PBS NewsHour has gone through several transformations since it began in October 1975. It started as The Robert MacNeil Report and by December of that year it had become The MacNeil/Lehrer Report. In September 1983 it changed to The MacNeil/Lehrer Newshour, becoming the first and only hour-long nightly broadcast of national news. Over the next 2 ½ decades the program continued to evolve, until in December 2009 it became, simply, PBS NewsHour.
As with all of the nightly news programs, NewsHour needed to respond to the digital realities facing journalism. According to CEO Bo Jones, NewsHour has “embraced the digital world in a vigorous fashion. We have a team of smart, serious journalists who understand and work well in today’s interactive world…Our social media presence has grown to become one of the largest of any nightly television news program, allowing us to reach and engage with new audiences throughout the country on important public issues.”
Colleen Shalby, Social Media Editor for PBS NewsHour, is part of that team and is involved with a variety of social media efforts. For the NewsHour online blog, “The Rundown,” Colleen has written about how Facebook groups helped identify photos in the aftermath of the Oklahoma tornado, and the confusion that arose on social media regarding suspects in the Boston Marathon attacks.
On the lighter side, Colleen wore NewsHour's “HatCam” as she ran in the annual ACLI Capitol Challenge this past May. Viewers could follow the PBS team, “No Commercials, No Mercy,” as they placed 4th out of seventeen.
Muck Rack spoke with Colleen about her role at NewsHour.
MR: What does it mean to be the “Social Media Editor?”
CS: I run our social media platforms in an effort to connect with new audiences; engage with those already invested in our coverage; and broaden awareness of our content and brand. I’ve also reported on social media reaction to news events. I have created call-outs on our various platforms, based around a broadcast or online report, and rounded up those responses into accompanying stories. I also work with reporters and producers to organize live chats and Google hangouts, giving our audience a chance to ask the questions.
MR: Do you have a specific beat for “The Rundown?”
CS: “The Rundown” includes a wide variety of topics. We have beat heads for science, world, art, politics, business, education and health, but anyone at the NewsHour can pitch a story and write for a beat if that story gets approved. I’ve written social media stories and I’ve rounded up user-generated content for various beats. But, I’ve also written my own stories separate from a social media focus.
MR: Does PBS/NewsHour have guidelines about what you can and cannot tweet as @cshalby?
CS: I cannot show political bias in my tweets. I also can’t break news by myself (i.e. wait until I’m absolutely sure about the facts before I’m tweeting).
MR: What’s been the impact of Twitter on how NewsHour gathers/covers the news? Has it been positive or negative?
CS: Twitter has definitely become a factor for covering the news. The biggest example I can think of is when news spread that the Boston bomber was believed to be on a boat in a Watertown backyard. The NewsHour had just finished broadcasting when tweets started trickling in about the boat, before it hit the wires. It was those first tweets that stopped people from going home. Ultimately, when the news was confirmed, the broadcast did a turnaround show. Twitter was the red flag.
MR: What would veteran NewsHour journalists say about the impact of Twitter?
CS: I think our veteran journalists would say that the most important thing to do when reporting the news is to report the facts. And that holds true for Twitter. It’s better to wait and be right, then to report something that might be false.