“Journalism must provide a forum for public criticism and compromise.”
The Elements of Journalism by Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel.

Can television stations use social media to add important questions and ideas to the discussion of community issues? Use of social media in television news has often been somewhat frivolous in the past, said Kent Collins, faculty chairman of Radio-Television Journalism at the Missouri School of Journalism and Donald W. Reynolds Fellow. How can journalists use social media to dig deeper into issues to make stories richer and audiences bigger?

Kent CollinsA team from the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute and the Nine Network (KETC) of St. Louis, has been working together for the past several months to produce “Stay Tuned,” a social media-enabled discussion series geared toward making the public forum broader and more diverse. Learn more about the project here.

Program producers used Facebook and Twitter to engage viewers in conversations about community issues in St. Louis. They also used Google+ Hangouts, video chat software, to talk to experts, journalists and citizens about the topics during the show. Topics discussed included immigration reform, civic pride, childhood obesity and safety in schools.

The team faced many challenges but also experienced success in engaging people in real time discussions. At one point, the program went from bringing in very few tweets to collecting more than 600 tweets about a topic. Members of the team said the majority of the tweets were relevant to the topics and furthered the discussion. Some subject areas, more than others, struck a chord with viewers.

For example, the producers took the discussion of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting tragedy and localized it to discuss school safety in Missouri.

The team shared what they’ve learned during a recent project presentation at RJI.

Lessons learned/tips


Be aggressive about sending out social media messages before, during and after the program. Ask thought provoking questions and ask viewers to contribute.

Instead of: “Tweet us if you have a question,” ask: “Proposition P passed. What do parks, trails and improvements to the Arch Grounds mean to you? To our region?”

Example of Twitter engagement: One tweeter shared his experience about growing his own food during a discussion about food disparity. The tweeter had learned quite a bit in the first year. A producer tweeted back and said, “Give us some helpful hints.”

The “Stay Tuned” team integrated social media comments into the broadcast by showing comments on the screen throughout the show. The host also reminded participants to engage via social media during the show.

Google+ Hangouts

The producers learned that journalists and experts who regularly used technology tools like Google+ had no trouble using the tools during a broadcast. View tips on how to create and use a Google+ Hangout in our Hangouts manual.

However, citizens weren’t always quite as savvy with the Google technology. Some didn’t have access to the technology. Producers learned that it might be best to do “man on the street” interviews with citizens. Also, a short introductory story aired at the beginning of the broadcast. This would be an opportunity to interview those citizens affected by the issue directly. Find a way to engage the citizens in the conversation, said Collins.

“Some are not so savvy about dealing with the media but we gotta get those citizens,” said Collins. “If we don’t get those citizens then we have not succeeded in making the public forum in journalism bigger and richer.”

A work in progress

One of the main lessons learned is that the program is a work in progress, said Collins. More work is needed in reporting, promoting social media and reaching more citizens.

However, it’s a “worthy venture,” noted Roger Gafke, RJI director of development.

“Springing off (Reynolds Fellow) Joy Mayer’s comment that, ‘whatever story you think you can tell, the conversation about that is already underway, so figure out how to join that conversation,’” said Gafke. “To me that is the marching order for this enterprise.”

View current and archived broadcasts here

Jennifer Nelson-Pallikkathayil  
Senior Information Specialist


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