Looking back, how we created and shared news seemed so much simpler. A news article was published once. Reporters spent all day – or days – working on that one story, trying to reach every important source for that story – visiting offices, making phone calls, leaving business cards at homes, even sending registered mail. Editors insisted that stories be held until reporters finished the necessary interviews.
Now, especially with breaking news, stories are built in pieces and posted online in near real-time as new information is learned and interviews are completed.
This style of building stories is called “iterative reporting.” And it’s changed the game for people and organizations mentioned in news stories who care about getting their side of the story out and putting their organization in the best light.
Iterative reporting is driven by changed reader habits. Most readers now find stories by searching for them online – primarily through Google. Stories at the top of Google search results get the most clicks and the stories reported first tend to rise to the top of those results, placing enormous pressure on reporters and editors to post first and fast – which means they’re not waiting for you to methodically compose a reply and call them back.
So, no matter what readers say about wanting more in-depth stories, what they’re doing is increasingly consuming news stories in short bursts. And then moving on to the next story.
Why does that matter to you? Let’s say the reporter on your story updates an existing story with your comments and point of view. Ask yourself: When is the last time you looked up a story you’d already read to check for updates?
A better course for news sources is to ask a reporter for a new story, with a new headline, with your comments. You need to be armed with new facts or a provocative point of view to justify a new story. But that gives you a chance to get your side of the story into the search results and into the river of news flowing across smartphone screens.
Just how important is social media?
Twitter is the iterative process on steroids - the place we learn about news in 280-character bursts. And increasingly, reporters are picking up an organization’s or individual’s tweets and embedding them into stories in place of quotes from phone calls or releases. News about the mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando broke when someone tweeted about it from a restroom as the shooting was happening. Orlando police confirmed the shooter was dead on Twitter – not by issuing a press release to the local newspaper.
For electric utilities, customers and reporters look to utility tweets for information on how many customers may have been affected by an outage, estimated restoration times, or what kind of response is underway.
If Twitter has become the news feed for the world, then Facebook has become the place we tell others about stories they should read – with the link to the story. Along with Google, Facebook is a primary driver of readers to news websites.
Social media now is the place reputations are made and lost. Maintaining some kind of presence on social media is no longer optional. And if you have neither the skill set nor desire to manage social media accounts yourself, then hire someone to do it for you.
Why? Because your employees and customers are already there—and so are reporters. If you or your company are being discussed, whether positively or negatively, you need to know about it so you can respond.
The iterative reporting process is here to stay. Stories will continue to be built piece by piece. Busy readers will learn about news in ever-quickening bursts. Communication won’t slow down.
Utilities must get up to speed now. Continuing to be a dependable, community-centered service means that utilities should use social media to maintain a voice in this iterative process. Connecting with reporters where they are and how they work can keep a public power utility’s reputation as an accountable, responsive community entity.