Growing up listening to All Things Considered or Morning Edition on NPR helped me appreciate news-related conversations on the airwaves, which is why my recent visit to WUWM's Lake Effect was exciting. The neighborhood-focused magazine program interviewed me about my lead poisoning story, which appeared in two parts in Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service. NNS reporters are usual guests on Lake Effect, having joined to discuss the special report on human trafficking in the city and why families who are homeless struggle to find shelter.
On the day of my interview, Joy Powers welcomed me to the studio and we chatted a bit before the mics were turned on. The interview had a conversational tone, with Joy asking about the current impact of lead poisoning in the city and why funding for assistance had decreased over time.
My nerves for talking on recording subsided after a few minutes. Luckily I had brought notes about my story, so that I was not stumbling over statistics. The experience went faster than I expected and the most difficult part of the entire interview was getting used to talking to someone while mics blocked both of your faces.
Listen to my interview on Lake Effect, and read part one and part two of my lead poisoning story.
My pen stopped fluttering across the notepad. The woman was sharing more than facts. She gazed off for a moment, collecting her thoughts. With a short breath, she began her story.
Weeks of research prepared me to meet this former addict. I was leading an investigation of heroin use in Milwaukee County for the Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service. Compiling a spreadsheet of more than 1,000 data points from 13 years of Milwaukee County drug death reports verified the deadly trend. Interviewing addiction treatment providers contextualized the problem. But, the woman’s words made the data real. Her story needed to be told to curb the deadly heroin problem.
Yet, when I promoted the published story on social media, reach and engagement was minimal. Compared to other NNS articles, my heroin investigation made a small ripple on social media in terms of likes, comments, shares or retweets.
The seemingly little reaction was discouraging at first. Months were spent researching, chasing down interviews and rescheduling phone calls. Social media plays a crucial role in news sharing and audience building. According to the Pew Research Center, 64 percent of U.S. adults have Facebook and 30 percent of them use the platform to get news.
However, life is a learning process. Reflecting on my journalism process and the final product, there are two things I did as a journalist that I believe contributed to the article’s diminished impact on social media.
My heroin story was published before I began my interest in photography. In the months since the research began, I photographed a local gospel concert and a community arts celebration. However, at the time I was interviewing subjects I was not thinking about photographs. This contributed to poor visuals in the final piece. The photos I provided were not engaging.
Two of my interview subjects spoke anonymously, but I believe a better set of visuals would have been more compelling on social media. Photographs provide an emotional connection, says Vishal Pindoriya on Social Media Today. “An image can convey a wide range of information or it can focus in on a single thought or emotion, and it can cover all of the ground in between handily as well,” Pindoriya writes. “It just needs to be the right image.”
Pindoriya explains that Facebook posts with images average 50 percent more likes than posts without images. Jeff Bullas, a social media marketing strategist, echoes this point, writing that articles with images receive more than 90 percent more page views than those without.
Too many numbers
Readers want to hear stories, not see a spreadsheet of numbers. While my article had plenty of data, the story of the former addict was most important. This was not conveyed in my social media posts.
Tim Cigelske, social media director at Marquette University, wrote in an email that a social post should not restate data but tell a story, too. “Statistics by themselves aren’t all that compelling,” Cigelske wrote. “It’s the story/theme around them that make people want to learn more.”
I have written about the product of defining people by data. While my heroin article may not have gone to that extreme, I should have been more cognizant of the amount data as compared to narrative.
Learning from these two points, my future stories will include more engaging social media elements. The new way of approaching a news story will include a mindfulness about how the work can be shared on Facebook, Twitter and all the other social media platforms.
What tips do you have for making your reporting engaging on social media? Leave a comment below.
A chance to see the world from the perspective of a 6-foot-2, aspiring human rights journalist. Will include lessons learned and reflections.