Samantha will be taking part in our panel discussion on Building online communities: Building and managing communities around your content, from blogs and forums, to social media channels, and how best to make use of this specialist audience.
Can you give a bit of information about your career to date? How did you end up where you are?
I decided I wanted to work in newspapers at about nine! I did law at uni then went to work on a fortnightly newspaper where the pages were still put together with wax, then to Ray Tindle’s Pulman’s Weekly News in Axminster, before joining the postgrad diploma at Cardiff University’s School of Journalism.
Next was the News and Star in Carlisle (just in time for the foot and mouth crisis). I was just finding my feet when I was asked to try out for a job at Bournemouth News and Pictures. Four years of agency work persuaded me that I didn’t really want to work for the nationals, and I ended up on the newsdesk at the Gloucestershire Echo.
I was news editor there for four exhausting but brilliant years (the only newsroom I’ve ever worked in where 80 per cent of the top team were women), then moved to assistant chief sub when the hours started to wear me down. When the Echo and Citizen newsrooms merged it seemed like as good time a time as any for a change. I applied for a subs job in Bournemouth but ended up being hired for my internet experience. My role at the paper didn’t exist before I started.
What does your job at the Bournemouth Daily Echo involve?
My brief is to drive development on the website and bring in new audiences. To that end, I run the paper’s Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, YouTube and Tumblr accounts; recruit bloggers; design and code (in VERY basic fashion, inside the Newsquest framework) microsites for special events and projects; suggest ways of supplementing the newspaper’s coverage using the web and carry those suggestions out; host liveblogs, livestream, upload copy from the paper to the web, and write copy for the site. As part of a three-strong web team I also write and handle breaking news online, and occasionally even sub web-related pages for the paper.
What are the biggest challenges day-to-day?
The same as for anyone who does a job like mine, I imagine. First, the value of social media to a newspaper is intangible; even if you bring in readers there’s a perception that those readers don’t make money and so don’t add value. Part of my role is to inspire enthusiasm for the web and its opportunities – it’s not always easy of overcome long-held cultural objections, but we’re getting there! Secondly, being the person who has to answer all the criticism that comes in via Twitter and Facebook isn’t always fun.
What tools are best suited to building online communities around a newspaper website?
I use Twitter, Facebook, Flickr and Tumblr, plus Cover it Live or ScribbleLive and would recommend them all.
Flickr’s been very successful but the community we’ve created is rather separate from the Echo’s website and probably benefits the print version more than the online. Twitter has been brilliant for boosting our profile with a new audience, but the minute you drop your level of input, the traffic drops too so it’s labour intensive. Facebook feels in many ways the great untapped resource – it’s the network that sends most traffic our way but I’ve not really got to grips with how or why. I think it’s got a lot more to give!
What advice would you give to local newspapers trying to increasingly engage with their audiences?
Do it whole-heartedly or not at all. Be honest. Be prepared to not just get criticism but to respond to it, quickly and courteously. Recognise that you’re building a community – or sometimes, joining their community – and that means talking to them, not at them. Accept that they won’t always think you know best or agree with your view point. And appreciate that a fully engaged audience is far more valuable to you than one you keep at arms length, and that far outweighs the downsides.