at the open-ended challenge of creating their personal Twitter strategy. What works for one journalist won’t work for another. In those first daunting days, it can be tough to see the eventual benefits.

 

And who are two or three of the most entertaining / informative people – not necessarily other journalists – that you follow?

I’m a huge fan of the Tumblr blog AP’s Washington photo chief J. David Ake is curating, Paid to See. Ake has a unique vantage point and finds cool ways to share what his photographers are working on, with just the right amount of photo-nerd detail. My favorite post he’s done answered a question asked by Speaker John Boehner at the start of a press conference: “How many pictures of me in a suit do you need?”

Joy Mayer is doing such important work related to community building and engagement in journalism. Her tweets are always relevant and so useful.

I’ll bend the rules for my last recommendation and shout-out to four folks who are pushing the boundaries of iPhone photography: Ted Anthony, John de Guzmán, Paula Froke and Anthony Quintano. Follow them on Twitter and Instagram to have your mind blown.

 

 

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