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.

WhatsApp_logo
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

Stats

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.

newz

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)

whatsappx

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.

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Pageant-ing in Belize: 5 things to consider before you don your sash

What must it be like to be a beauty pageant contestant in Belize in the age of social media? When I was pageant-ing in 1986, there was no way for members of the public to instantly criticize me and share that criticism with hundreds–even thousands of other people. I heard very few negative comments; I suppose my friends and family shielded me. The few I did hear were baffling as well as dismaying.

So, I salute the ten contestants in this year’s Miss Belize Universe Pageant, whose pageant month was full of public appearances and opportunities to be scrutinized.

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Yours truly with my predecessor–and friend–Romy Taegar! Circa November 1986.

Congratulations to Rebecca Rath of Dangriga! She is the newest Miss Belize and will represent us at the Miss Universe Pageant. Watch as she won on Sept. 10, 2016!

If I were to provide advice to young women about whether to enter a beauty pageant in Belize, here are a few items I would ask potential contestants to consider.

  1. Do you know what it feels like to lose? I suspect young women who know what this feels like will be able to face what’s coming. So, if you have competed before (e.g. in sports, academically, in other kinds of contests) and survived defeat with your ego intact, that is a point in favor of entering a pageant.
  2. Do you know how it feels to win? This is important because the minute you triumph you will become a magnet for people who want to be in your life, for better and worse. Being a gracious and humble winner can go a long way in keeping your ego intact.
  3. Is your support system strong and absolutely on board? Any ambivalence in the people closest to you can lead to self-doubt. Your friends and family love you, but they may not see entering a pageant as something they want you to do. Also, a ride-or-die crew will make sure you have the resources you need: They’ll help you find sponsors, be your cheering section, and remind you that you’re awesome no matter what happens.
  4. Are you confident? Confidence is not the same as courage. In my mind, courage gets you through something you may not believe you can actually survive. Confidence means that no matter what happens in the pageant, you’ll be fine. Maybe you’ll shed a few disappointed tears, but you won’t be shattered.
  5. What happens next? Do you have a plan to get on with your life, win or lose?

Would I do it again? Yes. I won a college scholarship (as did the 2016 winner, Rebecca Rath). I traveled to Singapore, Europe and all around Belize. I was probably too young; at age 17, my ego was fragile and the Miss Universe experience was overwhelming. Still, no regrets.

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Rebecca Rath (holding the water bottle, wearing black dress) joins her fellow Miss Belize delegates for lunch at Cafe Michel’le in Belize City.

Follow Rebecca’s road to Miss Universe on Facebook!

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.

career-memes-journalis-main

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.

lionel

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!

journalists

When did that happen? 9 things I do differently in 2015

A few months ago I unplugged my television and called the cable company to request Internet-only service. I am not one of those “I don’t watch TV,” people! I work in television news, and I have a number of favorite must-see shows. What I realized, however, is that I could watch most of them online, either via live stream (for example, the news) or using my trusty Netflix account and Amazon Prime memberships.

RELATED: Find live streaming news for free 

onair

Now, the only time I watch actual TV is at work (CNN or 9 On Your Side News) or when I am visiting my mother in St. Louis: Ample opportunity to catch up with the latest from Flo, the Progressive Insurance lady. (I do miss the delight that comes with finding a Law & Order episode on any number of channels at pretty much any time of day).

RELATED Flawed but Fabulous: 8 TV Women Who Rock

Upon reflection, I realize that slowly but surely I am becoming one of those (other) people. Are you?

  1. Holiday and birthday greetings via Facebook rather than actual cards, as of 2010
  2. No landline phone, as of 2011
  3. Binge-watching shows online, as of 2013
  4. Cable quitter, as of 2014
  5. iTunes, as of 2006
  6. Spotify, as of 2013 (I am not a Pandora person)
  7. Most news consumption online, as of 2007
  8. Arranging travel (flights, hotels, car rentals, destination information), increasingly as of 2008
  9. Bill-paying, increasingly as of 2006

I can’t remember the last time I bought a CD or DVD. And, I’m considering getting rid of the ones (still) collecting dust in my apartment.

There are a few things I still do the old school way: I read books and magazines in actual paper form. I also do crossword puzzles on paper–binge style, via compilations of Sunday New York Times puzzles. When it comes to shopping, I am about 50-50: For clothes and shoes, I usually go to an actual store; when buying gifts, it’s online. Also, I still like to carry some cash, and I write a check for rent.

What about you? Please take my poll!

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 WCPO.com 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 WCPO.com. 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!

POLL: Where do you find humor?

#ROFL: Vine and Twitter are making me laugh so hard I can’t even stand it.

#ROFL: Vine and Twitter are making me laugh so hard I can’t even stand it

Screen Shot 2013-09-07 at 11.52.00 AMJudging by the number of social media posts about how to maximize, leverage, and optimize social media it’s fair to say that we take social media very seriously.

That’s why I am thankful to the people who find time to create parody accounts on Twitter and produce exquisitely funny six-second videos on Vine.

Here are my favorite Twitter parody handles, in no particular order:

@PrinceTweets2U – Samples: “excuse me but purple is the new black” and “i am the royal baby i am prince”

@ShakespeareSong – Sample: “Halt, the hammer of time is upon us” and “Frozen water, frozen water, infant”

@SeinfeldToday – Samples: “Jerry’s vacation’s ruined by the stress of avoiding Breaking Bad spoilers. Elaine’s never seen the show, ruins a viewing party w/questions” and “Jerry & George discover Kramer’s the subject of an insane number of Craigslist missed connections. Elaine gets a pixie cut. It’s disastrous.”

@DangItObama – Samples: “I don’t get Labor Day off.. THANKS OBAMA. ” and “Miley Cyrus. Thanks Obama.”

@PRISM_NSA – Samples “Our intelligence indicates that Obama is late for his Syria speech because Candy Crush Saga.” and “30 years ago today this was the #1 song in America. It’s still #1 at the NSA Every Breath You Take”

And over on Vine…

The thing that’s great about comedy on Vine is that creating it requires a lot more than six seconds to think out before you actually start rolling.

And, Vine is making stars out of every day people who have a knack for tapping into the hilarity of the things we do every day. Many of them have an insane number of followers, and advertisers are taking notice.

For example, a young Frenchman named Jerome Jarre has 2.1 million followers on Vine. He specializes in hugging strangers in New York City and other antics that perhaps only a foreigner could get away with in the Big Apple. Recently, I saw that General Electric featured Jarre and his buddy Marcus Johns (2.5 million followers) in a Vine to advertise something called the Apple Drop.

Rudy Mancuso (1.7 million followers) was recently featured in a Trident Gum Vine post, along with Nicholas Megalis (2.6 million followers). One of the best Rudy posts is a collaboration with King Bach (2.2 million followers). It’s a rap that goes like this:

Bach: “I’m lovin’ New York City…”

Mancuso: “But you know I love it bigger…”

Bach: “I’m chillin’ with my Cuban…”

Mancuso: “And I’m chillin’ with my…. African-American”

One of my favorite Vine celebs is Alphacat (1.1 million followers), who does a spot on impression of President Obama (dancing, tapping our phones). Another good person to follow is QPark (about 625,000 followers), whose schtick includes “Sudden Rachet Syndrome.”

Among the relatively few truly hilarious female Vine celebs is Simone Shepherd (959,000 followers) whose “How to handle those friends who…” skits are classics! She has a real flair for nailing the above referenced quotidian elements of life.

Silly? Perhaps. But you’ll thank me on those days when instead of shaking your head over a post that would have been best left unposted, you instead find yourself #ROFL. You’re welcome.

Every dog has its day and now so can you: 10 steps to your own special celebration

This post is for entertainment purposes only. Does not imply an endorsement of setting up your own day.

It seems like every cause, organization, food, drink, hobby, etc. now has a its very own day. There are many that most people can agree are worthy of a special place on our calendar: Earth Day on April 22, for example. Here are a few you may not have heard of:

So, what’s to stop you or me from establishing our very own day? There is an official procedure for doing so, which involves an act of Congress. But, why bother? You can declare your very own special day.

Aug. 6, may birthday, is Wiggle Your Toes Day.
Aug. 6, may birthday, is Wiggle Your Toes Day.

Here’s how:

  1. Pick a day. It’s a good idea to find a day that’s not already taken. See the website NationalWhateverDay.com to find a good one. Cost: Free. (I was sorry to learn that Aug. 6, my birthday, is already taken. It’s Wiggle Your Toes Day, origins unknown).
  2. Start a blog about your day. Do this a few months ahead of time so you can build up some buzz. Cost: Free
  3. Begin your social media campaign. Create a Facebook Page and Twitter account to get the word out and spark some engagement. Consider Instagram if your day involves something visual. For example: Your Instagram account for Nail Polish Day (there isn’t such a day yet, as far as I can tell) might feature photos of different colors of nail polish. Cost: Whatever you’d like to spend on supplies for your nails.
  4. Consider setting up a YouTube channel and posting videos. For example, you painting your nails or interviews with experts (like your favorite nail salon owner). Cost: Free, if you at least have a smart phone. Otherwise, borrow gear from a friend or consider investing in some basic equipment.
  5. Create a Wikepedia entry for your day. Cost: Free
  6. Consider hosting a launch party to which your nearest and dearest are invited. Since they presumably love–or at least like–you, they are potential evangelists for your special day. Cost: You might want to buy snacks and refreshments.
  7. Host a meetup. This is a great chance to assemble random people who share your obsession (nail polish, for example). They may also become evangelists. Cost: Again, food and beverages are great incentives. In our nail polish example, you could also promise a free bottle to the first 10 people who show up.
  8. Write and send out press releases to the media. Your list should include specialty and trade outlets that might get excited about your obsession (say, nail polish). Cost: free
  9. Take the week leading up to your day off from work. This will free you up for interviews with the media and allow you devote as much time as you need to ramping up your social media efforts. Cost: If you get paid by the hour, it’s a big sacrifice. If you are salaried, you’ll use up paid time off. Probably worth it, though.
  10. Enjoy your day! And, start ramping up for next year.

Related reading:

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.

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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 Poynter.org, Joe and I got started at 3 p.m. on Jan. 15. It was fun!

(Photo: commons.wikimedia.org)
(Photo: commons.wikimedia.org)

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 (Mashable.com) 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 (Mashable.com) 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 (MediaBistro.com) 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 (WCPO.com) 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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