By Ashley Miller
Hunter D’Antuano is a reporter, photographer, & media director for the Flathead Beacon, an independent weekly newspaper located in Kalispell, Montana that covers the Flathead Valley, Glacier National Park, The Flathead Reservation, The Blackfeet Reservation, as well as the more rural areas of Northwestern Montana. D’Antuono is a UM school of journalism alum who joined the Flathead Beacon in 2019. He has produced photographic and written content for numerous publications including the The New York Times, The Washington Post, Montana Outdoors, The Missoulian, The Montana Kaimin, etc.
In a phone interview with UM student Ashley Miller, D’Antuano discussed his own best practices on social media as it relates to his work as a journalist. Below is a transcript of the conversation, edited lightly for clarity and length.
Q: How many people do you have working on your social media team and what are some of their responsibilities?
A: We are a small newsroom, so we don’t have a social media team per se, but we do prepare our content for print and our content for online by dividing up the tasks amongst the staff. For example, since I am the media director and photographer, I run the paper’s Instagram while the other members of the staff share the load and post content to Facebook and/or Twitter. I normally take my best shot or gallery and post that weekly to our Instagram to help expose our audience to what we are doing and remind them that the Beacon has things for them to look at. On a personal front I am not super focused on social media as an individual, but I do see the value of it, and I guess I prefer quality over quantity when it comes to my own strategy for Instagram content.
Q: What is your favorite platform to post on? How do you cater your content to different platforms?
A: I wish I could say that there was a scientific formula to it but it typically depends on the type of content. For example, if there is something breaking news like a forest fire, we will typically throw that up as quickly as possible to all platforms. A lot of times on Instagram because we are a weekly newspaper I have a little more freedom, and it doesn’t always have to be the hardest of hard news. Sometimes we can put prettier photos or things that are a little more lighthearted of content that is local and relevant for people to engage with. For myself though I personally like to go for as much variety as possible.
Q: What are some of the challenges you’ve faced while working as a journalist on social media?
A: I guess I kind of think it mirrors what people can sometimes experience on their own social media accounts. It’s like you post something, people don’t agree with it and they get up and arms about it. People can often be unnecessarily nastier online than they would be in person in my opinion. I think that social media is great because it is condensed, more digestible bits of information, but I think it also enhances opportunities for things to be taken out of context for people to cherry pick things and to make a mountain out of a molehill kind of effect. Personally, I don’t always like social media because I think that it can be kind of a train wreck. However, with that, it is kind of a necessary evil because we are in the business of trying to collect and distribute information in an accurate and compelling way, and social media is a part of that landscape.
Q: What are some of the best practices that you follow within your own work on social media?
A: I think it’s important to be aware as an individual that you are a journalist, and personally I don’t publish a lot of what could be considered opinionated or political stuff on my own channels. I would rather not be seen in my community as someone who harbors a strong opinion on something, because eventually I am going to have to speak to everybody, so when I share things on social media I try to keep a neutral tone.
Q: How do you think that social media has affected the way we receive and share information? Additionally, how has this affected your work as a journalist?
A: The algorithms that social media use are designed to follow the content that you are consuming and give you more of the same content so that you get in this echo chamber. This makes it harder for you to see your own preconceived notions or ideas about the university enforced at the exclusion of other ideas. To me, I think that’s the greatest danger of social media.
Q: How do you create a trusting relationship with your audience? What specific audiences are you targeting through your work?
A: As a more traditional newspaper we are trying to target a general audience, and just trying to appeal to as wide of a variety of people as possible. By still having a print product you can cater to an audience that maybe is not as tech savvy, and by having a website you can cater to anyone who is online, which is pretty much everybody these days. But also, through our social media presence we can reach people that would probably never otherwise visit our website or pick up a newspaper. We also do a daily email newsletter which is not social media per se, but it highlights a section of stories which we’ve found to be pretty popular with a segment of our readership.
Q: What are some of the social trends you’ve picked up on with people interacting with your content?
A: In terms of demographics on Instagram, most of our followers are between the ages of people in their mid-20’s to about 40, and then it kind of drops off. The older people are not always making it to Instagram, and as far as ages younger than 20 there is not as many presumably because they are using different social platforms like TikTok or something. Out of those demographics most of our audience is more female than male, typically from the ages 20-35-year olds.
Q: Was there a time that you personally made a mistake online with your publication? How did you overcome it?
A: Yes, little things happen all the time, it’s just a matter of recognizing the mistake and then fixing it as quickly as you can. If it is something worth apologizing for, then make note of it, and correct it as soon as possible. With black-and-white mistakes like names, spelling or basic facts you fix those quickly. However, other things that are more subjective like questioning whether a certain picture is too graphic to publish or something, that becomes more of a discussion with your newsroom or editor of what are the merits or not merits to showing that photograph. Different people are going to have different opinions on that even within your own staff. Even if you are a small team like our group of seven there is not always going to be a consensus on what to say and sometimes what not to.
Q: How do you keep a neutral journalistic tone within your social media content?
A: Well for example on Instagram if I put up a gallery of photos, I try to stay neutral with my tone by just saying one or two well-crafted sentences that are very simple and just state what it is, when it was, and where it is and just leave it at that. Rather than expounding on it with too many adjectives or descriptors of what could be considered my own interpretation or opinion, my strategy is to just let the photos themselves speak for the event that they present.
Ashley Miller is a student in the UM School of Journalism’s Social Media and Engagement class, which conducted Q&As this semester with journalists as part of a research project on best practices for journalists on social media. See more of the Q&As here.