Social Media Stars: Washington Post National Innovations Editor and 10,000 Words Founder Mark Luckie
The Poynter Institute named Mark Luckie one of its 35 Influencers in Social Media in 2010. He is the founder of the popular blog 10,000 Words, covering the intersection of technology and journalism, and the author of The Digital Journalist’s Handbook. Luckie recently sold his blog to the parent company of Mediabistro.com, although he remains its chief writer.
Last year, Luckie also parlayed his blogging and tweeting into a job as National Innovations Editor at The Washington Post. What does that mean, exactly? Read on to find out how he’s helping the Post engage readers with social media, what he thinks the future of social looks like, his tips for selling a blog, and more.
What have been the key responsibilities of your role as National Innovations Editor since you started at The Washington Post?
On one hand, I’m responsible for taking a look at the web presence of the national section and seeing ways we can improve [how] we present our stories online. Whether that’s using photos, videos, crowdsourcing, or call outs, we’re using all of the tools at our disposal to enhance our already great coverage. The other part of that is that a lot of these things I’m also building from scratch using tools like Dipity and Audiboo, as an experiment for the rest of the newsroom.
In a Nieman Journalism Lab interview before you started your job there, you said you were going to focus on fostering conversation and online engagement. How have you been doing that?
When we’re doing these web elements or we’re looking at our web presence, the first question[s] we ask [are], “What does the reader want to see?” and “What does the reader want to talk about?” So often we’re using the tools not just to present information but to foster a discussion—creating forums and Twitter call outs, and having live chats, so we can really interact with our readers and they can also interact with us.
Why is that important for the Post to do?
We don’t want to be just a voice on high that says “Okay, here’s the news, now take it as you will.” We know that our readers know more than we do, and we want to give them a place to share their knowledge and also to interact with our reporters so that they know we are a part of the community, that we’re trying to be a part of the conversation. Definitely having a rapport also builds our readership. We want readers to feel a part of The Washington Post.
Why is it critical for news organizations to get into social media?
It’s about the social part. We are adding the social on top of the media part. You can’t function in media nowadays without being social, not only to push your stories out to people but also for them to push stories to you and to have lively discussions.
People are going to discuss our stories whether we give them the opportunity to or not. They’re going to go to social networks and talk about our stories, so we want to be in the middle of the conversation, fostering that, and try to own that as much as possible.
What other advantages does social media offer traditional media?
From a business standpoint, it’s an increase in page views. We don’t like to think of it that way, but more eyes on your story. That’s really the goal of news, right? To get as many eyes on your story as possible. Social media affords you the opportunity to do that.
How and why did you first get interested in digital tools, especially social media tools?
I think of journalism as an art; I like to try to think creatively about what’s the best way to tell a story. I studied film through college, right up until I decided to become a journalist. The digital tools are just a different way of telling a story. That’s what interests me, because it’s very visual, artistic, creative. To pair that with my love for journalism, it’s fascinating.
You have a successful blog, you tweet, you wrote a book about journalism and digital tools. Can you describe how social media contributed to you building your personal brand and landing the job at the Post?
If it wasn’t for social media, I wouldn’t be able to reach as many journalists and digital professionals as I have. I didn’t do any sort of advertising or promotion for the blog. It really was word of mouth, and a lot of that took place on social media. So I really have it to thank for where I am right now.
Would you say the blog and you tweeting and having this personal brand were major factors in you landing the job?
Absolutely. People are impressed when you have a high number of Twitter followers and high engagement. I think that absolutely contributes to it. Twitter specifically enables me to interact with other journalists and people. People who may not have met me before have interacted with me through Twitter. [Ed note: Like me!]
That’s really the cool thing. You don’t have to have a personal interaction with anyone anymore for them to know you and your work. I think that’s definitely contributed to a notoriety, if you will.
You sold your blog to a major brand, something many people aspire to do. What advice can you give people?
First, don’t concentrate on trying to sell your blog, because then it’s going to be transparent. People can instantly tell if you’re doing it just for the purposes of creating a brand.
I think that the things that you need to build a blog to that level, one is content you can’t find anywhere else on the web. That’s what I really tried to do with 10,000 Words, provide content that you couldn’t find anywhere else. The second is audience. Once you have the content, you have to build up the audience. That’s why my site and the Huffington Post and all these sites get sold, because they have a built-in audience that larger companies are looking to tap into.
Where do your ideas come from for the content?
I really just try to answer the questions that I have. So if I’m working on a post about crowdsourcing, I want to know, what are some examples. Or if there’s something that I need to get accomplished, and I can’t find the tool for it, then I go looking for it on the web. That creates the post for me.
And lot of it, the example posts, are just looking at what are other people outside of journalism doing. New innovations that are coming out and seeing how they can be applied to journalism. And a lot of it is just me in the grocery store or taking a walk, and thinking of a post and saying, “Hey, I should write that down. That will be good.”
What’s your prediction for the next big thing or things? What will be hot in social media next?
I think the big thing right now is increasing the use of mobile applications. A large percentage of people have a smart phone, and that enables them to not only send us texts or updates or check our content on [a] mobile [platform], but also to send us photos or videos.
We can do even greater multimedia crowdsourcing using a mobile platform, and people don’t have to be in front of a computer to do it, which I think is incredibly fascinating.
What’s after social media in the digital world? Is this a bubble that will burst?
I don’t think social media itself is a bubble. You have individual companies that will come and go. But really since the beginning of the Internet, it has been a social platform. That’s actually why it was invented. So as the tools develop, it’s really just becoming more of what it was intended to be, which is a social platform. I don’t see that dying out anytime soon, and actually I see it increasing even more.
Addendum: The Post just launched its Tumblr blog that will explore the digital and social future of news.
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