Don’t look now, Twitter: The world is turning to WhatsApp for news

Remember when Twitter was everything? It’s still got more than 320 million monthly active users, but it’s no longer the hot social media platform. While Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram continued to grow between 2012 and 2015, Twitter stagnated starting in 2014 (Pew Research Center).

RELATED: 24 slightly depressing stats on the ‘fall’ of Twitter

I recently heard a colleague describe Twitter as a kind of “echo chamber,” for journalists, pundits, news junkies and assorted fans of assorted sports teams and pop culture icons.

Hello, WhatsApp.

Source: WikiMedia Commons
When I spent six months in Belize last year, I began using WhatsApp to send free messages and make free phone calls to family and friends in the U.S. I also found that Belizeans use WhatsApp quite heavily to message and talk to each other within the country.

If you are unfamiliar with WhatsApp, here are the basics:

So, now you’re asking: How does WhatsApp, which sounds like a utility, qualify as a social media platform? How do people get news from such an app?

Percentage of people using each service at least once a week


Source: Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2017

While in Belize, I was invited to join a WhatsApp group called Newz@Ur Finga Tipz. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I was intrigued. Soon, I saw that the curators and users of the group were sharing details about car accidents, severe weather (flooding and tropical storm activity especially), missing persons, and other tidbits that you might normally expect news outlets to report.


In Belize, where newsrooms are not always staffed to keep ahead of breaking and developing news (especially on weekends), Newz@Ur Finga Tipz was delivering information in a timely fashion to a group of “subscribers,” if you will. There were rumors bandied about, but the group’s curators and members took pains to debunk and/or confirm and then spread the news.

My job in Belize involved public relations and marketing for the nation’s leading cultural and historical institutions, including the Maya archaeological sites around the country that provide employment for Belizeans and draw tourists and researchers in (for Belize) huge numbers.

In the wake of August 2016’s Hurricane Earl, I jumped on Newz@Ur Finga Tipz as one channel for providing updates on which archaeological sites were closed due to storm damage, and which other venues (e.g. the Museum of Belize and Bliss Center for the Performing Arts) had been affected by the hurricane.

In Belize, WhatsApp is free way to inform and communicate, but the platform is even more widely used for sharing news and views in other countries–countries where tweeting or posting a news item could get you into trouble with government officials, religious authorities and others with the power to make lives uncomfortable.

Just take a read about how China has WhatsApp in its censorship sights.

WhatsApp is private. So, as long as you know and trust people you connect with, it’s a safe means for connecting.

For its latest Digital News Report, the Reuters Institute For The Study of Journalism worked with YouGov to survey people in across Europe, the Americas and Asia. The study was sponsored by the BBC and Google among others. A total of 71,805 people were questioned in January and February to generate the data.

Key findings

  • Facebook is still the most popular social media and messaging service for news engagement in all but two countries – Japan and South Korea – where, respectively, YouTube and Kakao Talk dominate.
  • Sharing news stories and chatting about them appears to be on the rise within private instant messaging apps, and WhatsApp in particular.
  • WhatsApp is now the second most popular social service for news in nine of the 36 locations, and the third most popular platform in a further five countries.

“Some of the biggest growth we’ve seen is in places like Turkey, where it’s positively dangerous for people to express anti-government preferences on open networks like Facebook…. As a result people are using closed groups where they are more confident of expressing their views.” — Nic Newman, Digital News Report

Another attractive quality of WhatsApp is that content is not selected by journalists. The gatekeepers are WhatsApp users. According to a BBC article about the Digital News Report, some news organizations are trying to jump on the WhatsApp bandwagon (of course), but: “….part of WhatsApp’s appeal is that users don’t get interrupted by brands, making it a very pure form of messaging. That’s something [its developers] will really try to hold to.”

Here’s a look at WhatsApp usage in many countries (Percentage of YouGov respondents who report using WhatsApp on a weekly basis)


Source: Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2017

The Digital News Report survey did not include Africa (which is odd), but guess what? WhatsApp is huge there.

Facebook and WhatsApp

Wondering how Facebook feels about the rise of WhatsApp? The world’s dominant social network acquired the hot, new upstart in 2014. Now, naturally, Facebook is looking to monetize the app, so it will be interesting to see how that works out–given that WhatsApp users may be flocking to the service because it’s devoid of advertising and other money-making features.

Stay tuned.



The Podcast: Auditory perfection? 

What is it that’s so cool about podcasts? The little burst of excitement I feel when a new one is ready reminds me of getting letters or cards in the mail back when people used to send letters and cards.

Perhaps podcasts are like magazines; so many subjects and themes that there is something for everybody. Even better, the podcasts you love don’t have annoying perfume sample inserts.

It’s not likely that most people who podcast will become overnight millionaires; advertising is sparse for the smaller players (which is part of the charm). Some podcasters get donations a la public radio; others sell swag like t-shirts. Crowdfunding is another option. 

Still, as it turns out, if you have an attractive concept and a devoted, growing audience, you might attract venture capitalists to back you.

An article at says “We can mark 2016 as the year the podcast business came of age.” Ad revenue is growing, according to stats in the article.

Podcasting is a form of story-delivery that accommodates a wide range of voices, as this article from the Knight Foundation describes. Anyone can do it. Not everyone will cash in.

Here are the voices I am listening to:

  • Snap Judgment
  • LORE
  • Somebody Knows Something 
  • Crimetown
  • Moth Radio Hour
  • True Crime Brewery
  • New Yorker Radio Hour
  • Serial
  • Fresh air 
  • This American Life

Related: How to start podcasting 

Everybody hurts: 10 reasons journalists can have morale problems

Non-journalists are often surprised to learn that working in journalism is not all excitement, fun and a deep sense of fulfillment.  Working in television and digital news as I do, I find myself explaining that one of the biggest issues facing leaders is morale–and it’s one that often gets short shrift in the fast-paced, intense daily flow of work.


As many corporations have learned, a workforce of frustrated, frightened and angry employees is bad for productivity. There’s a reason new companies place a high premium on workplace amenities, generous benefits and opportunities for training and growth.

So why are so many journalists bummed out?

1. We are constantly finding out disturbing information about human nature.

2. That ever-present, sneaking feeling that you just missed a very important story/scoop.

3. Highly competitive. Journalists are constantly sizing themselves up against the news operation “across the street” as well as against their own co-workers. This is a losing game, but we can’t resist playing it.


4. Change. New technology, new platforms, new economic realities. It’s all scary.

5. With great responsibility and public presence come outsized egos. And, the flip-side is deep insecurity.

6. One minute you’re winning, the next you are down in the cellar.

A recent study looked at how constantly monitoring performance via metrics affects newsroom morale. No surprise, it found that simply checking how individual digital stories performed–or looking at daily television ratings–can be either be a huge downer or a massive upper–and both outcomes offer distortion that can feed into insecurity and frustration. MORE Study: Metrics have ‘powerful influence’ on journalists’ morale

7. Work-life balance. Say what?

8. Money. Unless you are a network anchor who writes a best-seller and marries money, you are unlikely to be rich. You will work very hard for long hours.

9. Love and hate from the public. When we give voice to the voiceless, expose the baddies and hold the powerful accountable we are heroes. When mess up, everyone knows and won’t let us forget it.

10. Bosses who just don’t get it.

Believe it or not, journalists are not always the best leaders! We tend to be impatient, cynical, skeptical and highly motivated by individual achievement. The qualities that make a reporter, producer or other newsie great at news gathering can make us terrible as managers. Recommended: What Great Bosses Know (podcasts)

As a newsroom leader myself, I find one of the toughest challenges is distinguishing between individual and organizational angst: There are people who have personal or professional problems unique to them, no matter where they happen to be working. Then are also low morale themes that permeate and fester. Tackling morale problems effectively requires leaders to correctly diagnose before taking action.

So why to we do it?

Remember that excitement, fun and a deep sense of fulfillment I mentioned earlier? It does exist! Also, we love being in the know and on the front lines of life.

There is no formula for all of this. But, we know listening and hearing are vital. We know that walking the talk speaks volumes.  Suggestions welcome!


“Too nice?” 3 reasons nice guys and gals often survive and thrive at work

“It’s easy to think of the workplace as something like a battleground—a place where only the tough survive. But what if the tables were turned? What if, instead of rewarding harsh and ruthless behavior, the most successful people among us were actually, gulp, kind?” — OPEN Forum (American Express)


I am a nice person. How do I know this? People having been saying it for years, in a variety of ways:

“Nobody doesn’t like Holly.” (Not true, by the way. One colleague of mine told another: “Talking to Holly gives me a headache”).

“Holly? She never says anything mean.”

“You’re so positive all the time!”

“You’re so nice!”

The first comment I take as an observation of fact. It was relayed to me by someone I trust and respect, and I believe he considers my like-ability an asset.

Otherwise, the implication about being nice is that nice guys and gals finish last; that being nice will get in your way, especially in journalism–where many professionals still pride themselves on being crusty, crude and cynical. And yet, here I am.

“Acting aloof, or above your employees, does not make a leader. Leaders have to be able to talk and listen to their employees on all levels of the company. At the same time, they must have the respect of their employees, the kind of respect that’s earned by being honest, having integrity, and being tough but fair.” Fast Company

Three ways in which–in my opinion–being nice is a winner.

  1. Nice does not equate to weak. A person can be polite and friendly without being a pushover. In fact, being amiable can work wonders in an environment that requires collaboration and teamwork.
  2. Nice does not equate to fake. Believe it or not, there are many journalists who genuinely like people! We can be very effective in working with sources and stakeholders, and we have a built-in toolkit for conversations and decisions that require a degree of delicacy.
  3. Nice + knowledge = power. People who are genuinely pleasant, kind and generous and who are also great at their jobs are often those who go the distance in their careers.

To what degree can “nice” be learned?

I am not sure. But, for people are genuinely nice and have been advised to dial back the amiability, it could be time to re-evaluate. You can be both nice and successful at work.

TIP: Nice people are often humble and modest about their achievements. Show your “wins” by sharing examples of your work and ways in which you successfully collaborated with others to complete a project; improve a process; or solved a problem. Email, much-maligned, is good way to let your boss and colleagues know what you’ve been up to and puts these victories on the record. Compile your wins throughout the year, so you have them handy at annual evaluation time!

Read more:

At the intersection of Ferguson, Shaw and Klemm

There is a one-way street in the Shaw neighborhood of St. Louis called Klemm. It runs between DeTonty and Tower Grove Park, just south of I-44. At the intersection of Klemm and Shaw Boulevard (about two blocks from the Missouri Botanical Gardens) sits a little grocery store.

The arrow points to the corner of Klemm Street and Shaw Boulevard. (Google Maps)
The arrow points to the corner of Klemm Street and Shaw Boulevard. (Google Maps)

On the morning of Oct. 9 (a Thursday), NPR’s Morning Edition headlines reported that a young man named VonDerrit Myers Jr., 18, had been shot by an off-duty police officer in “South St. Louis” the previous night. The report itself mentioned “the Shaw neighborhood.” That’s when I started looking up St. Louis reporters I follow on Twitter. A web story I found cited the “4200 block of Shaw Boulevard” as the location of the shooting. Then, finally, I read “corner of Klemm and Shaw.”

READ MORE: Fatal Shooting By Off-Duty St. Louis Police Officer Sets Off Protest In Shaw Neighborhood

My heart moved into my mouth. I live in Cincinnati, while my parents and brother (and his family) live in St. Louis. In fact, I have walked and driven around the very corner at issue more times than I can count. It lies at the midway point in the five-minute stroll from brother’s to my parents’ house. In fact, I had made the walk just a few days before the shooting, after saying goodbye to my sister-in-law, my niece and my two nephews. We had spent a very pleasant late morning at an arts and crafts fair on Flora Avenue (which I think of as the Park Place of Shaw), four blocks away.

On Oct. 5, just a few days before the shooting of xxx, I hung out with Isaac, Sophia, and Simon (and Tsunami, the dog) at an art fair along Flora, just four blocks from where it happened.
On Oct. 5, just a few days before the shooting of VonDerrit Myers Jr., I hung out with Isaac, Sophia, and Simon (and Tsunami, the dog) at an art fair along Flora, just four blocks from where it happened.

Talking to my mother by phone the next morning, I learned that she had not known about the shooting at 7:30 p.m.–no sounds of gunfire had reached her, no sirens either–until protestors started streaming along Shaw Boulevard in front of the house. I learned my brother considered going over to her house, but then thought better of trying to walk or drive through the throngs of angry, dismayed people who were filling the streets. My mother wasn’t particularly worried about her safety, but she consented to stay on the phone with my sister-in-law until late that night. (My father watched it all on television in his room at an assisted living facility in Chesterfield, a suburb of St. Louis that is actually light years away in many respects. But that’s another blog).

Meanwhile, my nephews (ages 11 and six) and niece (age 10) slept. In the car a few weeks later, I asked if they knew about the shooting. They did. The consensus among the two older children was that the young man was probably up to no good, but he didn’t deserve to die. The subject quickly changed when the six-year-old asked how far away we were from Sonic, our destination.

Since that night, protestors have continued to materialize in the neighborhood. There is a memorial on the corner of Klemm and Shaw: A giant mound of stuffed animals, signs and other tokens has formed around a tree. On recent visits to St. Louis, I’ve seen small groups of people gathered there, some bringing items to add to the memorial. Normally, I would take a photo and post it on Facebook, but I can’t quite bring myself to do so.

On the night the Darren Wilson grand jury decision was announced, my mother was at my brother’s house for several hours. I was here in Cincinnati, glued to my Twitter feed. My overriding emotion was–and remains–a kind of queasy and icky sensation that reminds of the days and weeks after the O.J. Simpson verdict. I am reminded that all is not right in the United States of America, especially when it comes to race and class–especially in St. Louis.

Visiting St. Louis on Sept. 6, I drove the 15 minutes or so from my family’s neighborhood in the city to Ferguson and took this photo along West Florissant Avenue. Darren Wilson had killed Michael Brown just a month before.

I am still worried about throngs of people showing up near my mother’s house. I jokingly tell her not to answer the door on those occasions, because the person on the other side might be a… journalist.

Since I last blogged…

It’s been a while since I blogged. I have a good excuse: Been busy with the paradigm shift in local journalism.

In February, WCPO became the first local broadcast news operation (as far as we know) to implement a subscription option. Call it a paywall, if you will. There is a bit of a difference with WCPO Insider, though.

  • Most content on remains free. Like what? Read more here
  • There is no meter or wall; many visitors to the site may never choose to click on a headline with the plus sign and therefore never encounter premium (paid) content
  • We are offering content and more: deals, “bundles” (e.g. a digital subscription to the Washington Post)

WATCH: “There’s always more to the story”

In terms of the role of the community team (myself and two community managers), this initiative has meant answering emails and social media posts that range from angry (News is free! What happened to the free press! I hate you!), to thoughtful (Here’s why I think what you are doing is a bad idea), to technical (How exactly do I subscribe?).

It also means finding ways to put our arms around our members; connect them to what they care about in the community; and, connect them to each other.

I could tell you what we are planning in this regard, but then I would be spoiling the surprise. WCPO Insiders who attended the TEDxCincinnati Main Stage Event, “Vibrant Curiosity,” in October, got a taste of what’s in store, though.

WCPO Insider become the media sponsor of the event, which expressed itself like this:

  1. We partnered with TEDxCincinnati organizers to offer early access to an annual subscription “bundle,” which included two tickets to the event, and drink tickets and an invite to a WCPO Insider reception before the event.
  2. Yours truly took part in the auditions as a judge to select potential speakers.
  3. We created a calendar of editorial content about the event. From August through October, we published stories at There were also three television stories.
  4. WCPO news anchor and reporter Chris Riva served as emcee for the event

Check out the TEDxCincinnati Flickr page for photos from “Vibrant Curiosity”

My colleagues tease me, but I can honestly say I felt a bit emotional as the 200+ Insiders and their guests arrived at Cincinnati’s Memorial Hall for “Vibrant Curiosity.”

This is what the intersection of journalism and engagement can look like. It feels very good.

Here are some items you can read about what we’ve been up to:

Stay tuned!

Stop with the handwringing: One more example of why these are not the worst of times for journalism

Sign of the times.

“I’d never seen a story that had such a high degree of importance and such a low degree of understanding.” — Lara Setrakian, News Deeply

When people wring their hands about the future of journalism, I like to point to real examples about why these are not the worst of times for our industry. This morning I came across a great story about a woman whose digital news initiative is cause for celebration and optimism.

Not only is Lara Setrakian making us smarter and better informed about Syria (among other things), her own career journey shows how a journalist can and must evolve to survive and thrive in the 21st Century.

She’s the founder of News Deeply, described as “a new media startup and social enterprise based in New York. We are registered as a B Corp, or Benefit Corporation, with the stated mission of advancing foreign policy literacy through public service journalism.” Out of News Deeply came Syria Deeply.

From (Fast Company):

In December 2012, Setrakian launched Syria Deeply, a single-topic news site that’s changing both the way journalists cover a global crisis and the way the global news audience receives information. It’s also just the first in what Setrakian hopes is a series of “Deeply” sites to come, tackling everything from Congo to the war on drugs.”

The article traces Setrakian’s career trajectory from TV news correspondent to niche topic journalist. Of the smaller audience she reaches today Setrakian says:  “I’m very satisfied serving the niche,” she says. “I love the niche. Let me live in the long tail the rest of my days. I felt only abundance, not scarcity.”


Here’s what Arianna Huffington had to say as everyone was wondering what the purchase of the Washington Post by Jeff Bezos might mean for journalism. I like it.

“After all, despite all the dire news about the state of the newspaper industry, we are in something of a golden age of journalism for news consumers. There’s no shortage of great journalism being done, and there’s no shortage of people hungering for it.”

Amen, sister. Amen.

Read more (if you want)

Extra, extra

Hyperlocal journalism: Too important to fail

Journalism types on Twitter were abuzz with the news last week: Everyblock is no more. The hyperlocal site had a short life: 2007-2013.


Launched in 2007 with a $1.1 million grant in the inaugural Knight News Challenge, Everyblock’s promise of data-driven coverage of neighborhood news was at the vanguard of hyperlocal. I can only imagine the optimism and sense of renewed journalistic purpose that founder Adrian Holovaty must have felt! And when MSNBC acquired Everyblock in 2009, Holovaty may have had the sense that he’d started something big, something that would shape the way consumers get news about their communities. MSNBC relaunched Everyblock in March 2011.

Holovaty’s words upon joining MSNBC:

“Over the past three years (EveryBlock’s post-acquisition period), has been a fantastic company to work for. With EveryBlock, it’s managed to do something very rare: not only keeping it alive post-acquisition (which the acquired company cannot take for granted), but achieving the delicate balance of providing guidance/resources and keeping their hands off. Most acquisitions fail, and Charlie Tillinghast and the folks have bent over backwards to avoid that with us. I can’t think of a better place for us to have ended up than”

Here’s a snippet from’s Feb. 8 article on the demise of Everyblock:

“Adrian Holovaty left the company last August. At the time, he reflected upon major points of impact, including jumpstarting movements toward open data and custom maps, strengthening neighborhoods in the 16 cities it served and releasing source code that inspired other projects.”

Schiller: “A tough call”

Holovaty’s feel-good MSNBC interlude was short, as interludes are wont to be. Remember when NBC assumed full control on MSNBC in 2012? Turns out, Everyblock was not part of NBC’s strategy. Here’s what Vivian Schiller, senior vice president and chief digital officer of NBC News, said in a memo to staffers:

“As we continue to grow and evolve the NBC News Digital portfolio, we are focused on investing in content, products and platforms that play to our core strengths. The decision to shut down the site was difficult, but in the end, we didn’t see a strategic fit for EveryBlock within the portfolio.”

Schiller told (and Tweeted) the decision was “a tough call.”

Remember TBD?

It seemed revolutionary at the time. Even audacious! Newsonomics provided “10 Reasons to Watch TBD Launch” in August. 2010. Here’s point number two:

2) It’s multimedia out of the box. Newschannel 8 [cablecast] and WJLA (Channel 7) broadcast, both also owned by Allbritton, will abandon their current websites and all the station-produced content will be found on TBD — one website. “Hard news on TV, hard news on the web,” is the intention.

The marriage of WJLA-TV & the web was over in the blink of an eye. Its life span? About two years. In hindsight, perhaps TBD (“to be decided”) was an unfortunate moniker for the endeavor.

Our friends at came up with “Six Business Lessons from TBD’s early demise.”

All eyes on Patch & AOL

As the handful of readers of this blog know, I used to work for Patch. Joining the AOL hyperlocal startup in July 2010 for the St. Louis region, I was part of the nationwide team that scaled from about 80 sites that summer to more than 750 by year’s end.

Talk about audacious!

Patch employs more than 1,000 people in editorial, sales, programming and administrative positions around the country. Begun as a glimmer in the eye of AOL CEO Tim Armstrong in 2009, Patch now boasts more than 1,000 news and community websites around the country. Patch has been through so many changes, I’ve lost count.

By now, Patchers have gotten pretty used to scrutiny from fellow journalists, not to mention the rumors and misinformation about the company that continue to circulate. It’s still hard for me to get used to the sense that many observers and pundits are expecting Patch to fail, and have already written obituaries.

Too important to fail

Hyperlocal journalism provides news coverage from the front lines of our lives; down to the very streets, schools, local businesses, yard sales, police blotters, and city council meetings. The is the bread and butter of life!

You won’t find the latest zoning board meeting agenda in The New York Times or even your major metro daily, or see a profile of your town’s leading Girl Scout Cookie seller on CNN. The Huffington Post may not take much interest in the blogger on your block who organizes the local book club or a heated debate over new lights at a local golf course.

And when it comes the big stories? Hyperlocal news can be vital, often with reporters who live in or near the communities they cover.

I am not a business person. But I do get that the key to a thriving journalism product is money: advertising for most media outlets, underwriting and donations for public and community media. Crowd funding could be a viable option for some startups, at least as part of an overall financial picture.

I feel strongly that it takes time to grow anything; journalism is no different. People develop media consumption habits over time. Granted, adoption happens faster than ever, but we still need time to discover and decide we like something; more time to fold that something into our daily lives; and still more time to recommend it to others. And, while all this is happening, a startup has to be able to fail and recover, regroup and retool, and keep going. And, not for nothing: all the while keeping everyone in the loop, being as open as possible about why people are seeing the changes they’re seeing.

How much time?

As I learned while with Patch, our friends and neighbors are hungry for news and information where they live. They want to interact. They appreciate a hub for sharing and engaging around issues, events, and stories that mean something.

Financial backers, consumers, pundits, journalists: We all need to give hyperlocal time to succeed. I am not sure what the ideal amount of time is: Certainly not two years, and probably not six years.

The first company to make hyperlocal news make a profit with be richly rewarded, on many levels.

Me at the NABJ convention, San Diego (2010), just days after joining
Me at the NABJ convention, San Diego (2010), just days after joining

Use your words (and photos): One journalist’s month in social media and grammar

The Poynter Institute is the leading go-to training and ideas hub for journalism. So, I was pretty pleased and proud when Joe Grimm, the “Ask the Recruiter” guru for Poynter, asked me to take part in a live chat about social media and communities.


Like many journalists and others who spend a great deal of time in and around social media, I’ve been a participant in live online chats. This was my first time actually playing the role of question-answerer. Along with Mallary Tenore, managing editor of, Joe and I got started at 3 p.m. on Jan. 15. It was fun!


In other news…

Here are a few interesting, quirky and useful items I’ve come across this month:

  1. Poloroid’s Fotobar Stores Will Let You Print Photos from Your Phone ( Interesting to see Poloroid making a play for a slice of the digital pie in this way. The Fotobars will let people come in and print digital photos stored on their phones–and not just on paper. I predict a great many “selfies” coming to life as questionable art via materials like metal, acrylic, wood, bamboo and canvas.
  2. How the World Consumes Social Media ( Who knew that Bangkok has more Facebook users than any other city in the world? Also, the United Kingdom is the only country where men outnumber women on Pinterest. 
  3. 100 Amazing Social Media Statistics, Facts and Figures ( For anyone seeking a primer on just how our most popular social media platforms stack up, this is a great one-stop shop.
  4. Have your say: The best and worst words and phrases of 2012 ( Speaking of the word “selfie” (see #1 above), it’s a term I learned just this month, as various organizations put out the call for Americans to nominate the best and worst words phrases of 2012. I love these lists, because the vocabulary of any given 12 months is often emblematic with our culture, obsessions, and outrages. Also to love, The American Dialect Association encouraged us to submit nominations via social media.

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