CNN’s head of social news: Twitter forces journos to report the news better

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CNN accounted for about 13% of all social media mentions, according to trend analytics firm Trendrr earlier this year. That’s impressive. Cable News Network is one of the largest news networks in the world, so it needs to be at the forefront of news innovation by adapting the changing nature of reporting.

Today’s current news climate requires all news organisations to have a social media strategy. CNN is very active on social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare and Instagram. Its main Twitter account boasts more than six-million followers, placing it among the top 100 biggest accounts in the world.

The network’s reporters actively involve Twitter in their reporting process. Richard Quest recently answered questions from his Twitter followers on air following the US presidential debates. Errol Barnett who hosts CNN’s Africa insight programme, Inside Africa, regularly engages with users during his show, seeking feedback as well as asking and answering questions about the continent.

There are currently one-million registered contributors providing content for the cable network’s iReport platform, which allows every day readers to report the news. The team behind iReport was awarded the Knight News Innovation Eppy Award for finding new ways to gather and disseminate news and information with iReport’s ‘Haiti: The Missing & the Found’ database.

Leading this social and user-created content division at the network is Lila King, the senior director for social news at CNN Worldwide. King heads CNN’s social news efforts and oversees iReport.

King joined CNN in 2001 — since then, she has reported and produced several multimedia stories on a wide range of topics in both domestic and international news. According to the company, King and her team focus on integrating new technologies into storytelling presentations.

Memeburn chatted to King about CNN’s social media strategy, social media’s influence on journalism and what Twitter means for journalism. King reckons that Twitter makes journalism better because it forces professionals to do a better job. She also believes the future of news lies in collaboration.

Memeburn: What are your thoughts on social media’s influence on journalism?
Lila King: Social media creates an open invitation to anyone in the world to participate in the journalistic process, and has made journalism more democratic, inclusive and diverse. At the same time, social media has forced professional journalists to reconsider their role, which has evolved into one that is much more heavily focused on curation than only reporting. There will, of course, always be stories that demand professional reporting, but for some pieces where the facts are self-evident (such as natural disasters or weather events), one of the most important things a professional journalist can do is find the raw images and video that illustrate the larger impact and importance of a story.

MB: Is Twitter bad for journalism?
LK: I think Twitter makes journalism better. When people find out about an event from sources like Twitter, it forces the professional operations to go one (or ten) better, and offer an explanation for what happened or an analysis on what’s next. Services like Twitter remind us that reporting just the facts of an event isn’t enough. We all hear about what’s happening from everywhere. What journalists and thinkers and experts in subjects that matter should do is add deep context and understanding to events. When we are all inundated with unending streams of information, what matters most is context, and that’s precisely what organisations like CNN are poised to provide.

MB: How has social media affected CNN’s overall business?
LK: Social media affects our business in a couple of key ways: one, in keeping the CNN brand and news offering top of mind to people who care about world events. It’s also increasingly a way we drive awareness and audiences to our work.

MB: What are some of the ways CNN has incorporated social media into its news coverage?
LK: Social media is part of the way CNN reports news every day, from eyewitness accounts of terror in Syria to voter concerns in the United States. An iReport producer — who has an eye on what’s trending on CNN iReport and across social media — has a seat at the table at every news agenda meeting across CNN.

MB: What is CNN’s social media policy for its journalists?
LK: Like most news organisations, CNN’s social media policy for journalists makes explicit the expectations for publishing on social media platforms. In a nutshell, the guidance is to consider the stakes of social media platforms as high as anything else: only publish what you’d say on a CNN television network or on a CNN platform.

MB: What do you think the future of news is when you can use platforms like Twitter to tell stories?
LK: I think the future of news is collaborative, with filters. There will always be a few key roles to telling a news story: original reporting, reaction and analysis. Traditionally it’s been a professional class that handles all three, but social media invites participation from a much broader range of people in each of the roles, with professional journalism providing the glue that connects them all together.

MB: How does CNN balance the credibility of its news section with its blogging section?
LK: At CNN, we see blogging as a technology and a platform for immediate, chronological reporting. The people who publish to CNN blogs are professional journalists who also file articles and videos when the format suits. With the iReport section of CNN.com, though, we do invite participation from anyone with a story to share. Before we take a piece from iReport and publish (to the site) or air it on a CNN television network, it goes through an extensive vetting process that verifies the facts and editorial integrity of the report.

MB: How has introducing iReport helped CNN’s brand?

LK: CNN iReport has strengthened CNN’s brand by inviting a diverse array of perspectives into our coverage of global events, and positioning CNN as a news organisation that recognises the value and importance of including and collaborating with its audiences. CNN has over 1.2 million registered iReport contributors around the globe and has received an iReport from every county on the planet.

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