Editorial Staff and Web 2.0 Communication with the Readers

Web 2.0 has well and truly redefined editorial outfits.
Web 2.0 has well and truly redefined editorial outfits. | Photo (detail): Mats Persson © iStockphoto

In recent years, interactive platforms including blogs, Facebook and Twitter have made once passive readers into active reviewers and critics. Established media outlets had a hard time at first, but that has changed now.

Every fourth German is on Facebook, along with nearly every second German newspaper. People comment, debate and review on the various pages. Every second journalist sees social media as a positive thing and posts at least twice a day on their own Facebook or Twitter platforms. The Rhein-Zeitung, a newspaper from Koblenz, was an early adopter in social media – its editorial staff has been tweeting since 2009.

High-brow tweeting

“Loads of editorial departments are on Facebook and Twitter, but many of them communicate on a somewhat crude level,” says media journalist Thomas Mrazek, who has been covering developments in journalism on the Internet for several years now. “It’s not enough to just add links to your articles or ask users every day what they think of this or that,” he says. That gets tedious. “It’s better to initiate a serious discussion.” He sees proof of his theory on the Süddeutsche Zeitung, Die Zeit and Die Welt web sites. Online journalists are mainly involved in social media these days. Blogs, on the other hand, are mostly run by print journalists. “Blogs are still an exception to the rule in German media,” says Mrazek. “Of course they are used short-term for big events like elections or the FIFA World Cup, but the regular blogs from Faz.net (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung) and Zeit Online are definitely worth reading. Both of them publish interesting niche topics covered in an in-depth manner by specialists in their fields.”

“We want a dialog”

The comment function on web sites was the first instrument to enable widespread communication with readers. At this point it is often a standard feature, but some sites, such as Stern Online, have actually removed their comment tool because it creates too much work. Still, Wolfgang Blau, Editor-in-Chief at Zeit Online, thinks it’s worth it. His staff is known for its well-managed user comment pages. “We get about 17,000 comments a week and we read and manage all of them,” he says. Die Zeit also has a Facebook page, 20 different blogs and all of the departments are active “tweeters” – 22 staff members even tweet personally. Blau himself has been tweeting for three years now, and not only as @zeitonline. He also tweets as @wblau. “We want a dialog,” he says, and he answers tweets privately at times. Social media are an important part of journalistic work. “Users don’t just call mistakes to our attention. They provide us with valuable new sources or help us develop our stories,” Blau adds. One reporter announced plans for a research trip to Japan and received a number of helpful tips regarding places to go and people to contact. The ability to work with social media is now a consistent selection criteria for applicants at Zeit Online. “Anyone looking to work on our editorial staff has to be versed in social media.”

The new role of journalists

Web 2.0 has well and truly redefined editorial outfits. “It is often underestimated how much time it takes to develop quality offerings,” says Mrazek, who also provides seminars on the subject. Time, of course, is scarce in editorial offices. “The platforms often exist, but they are not maintained. Questions and feedback regularly go unanswered.” He recommends that editorial teams consider carefully what they want to achieve, but in his opinion the most important thing is to keep readers coming back; to build a community. “But that doesn’t happen passively. It requires consistency.” He also feels that many editorial staff members lack the necessary spontaneity to deal with these media outlets, but the biggest issue is the massive change in the overall role of journalists. They now have to interact directly with readers. “That is difficult for many writers,” says Mrazek. “Quite often they are dealing with public criticism and rejection.”

Opportunities for freelance journalists

Skepticism is rife among freelance journalists as well, but Mrazek doesn’t understand why. For many years he has been writing for the blog onlinejournalismus.de, and for four years he has been active in social media. “I have never been as well informed as I am now,” he says. “You can draw attention to yourself as well as make new contacts and find new ideas.” Freelance journalists should consider new communication strategies and carefully select their areas of interest, for example when choosing whom to follow on Twitter. “If I am offline for two weeks, let’s say, all I have to do is quickly look at Twitter and I am back up-to-date in minutes,” says Mrazek. For him, social media are a permanent part of journalistic work. “You have to make sure you don’t waste too much time with it,” he says, adding that initially you have to get used to dealing with the various platforms. Success won’t come immediately. “It took me a year until I could say that working with Twitter makes sense to me and is a benefit to my work.”