Pi Press reporter leaving for Strib can't take along her blog or Twitter

Move raises interesting question of who keeps the "Political Animal" tweeps

In the ongoing battle between the Star Tribune and the Pioneer Press, the Strib scored a hit recently when word got out that it had drawn Pi Press Capitol reporter Rachel Stassen-Berger across the Mississippi. Adding to the story line was the fact that, along with her regular byline reporting, Stassen-Berger also wrote for the Political Animal blog at the Pi Press website, twincities.com, and the @PolAnimal Twitter page.

That raised a question in the twitterverse: What happens when a reporter who authors a respected Twitter page moves to the competition? Can she take the identity with her as part of her personal brand? Can the paper assert ownership? In Stassen-Berger's case, it was agreed that the PolAnimal Twitter account would stay put, because it's an extension of the Pi Press, said the paper's political editor Maria Reeve.

"We're in the process of considering internal candidates to succeed Rachel as one of our Capitol reporters. That person, along with our other Capitol reporters, will be contributing to the Political Animal blog and we'll be determining who will be heading up our PolAnimal Twitter efforts from that team, obviously with help from other team members."

What about a situation in which a reporter's online identity and social network are more independent? We posed that question to Julio Ojeda-Zapata, who covers technology at the Pi Press, has a Twitter page with almost 7,000 followers, and who has also authored Twitter Means Business: How Microblogging Can Help or Hurt Your Company.

In his case, "The @jojeda account is mine," Ojeda-Zapata said. "That said, it's appropriate for companies to issue formal or informal guidelines about how best to use social media, and what is appropriate or inappropriate in this regard. There should also be clarity about who will own and control accounts that might have company names or brands as user names."

His Twitter account "has become a powerful crowd-sourcing and relationship-building tool in my reporting work; I can't imagine doing my job without it, and it gets more useful the bigger my following becomes," he said. "This is how many useful exchanges for stories unfold."

A reporter's social media network is also becoming an asset in the job market, Ojeda-Zapata said. "Social media has already merited mentions in local media-outlet job postings."

"This makes perfect sense. Journalists who are adept at social media are, in a sense, adapting old-fashioned sourcing in a new-media era."

Replacing Stassen-Berger as the voice of @PolAnimal will be Jason Hoppin. A four-year veteran of the Pioneer Press who came here after a seven-year bid in California, Hoppin distinguished himself with his early reporting identifying faulty gusset plates as the cause of the 35W bridge collapse.

"To his new job, Jason brings a dogged approach to reporting combined with a vibrant writing style," editor Thom Fladung wrote in the internal memo announcing Hoppin's appointment. "He also has shown a particular facility for breaking news on a day-to-day basis while he continues working on longer-term efforts that turn into high-impact enterprise."

Hoppin seemed a bit shell-shocked when reached on his cell phone on the day of the announcement, and it's clear he recognizes the enormity of his challenge.

"I think I have some very big high heels to fill," Hoppin quipped of his predecessor. "We're gonna try to do a lot of things Rachel initiated. Break news, that's always our goal."

As for when he'll start Tweeting, "That's a little up in the air right now," Hoppin says. "Sooner rather than later, let's put it that way."

And what did Stassen-Berger think of Hoppin? Is he a worthy successor to her throne?

In an email, Stassen-Berger was as generous toward Hoppin as he'd been to her, but left no doubt that she will fight him tooth and nail for scoops.

"Jason's great—and, speaking as his future competitor, I think he is a little too great," Stassen-Berger joked. "I start at the Strib on August 24 and hope to start my new @ soon after."

Let the best tweeter win. Or better yet, let a thousand tweets bloom. This is one case where competition definitely benefits the audience. 

 
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