By Maura Lynch
As the daily newspaper in Missoula, Montana, the Missoulian publishes an actual newspaper to parts of Missoula and Western Montana and publishes stories on its website and social media, as well.
Anne Cruikshank is the digital editor at the Missoulian and her job is to create, edit, format and publish all digital content, which is no easy task, especially in the ever-changing world of technology and social media.
UM student Maura Lynch asked Cruikshank some questions in an interview done over email about her job and how journalism and social media work together. Below is a transcript of their conversation, edited slightly for clarity and length.
Q: What’s your favorite social media platform to use and how do you cater your content to different platforms?
A: Personally, it’s Facebook because I think it offers a bit more flexibility on posts. Twitter is somewhat more restrictive since it has a character limit and Instagram is mostly used by our photographers. Shorter posts do tend to do better on social than longer ones, but I like that Facebook at least has the option. The main difference between posting between platforms is that the photographers almost exclusively use Instagram, and the newsroom uses Twitter and Facebook.
Q: How do you deal with the negative comments or feedback on posts on your site’s social media pages or on things you publish?
A: For the most part, unless a comment is attacking another reader or is racist/sexist/homophobic etc., I tend to leave them. We do get comments that are critical of our coverage or reporters, but generally, I mainly take down ones with threats or toxic content because they make other readers less likely to want to interact with our page.
Q: What does a typical day look like for you at work?
A: Most of my morning is looking at analytics and seeing what is performing well and making sure it is front and center on the sites/apps. The rest of the morning is generally dedicated to answering emails about stuff like: “how do I find the e-edition?” or “I can’t find my relative’s obituary” and sometimes even: “you wrote an article about me and I would like it taken down.” The rest of the day is making sure stories and photos look good online after they have been edited and posting them online, and deciding what needs to be alerted and posted in the top spots on the homepages.
Q: How do you decide what to post on social media? Is there specific criteria or guidelines posts must follow?
A: We have software that posts for us. It posts everything that is local and statewide news. We used to post somewhat manually, with the aid of software called Buffer, but now Social News Desk automates it. We can post something that falls outside the local and state news with certain flags we use in our content management system, but it’s not the usual.
Q: How do you set aside your personal beliefs while writing and publishing a story?
A: This generally isn’t an issue for me as the few pieces I have written (since I am mainly an editor) are really what you would call fluff. But I do post a lot of things. Honestly, though, I believe so much in my editors and my journalist coworkers that there hasn’t been anything I have personally had to post that interferes with my personal beliefs. However, I am not the opinion editor. I would probably have a tough time with some of those.
Q: Have you ever made a mistake on social media? If so, how did you handle it?
A: There have definitely been mistakes made on social media! The best way to deal with it, I have found, is not to try to hide it or cover it up but own it. If it’s a typo in the headline, that’s not as much of a big deal. I’ll refresh the post on Facebook so that it shows a corrected headline. But if there is a larger error, of which there have not been many because my coworkers are awesome, I will generally make a comment along the lines of: “we reported that three new businesses closed, it was actually two” or whatever it might be.
Q: What are some of guidelines a post or story must have before it can be posted to social media?
A: Guidelines for what goes online are pretty much the same as for what goes in print. The only real difference is that headlines, of course, have to be a lot tighter in print and online headlines have to have good search engine optimization.
Q: Do you cater to a specific audience on social media? If yes, how?
A: I wouldn’t say so. The bulk of what is written for print also goes online. We will do visual stuff for online-only like photo galleries, or a collection I did of one-star Glacier Park reviews. But those are really not for a specific audience, they are just something we can do online that we can’t do in print.
Maura Lynch is a student in the UM School of Journalism’s Social Media and Engagement class, which conducted Q&As this semester with more than 20 journalists as part of a research project on best practices for journalists on social media.