With newspapers and their social media policies taking center stage in the news recently, I thought it might be interesting to talk to a couple of my favorite local newspaper folks to get their take.

Robert Quigley is Internet Editor for the Austin American-Statesman, and Addie Broyles is their food writer. I connected with both of them through Twitter within the last 12 months, and when I asked some questions this week about social media and newspapers, they were just as insightful and helpful as I expected.

Q: You say in a recent article that there are no rules in place for the way staff conduct themselves on Twitter and other social media tools, do you think it will come to that?
Robert: Our normal code of conduct and ethics rules apply. I don’t think we’ll need to institute more layers of rules to cover social media, unless we need to respond to a serious problem that isn’t covered by our normal rules. Although we have a huge majority of our staff using social media, we haven’t run into any problems that would require new measures. This is an innovative newspaper, and our staff takes chances with new tools. We don’t want to stifle that. That being said, everyone here knows they represent the newspaper 24/7, and they are expected to act in accordance with that, no matter the platform.

Q: Even though the Statesman hasn’t issued policies regarding staff use of social media, are there certain rules or filters that you set up for yourself when it comes to using Twitter?
Robert: Yes, I do have rules that I’ve made up for myself:

  1. I re-read every post twice and take a deep breath before hitting “update.” I have no one reading tweets behind me, and it can be a bit unnerving. I’ve sent out more than 4,000 updates on the @statesman Twitter account now, and my typo/other mistake rate is pretty low because of this rule.
  2. I try to either attribute every post, provide a link or both. I do not retweet something unless it also has good sourcing. I also I want people to know that they can trust what I’m posting.
  3. I try to space out my tweets so I don’t annoy my followers. It can be tough, though. Some days, I just have a lot to share.
  4. I follow back people who seem to be following the account because they’re interested in what I have to say. I don’t follow back people who appear to be just looking to increase their own follower counts. The reason I follow people back is so I can exchange direct messages and because I think that’s the way Twitter should work: You follow people back who are interested in you.
  5. I aggregate the news: If the Houston Chronicle or New York Times or KEYE-TV has an interesting story that I don’t have, I’ll retweet or link to them. I want people to see the @statesman account as a site that is looking to give the most interesting news, regardless of source.

Q: What do you think the use of social media has done for the Statesman here in town?
Addie: The Statesman‘s use of social media, led with its Twitter account, has brought a new level of attention and helped remove the stigma that it’s for an older demographic and squash the idea that newspapers’ content that is old by the time it gets to readers. Many, many people get the majority of their news through Twitter, which puts tv, radio, newspapers and blogs on the same playing field. Twitter has also allowed people in Austin to feel like they are connected — and eventually invested — in the newspaper. The colloquial dialogue between readers and twitterers strengthens that bond.

Q: How long have you been tweeting? Did you start tweeting as Addie Broyles, Statesman employee, or simply Addie Broyles?
Addie: I’ve been tweeting for about a year, and I started as the food writer for the Statesman. It took Gary Vaynerchuk, the host of Wine Library TV, convincing me to get over my fear that Twitter was a waste of time. It was some of the best advice I’ve gotten since I started this job. I was clear from the get-go that this was both a personal and professional account, which the Statesman supports because they know that the personality behind the tweets is what really makes them sing. I look to @OmarG for inspiration.

Q: How did you balance your personal tweets with your tweets as a representative of the Statesman?
Addie: I try to make all of my tweets come back to food, but I’d say about 95 percent of them end up about food, the other 5 percent are about music, life in Austin or being a parent. I’m constantly thinking about what to tweet and how to tweet, and my Twitter voice changes by the week. As Twitter evolves, its purpose in users’ lives evolves, too.

Q: Are more staff members diving into social media?
Robert: New staff members are joining Twitter all the time. I’ve given a couple of brown-bag lunches to help teach those who are interested in trying it out how to set up an account, why to do it, what they can do, etc. After each session, another handful of reporters signs up. We now have more than 45 staff members on Twitter posting information about their beats.

Q: What would you tell other newspaper folks who are interested in tweeting?
Robert: I’d tell newspaper folks who aren’t on Twitter that they should give it a try. They’ll get out of it what they put into it, but it doesn’t hurt to give it a shot. I personally think it’s the best tool for journalists to come down the pipe in a while, but people have to discover that potential on their own.