I don’t normally gush, but if you want an amazing example of a broadcast journalist who truly understands the power of online community, look no further than Stephen Clark’s participation on Twitter. Stephen is a local news anchor in Detroit for ABC affiliate, WXYZ who became very active on Twitter around the same time I was ramping up to move to Seattle in 2009.
Yes, I’m back in Detroit, but I already covered this.
These days it’s relatively easy to find journalists on Twitter, but journalists who truly participate in the community with the common folk online are still pretty rare.
Stephen doesn’t just tweet, he does the unthinkable for many in mainstream media: he actually participates in the Detroit social media community! He goes to local Tweetups and other events, he replies to people, he jokes, he shares useful information, and even he once guilted me into having cupcakes sent to him (long story). I also had the pleasure of finally meeting him in real life at a recent planning meeting for Jeff Pulver’s 140 Characters Conference that will make its way to Detroit on October 20.
Over time many who follow him on Twitter started using the #backchannel hashtag to discuss what was being covered during his 11 p.m. broadcast. The other night, WXYZ aired a story about a wheelchair ramp that was stolen and sold for scrap. According to Steven, before the story was over backchannelers were volunteering to get together and build a new ramp, and the inspiration for #Backchannel v2 was born.
Community-Driven Broadcast News
What started out as a bit of fun has grown into something incredibly meaningful to the community members who participate.
“I want you to stop complaining that all you see on TV is bad news and give me some good news,” Stephen dared. Yeah, we see more than our fair share of bad news in Detroit, and bad news about Detroit. Don’t get me started on this…
How to Pitch the #Backchannel Community
Notice, Stephen is still in control of what he shares with his community — this isn’t a bad thing. However, he is willing to give the real power to the community by allowing them to vote on what stories will be compelling enough for a mainstream local news audience. From Stephen’s announcement on his blog:
Starting immediately I want you to find the stories that I will cover on Channel 7. I want you to find the good people doing good things in your community. I want you to tell me about the interesting characters and fascinating sights that make your communities special. I want you to stop complaining that all you see on TV is bad news and give me some good news.
There is just one catch, of course:
I don’t want you just to tell me about it. I want you so show me… It doesn’t have to be perfect and polished. Just take your flip camera or iPhone and shoot some video. Show us the pictures of why it is a compelling story… Post the video on YouTube or Vimeo or wherever and hashtag a synopsis to the #backchannel…
Once content is pitched to the #backchannel community, Stephen will post the content on his blog — if the community agrees that the WXYZ (channel 7) audience would find the content compelling, he will “grab my “junior correspondent’s” camera gear and shoot the story for broadcast.” If the content passes muster, he may just try to push the #backchannel story as-is to the “suits” for approval to post on the station’s website or incorporate the #backchannel footage into his official story for broadcast. Full details on Stephen Clark’s blog.
New Media: New Possibilities and Players
Is it just me, or does the penetration of the spirit of collaboration into broadcast channels make you incredibly excited for the possibilities to come? Who are the gems in your local area showing up to participate in your online communities — the ones who don’t just ask you to click on their links, but the ones who truly have some skin in the game? If you’re a journalist, how are you urging your audience to help you create?