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Have you seen the phone commercials lately where someone is stuck doing something “boring” so they check their phone?

These commercials bug me a great deal because what about what’s happening in front of you? We’re so connected via social media and our phones that we may be missing something important right here. We could be missing life.

If you’ve read this blog for any sort of time, you know this is an issue near and dear to my heart. I want to explore it again, so tell me: How do you disconnect? How do you ensure you’re not missing something right in front of you? Or do you keep yourself connected all the time?

Share your thoughts in the comments or send me a tweet @jenconnic. I may use it in an upcoming post.

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I felt like my brain was about to explode watching the coverage of the Boston Marathon bombing last week. I was enthralled with the story, but the reporting and coverage of it just hurt.

It wasn’t just the misinformation spread by more than one news organization and journalist. It was how trained journalists pursued the story. Did everyone forget Journalism 101 while covering the story?

It also makes me wonder if we as journalists have learned anything because I feel like I’ve been repeating the points I’m about to make for quite some time, including after the Newtown shooting.

To tweet or not to tweet the scanner

Never have I seen so many people listening to (and tweeting) the scanner for a police operation.

I’m a big fan of the police scanner. If I’m covering something at the scene, the scanner helps me understand what I’m seeing better. But I also have been around enough cops and firefighters to understand the lingo and the codes you’re going to hear on the scanner.

I also know that it’s the heat of the moment and there are going to be things on the scanner that are exaggerations. Some things also are flat out wrong. It’s why you don’t report from the scanner from an active scene and confirm things.

We have a service in New Jersey called the BNN where people send messages of what they’re hearing on the BNN. I cannot count on two hands the number of alerts have turned out to be exaggerations or flat out nothing.

Should you live tweet the scanner? Of course not. A million times no! Especially if you are not at the scene and cannot see what is happening. I always thought of the scanner as something that gives me leads and supplements what I see with my own eyes. But we need to remember that it’s investigation in process, which means things discussed could turn out to be false.

Misinformation travels at a million miles per hour

Tweeting from the scanner means that misinformation was out there, including the names of suspects who were not really suspects at all. It’s all over Twitter, Facebook, Reddit and everywhere in between. That share and retweet button is pretty easy to use, but it doesn’t take long to think before you hit it.

Ask yourself who this person is who is posting information and how much you trust them. Are they sourcing their information? Because there was lots of information without clear sources throughout the week.

The Atlantic has an excellent article about the anatomy of one of these misinformation disasters from the week.

If your mother says she loves you…

Too often I saw posts on Twitter attributed to Reddit or as crowdsourced. That’s fine. I’m a big fan of Reddit and of crowdsourcing and both have helped me as a journalist and as a social media producer.

But what happened to confirming those sources? They’re not official police sources. They’re just random people and we don’t know their background. In some cases we don’t even know who the people are because of the anonymity of the Internet.

If I had a photo from someone that says it’s of a suspect, I’d want to confirm with an actual investigator or official. I’d want someone I trust to tell me it’s true. It seems some sources were not doing that, and that just helped create more misinformation and some news organizations to be just wrong.

So we’re wrong, now what

Of course people are going to be wrong at some point. Even Woodward and Bernstein were wrong at least once. I’ve been wrong. There can be miscommunication between us and our sources. Our sources just have the wrong information or it changes between when we talk to them and the story is published. It happens, though the severity of it the last week was at a pretty bad level.

How journalists react to being wrong, to me, is important. Do we say “our bad” or do we “stand by our story”? I think it says more to admit you were wrong than to defend your stories and reporting when you know it was bad. We’re human and make mistakes. Own up to them and it will earn you more credit with the public.

That doesn’t mean anyone should make a habit of being wrong. Just own up to your mistakes.

Will we ever learn?

It seems after big news stories like the Marathon bombing, we’re dissecting what went wrong and how we can do better. But then lots of people fall into the same habits and we repeat mistakes.

I had an editor at The Hour who once told us that the public trust is like virginity. Once you lose it, you can never get it back.

If we keep making the same mistakes, we’re going to lose the public’s trust. What are we as journalists and as an industry if we don’t have the public’s trust?

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Before I write the rest of this post I have to say I am a hockey fan and I want the NHL lockout to end. I want to watch top-level hockey sooner rather than later.

But this post is about the power of social media and how it has changed the world, especially in sports and its coverage. The lockout is a prime example to show how things have changed.

I’ve been through three lockouts as a fan — the one that erased half of the 1994-95 season, the one that canceled the 2004-05 season and the current lockout. The 2004 lockout doesn’t seem that long ago, but in the world of journalism and social media it was.

I was still a reporter at a daily newspaper that barely had a website in 2004. Facebook was around, but I didn’t have an account. You still needed a school e-mail address to be part of Facebook then. MySpace was the rage. Never mind Twitter. News could be covered on a 24-7, but it was more for the top national brands and cable news networks.

In other words: We didn’t have the access to news quite that we have today.

So the news of the lockout came slower than it does today. There was no one live tweeting a press conference with the NHL or NHLPA. There weren’t people posting constant observations from outside the negotiating rooms.

I went to a lot of AHL games back then, but that’s how you knew what was happening with the team’s prospects. Fans didn’t have the access quite like they do today to the information and news about those teams. You had to rely on what people who went to games thought, and many times you were relying on people who weren’t watching hockey for a living.

Of course fans came back after the lockout. We didn’t have reason to be angry about things that were said or done because we didn’t have the access to what was being said like we do now. There was no social media campaign by the players or owners to make the other side look evil.

Fast forward to today. Now fans have unbelievable access to news, information and even people because of social media and the way news is published. Video of games and players is everywhere and quickly. We know what is being said by the commissioner and the head of the players union as soon as they’re saying it, even if we’re not next to a TV carrying Canadian sports channels. Someone tweets what’s being said and that’s retweeted and then retweeted again and again. On top of that players are on social media expressing their feelings about the lockout and, in some cases, engaging with fans about the lockout.

It shouldn’t be a shock the level of frustration and anger from anyone who loves the NHL is much higher than it was in 2004-05. Social media connects fans. They have started protests and expressed their anger. People frequently will respond to the NHL’s Twitter and Facebook account about the lockout, saying they need to fix it now. And with the number of fan blogs today, there are plenty of places for fans to express their opinions on the lockout.

The result? A study found the damage to the NHL’s brand because of the lockout is at an alarming level. From the article:

A disastrous map would be the one Level5 created following the BP PLC oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. It was the worst the company had seen – until it got around to the NHL this month.

But I wonder if the NHL and the NHLPA is listening or even realizing how the world has changed in the years since the last lockout. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, the owners, NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr and the players are taking a gamble on the fans returning. ”We recovered last time because we have the world’s greatest fans,” Bettman said last summer.

But that gamble is a losing bet. It’s always been a losing bet. It’s worse than spending $50 on Megamillions tickets expecting to win. All they had to do is look at the reaction on social media and compare the climate from 2004-05 and today. But it appears all involved had, and still have, their heads in the sand, not listening to the fans (aka the customers) and even the experts who say the lockout is killing the brand.

I can’t say I won’t be back as a fan. I know I will be even as I’m frustrated and angry with the current situation. One friend professed to me the other day he’d immediately buy tickets. But there are plenty of other people I know, passionate fans, who are angry or are disinterested. It’s going to be a hard sell to get them back and it’s going to be an even harder sell to get back the fans the league has gained in the last couple years.It’s not unreasonable to think the NHL will go from record highs in attendance and revenues to record lows. It could hurt some teams significantly, some of the same teams who are endorsing the lockout.It’s easy to say the lockout ending and saving some of the season would fix some of the damage, but I don’t know how much it would help now. So much damage has been done.The lesson here for everyone — whether you’re in journalism or you’re a brand — is that you cannot ignore the outside world. You have to adapt to changing technologies and news cycles. If you don’t, you are doomed to failure.

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There are two things I know will always do well on local news sites and on social media — traffic issues and weather events. Many times the two will cross into one giant issue for your social media followers.

But when a giant weather event like a hurricane is coming, you better be extra prepared on social media. I took my experiences from Hurricane Irene last year in creating plans for Hurricane Sandy this year and also know what to expect: A massive following of people hanging on our every tweet and Facebook post.

What can you expect and how should you prepare? Here’s some suggestions.

Expect questions and lots of them

Before, during and after Hurricane Irene, it was hard to keep up with Twitter. New Jersey was hit hard with flooding, especially along the major rivers, and thousands of people were without power for a significant chunk of time. Twitter was the best way for people to access the news we were posting and also to seek out answers. They didn’t have power, but they still had a cell phone charged.

This really can be a make or break moment for your engagement on social media, especially Twitter. If people ask questions, they want a response, especially in an emergency situation.

I tried to answer as many questions as I could, many times had to seek more information from the follower to be able to fully answer their questions. If it was a question I felt many could benefit from, I retweeted with the response.

But what if you don’t know the answer? That’s when I turned to the crowd. If I felt followers could help provide an answer (ie. local places to donate items, local places that have power, etc.), I would retweet and ask everyone to help.

And don’t forget about Facebook. Pay attention to the comments and your wall and try to provide answers there when needed. If you’re answering a question on your post to a user, tag them so they see the answer.

You’ll get lots of news tips and photos

During major storm events, every one of your followers on social media can become a neighborhood reporter and they will. They’ll tell you about downed trees and if they’re without power. And more often than not, they will share photos of damages and problems in their neighborhood. It was hard to keep up with the number of photos people were sharing with us in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Irene.

With news tips, you can retweet things people are sharing from their neighborhoods. Reporters cannot be in every corner of your coverage area, so this is helpful. If the tip is incredibly useful or newsworthy, it would be helpful to share the information with reporters and editors.

But also be careful about the information people are sharing. Some people share misinformation. It’s one thing to share “I’m without power” than “the emergency shelter is without power.” The latter should be confirmed before you share it and rises to another level of newsworthiness.

Likewise with photos, retweet the best photos from your followers. And then ask for permission to use those photos on your site. Create a gallery of the photos your social media followers are sending you. Photo galleries of user submitted photos for a major weather event will perform well.

But always remember to ask permission before you take any photos that your followers share with you.

This is also a time when Storify is a powerful tool to help you cultivate all of the information and photos people are sharing with you and beyond. You also can share YouTube videos people may post and more via a Storify you embed on your website.

Be aware of hashtagging

It’s important to know the general hashtagging for a storm. #Sandy was trending on Friday and continues to today.

But that hashtag isn’t going to give people all of their local news. It’s going to bring me news from other states affected by the storm. It’s a good idea to consider a local hashtag to point people to the best place to get their local news about the storm. We used #njirene during Hurricane Irene and are using #njsandy for Hurricane Sandy.

Yes, other news organizations will latch onto the local hashtag, but is that really a bad thing?

Plus having a local hashtag means you can embed a Twitter widget on your site with the best local tweets about the storm.

Photos are the thing on Facebook

People are going to share the news they can use leading up to the storm including a FAQ about the storm and a guide about the storm. During and after the storm they’ll want to know about flooding and power outages. They’ll also want to know about their commuting.

But they’ll also want to see photos of the storm, something they’re more likely to share with their friends on Facebook.

So post photos with links to your important stories on Facebook. They’re more likely to be shared and to be seen by people, which is extra important when you want to get important information out about the storm.

What other tips would you share to help with storm coverage on social media? Post them in the comments below.

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If you shoot photos, you want to share them, right? Why shoot photos if you don’t share them. And with the Internet and social media combined with digital photography, it’s much easier today than it was when I was a kid. It used to be a big deal when my dad pulled out the slide projector and showed us his photos from his many European vacations.

But there are also inherit problems with sharing digital photos online.

You can shoot tons of photos, which is both a blessing and a curse. I shot at least 200 photos when I attended a wedding back in September. I shot 500 photos when I traveled to California last year. When you have no film and just a memory card that has space for hundreds of photos, it’s really easy to take hundreds of photos.

Editing those photos can be a pain in the butt. I still haven’t edited my photos from Cape Ann in August because, well, it’s a hassle. I shoot in RAW and editing in Photoshop (I wish I had Lightroom) is a painful process because there’s no good way to batch edit. But even if I was not shooting RAW, it would be a time-consuming process to go through hundreds of photos.

And then Facebook and other sites will allow you to upload hundreds of photos at a time. I’ve seen friends share galleries of photos on Facebook with 350-400 photos.

Combine everything together, and you end up with ugly photo sharing. Everyone wants to take the photos and wants to share them but don’t want to go through a process to self edit and pick the best.

Not to mention some people have the mentality of “if I shot it, I need to share it.” I have been asked a gazillion times for the photos I didn’t publish with an article online. “If the photos are good, they’re on the story.” Of course, no one wants to hear that, but I’m not sharing photos that have motion blur or are poorly lit or have something else wrong with them.

Unfortunately that’s what I see in photo galleries people post on social networks, especially Facebook. There’s motion blur or the lighting is off or there’s four photos in a row that are virtually the same thing. And that’s not to mention the photos where everyone looks awful. It makes a poor experience for the audience.

Here’s some ideas on how to make a better experience for everyone in shooting and sharing photos online.

Don’t take multiple shots on the same thing

Back when everyone was shooting film, it made sense to take two, three shots of the same thing. You couldn’t check to make sure everyone’s eyes were open or a bird flew through your shot. Maybe we shouldn’t be peeking at the back of the camera as much as many of us do, but it gives you the confidence you got the shot. If you stop shooting three or four photos of the same thing, it’ll help cut down on the number of photos you have to review and edit.

And don’t hold down that shutter button for a multiple shot unless you really need it. A sporting event is one case you would need it, but someone posing for a shot is not.

Put thought into your photos

Too often I’ve seen friends and other people just take random photos with absolutely no thought. It’s almost like they’re thinking “oh my God, I have a camera so I have to take photos!” Or they think they should take candid photos, so let’s just shoot photos of our friends being random.

But shooting photos without thought means they have motion blur and poor lighting. Even worse, everyone ends up looking awful in them. The best photos, even candid ones, have thought in them. The photographer considers light and the angle at which someone is doing something. They consider what makes the photo interesting, which is not a bunch of people standing around with drinks in their hands.

Even if you’re taking a posed shot, put some thought in it. How can everyone look good in the photo? What pose does it? Where’s the best lighting for the photo?

And consider the rule of thirds when shooting photos. It will instantly make your photos better.

Edit, edit, edit, edit

When you sit down at the computer with your photos, edit them as best you can. Take the time to review every photo. Even if you don’t play with the more advanced settings in your photo editor (like correcting color), you can adjust the brightness. And you should use the unsharp mask tool.

But editing, especially self editing, is more than making sure the levels are right in a photo. It’s narrowing down your choices so they are the best ones. You may think those 200 photos are pretty awesome, but your friends aren’t going to want to look through the whole thing. They’ll get tired at some point if there’s a lot of duplication or fuzzy photos. So look at those four photos that are virtually identical. Do you really need all four? Or even two of them? No, you don’t. It’s good to keep those photos in a file, but you don’t need to share them all.

Present your photos well and respect others

I have a bad habit of not captioning photos on Facebook, but I should take the time to caption them so people know what they’re looking at, including who is in the photo. So often I’ve looked at photos and thought “what am I looking at here?” There are times it’s obvious or the album information gives it away, but not often. So give some information in the caption when it’s not so obvious.

And then there is the question of respecting others on social media with your photos. How often does someone post a photo of you that is unflattering and then tags you in it? It’s bad enough the photo even exists, but I don’t want everyone to see it, which tagging will do. There are lots of instances when I don’t want to be tagged. Plus people use social media, including Facebook, for lots of things. You don’t know who the other person is friends with. Suppose you tag the person when they look their worst and then that photo is shared with people like their coworkers and boss?

So be respectful of others on social media. Tag judiciously. There are times I don’t tag people because of the circumstances and will post them saying “tag yourself.” It irritates me when I do that and a fellow friend will tag themselves and everyone else in the photos. There are reasons I didn’t tag anyone and gave people the choice to do it. Think before you tag.

I’m sure there is plenty of other advice to be given on shooting photos and then sharing them on social media. Post your advice in the comments.

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We all say we should allow and respond to criticism on social media. We shouldn’t delete the comments when someone is critical of our work. But is there a line in criticism when we should delete it from a Facebook page?

Jim Romenesko had an item on his blog about a newspaper’s staff not allowing people to “slam” the paper on its Facebook page. The executive editor writes a post how people’s comments will be deleted for slamming the newspaper. She cites how people wouldn’t allow such things on their own Facebook pages. Additionally, she welcomes people to e-mail and call the newspaper to share concerns.

Romenesko writes further how someone in the comments said the newspaper can’t handle criticism. The response was the newspaper welcome constructive criticism.

So it got me to thinking: Is there a line at which the criticism is out of line and should be deleted off a Facebook page?

I hate the fact I have to delete comments off our Facebook page as part of my duties, but it has to be done. I treat them just like we would comments on our website. We don’t let it go unmonitored. We delete foul language, racist comments, attacks and other comments that are out of line. There are plenty of times I go back and forth with deleting something.

If someone came on our page and was critical of the coverage of something in a constructive way, we’d respond to it, even if it’s to point the person to private messages or e-mail so we can handle it that way.

But if someone posts in a profanity-laced rant about the site or one of our newspapers? It gives me pause. The profanity alone is what is going to make me delete it. If someone is attacking with no cause, at what point does it get deleted? I don’t respond to it, but is there a point where we delete it?

Everyone should be open to criticism and those comments should remain. It’s the unwarranted attacks that give me concern.

What do you think? Post about it in the comments.

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Facebook has been a blessing for me to stay connected with my friends and family, especially since so many of my friends are many miles away. But some of them are flooding my news feed with a disturbing trend. I’m sure it’s all over yours too.

People are posting some beautiful photos, but they’re ruined. Nearly every single one of them have some sort of “inspirational” message on them. I admit that sometimes they make me smile, but the amount of them I see on Facebook disturbs me. And I see them elsewhere too, like on Twitter.

What I don’t understand is why someone needs to to ruin a photo by scrawling a message across them. What is the end game here?

Someone once said a picture is worth 1,000 words. Of course you’ve heard he saying. A well-taken photo can say something so much better than anything I could ever write.

So does the saying still hold true today? If it does, why are we seeing photos with words on them? Shouldn’t the photo be able to stand for itself with its message?

I guess my message is this: Stop ruining photos with quotes and messages. If the photo is good enough, you don’t need to say any other words.

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Matthew Keys (@producermatthew) was a must follow for a lot of people on Twitter because of the work he was doing. When he was out of work, he latched on to Twitter to show its power in uncovering news and breaking it.

But now Matt’s stepping away from Twitter, which seems shocking for anyone who follows him. He does such good work with it. Ad Week interviewed him about his departure, and I think the lessons he shares are important for all of us who are connected with social media. Some of his comments:

I think it was something I obsessed over. If you work in news, Twitter is where the action is. It’s where stories develop in real time, 24/7. It doesn’t stop. I got sucked into that. I loved it. I still love it. But at some point you have to take a break.

It’s very easy to get sucked into any social media platform, whether it’s Twitter or Facebook or anything else. I can admit there are moments where I have to pull myself away from it because there’s an interesting conversation or a story developing. And at times there’s the “I need something to amuse me” factor. I know I can always find an interesting conversation on social media.

But it does get tiring, as does everything else when you do it too much. It just tires my brain which then leads to tiring the body. I don’t remember the last time I wasn’t tired, and that’s because I’ve been tired for so long. My body can’t bounce back from the years of being fatigued quickly.

It’s part of the reason I had to move on from Patch. I loved the work I was doing would have loved to continue to do it, but I was working all the time. I’d get up early, start work and I wouldn’t stop working until 10 p.m. or later. Usually it was later, especially on nights when I had to cover a meeting (some school board meetings ended around midnight, and then I’d still have to write about it). Did I need to work that much? Probably not, but I take pride in what I do and wanted the site to be at its best and up to my ridiculously high standards. I put a lot of pressure on myself. It’s also probably why I’d wake up in the middle of the night freaking out over a story I forgot to write or an e-mail I forgot to respond to.

But I still tire out today, but it’s from social media. The social media fatigue factor can be great. It’s why I try to stay away from it in the evenings (I’ve read more books in the last few months than I have in years) and on the weekends. It’s nice to have a break and rest your brain from being so connected, but even then it can be hard.

Last weekend I was at a friend’s bridal shower and I intended to leave the phone in my purse and not check social media. And I didn’t check Twitter, but sure enough I ended up posting some photos on Facebook. And I was surrounded by people who were talking about posting things on their Facebook pages. I just wanted to enjoy my friends without having to even think about social media, and I was able to do that to a certain degree.

It’s just proof of how it’s hard to escape social media, even when we try hard to do it and when we’re surrounded by our friends. How often have we been out with friends and family and posted a photo on Instagram or checked Twitter or Facebook? I posted a photo on Instagram while I was sitting at dinner with family just last night, in fact, so I’m just as guilty as everyone else.

I think social media is a great tool and a great way to connect with people. I have made friends with people I’ve met via social media (like Michele, who wrote a guest post last week). I’ve connected with great people in my industry, which has helped with my career. And social media helps me stay connected with my friends, who are scattered everywhere.

But it can get to be too much sometimes. I have debated stepping away from Twitter like Matt has, but I don’t know if I could do something so dramatic. But, hey, if I do disappear for a few days, you know why.

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Here are a couple items you should take a look at today:

The first is about social influencers versus social instigators. It’s a great analysis of social media culture, and I happen to agree. The instigators are more fun to follow and much more real than the so-called influencers.

The second is the website We know what you’re doing. The site pulls in public Facebook posts that include people posting how much they hate their job and their new phone numbers. It’s a reminder of just how careful you should be when posting things on social media. It’s too bad Twitter isn’t included, but perhaps the website would break then.

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I’m sure you’ve read the bazillion of articles that have been written how social media has complicated relationships, especially after a marriage dissolves. When is the right time to change your relationship status? What will people think? I solve this problem by never setting my relationship status. I don’t think I would even if I got married.

I don’t know if I’ve read as much about what to do when you stop being friends with someone on Facebook. It’s a more private thing to unfriend someone on Facebook. There’s no big announcement you’ve stopped being friends on Facebook. And the people you unfriend might not even notice. And what happens when they do notice?

I do re-evaluate my social media connections every few months. I unfriend on Facebook, I unfollow on Twitter. I never announce it. I just do it. No one has ever complained. But at the same time, the people I’ve unfollowed/unfriended were minor characters in my life.

I’ve made some changes in my life in the last few months in an effort to battle my depression. It means re-evaluating the people in my life and who is a positive force and who is not. That also means I’ve stopped being friends with people. Some of those people are friends have been around for a long time too. I may no longer speak to them, but I hadn’t do the big Facebook unfriending. My biggest worry was the drama that could follow if and when they notice I had unfriended them.

I stopped being a coward today and did the deed. Now I sit and hope they either don’t notice or they don’t care.

I’m one of those “I really don’t care if you follow me or not on social media” people (though there are a few I would be a little hurt if they unfriended me on Facebook), but I also know my type is few and far between. People can take offense to an unfriending or an unfollowing in dramatic form.

I’ve never wanted social media to change my life in certain ways, but here is one way it has that I’m not happy about. It’s not enough just to stop talking to someone. We have to disconnect them from our lives in other ways, and there could be consequences with them. I’d rather just be able to stop talking to someone without social media telling them “yes, indeed, she no longer wants to speak to you.”

I started writing this post thinking that there must be some sort of etiquette to dealing with severing those cyber connections, but do we need them? I feel like ripping it off like a Band-Aid may be the best thing here. Perhaps the fallout is where we need the etiquette, but even then isn’t that how we’d deal with people in our lives normally?

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