Political reporter Rachel Stassen-Berger raised a few eyebrows among politicos and Twitter freaks alike recently when she hopped from her position covering the Capitol for the Pioneer Press to the same beat for the Star Tribune. The dust has settled now, and she's talking about how important her online friends and followers are to her new post.
In the twitterverse, Stassen-Berger's followers wanted to know if she would get to keep her handle, PolAnimal, with the move. Her old PiPress boss told us the handle belonged to the paper, and Jason Hoppin, the reporter taking her place, told us he knew he had big shoes to fill. (It should be noted that he PiPress itself has hardly been a slouch when it comes to social media: It's group mom blog, The Daily Juggle, is a finalist for a major national journalism award this year. And tech writer Julio Ojeda-Zapata has authored a book on how microblogging can help and hurt businesses.)
But across the river, of course, the Strib was ready to leverage Stassen-Berger's social media network for its own ends. She took some time via e-mail to answer a few questions about how she sees Twitter, Facebook, wikis and other social media playing an increasingly important role in how she and other reporters report and distribute their work.
Since arriving at the Star Tribune a little more than two weeks ago, Stassen-Berger said she's found the paper to be serious about encouraging journalists to use and explore social media outlets of all kinds, and that that interest and encouragement "are among several reasons I came here," she said. "For instance, I'm no sports expert but I'm impressed by how the two new Star Tribune sports sites, AccessVikings.com and GameFaceMN.com, have integrated social mediums -- blogs, Twitter, Facebook, etc. - from the get go."
(Other familiar Strib bylines on Twitter and Facebook include James Lileks, Nick Coleman and Randy Salas, and the newsroom pumps out various headline feeds to Twitter and other channels, as well.
In her own work, with encouragement from the paper, "I had my new Twitter account -- @RachelSB -- set up before I even officially started at the Star Tribune, my Twitter address is on my business cards and my follower list is growing by the day. Further, in preparing for this weekend's Obama visit to Minnesota I've already had a chat with my bosses about tweeting from the event and we've been talking about launching a new political blog. In general, I've found the paper is very aware of using digital and social media."
At the Pioneer Press, between her stories, blog posts, tweets etc., she effectively established a kind of personal brand, and she said that the Star Tribune was eager to take advantage of that as part of its political coverage.
"But that doesn't mean my work is all about BrandRachel," she said. "I believe the leverage has more to do with encouraging me to do what I do well and establishing our coverage as the go to place for people interested in Minnesota politics and the people on our political team as experts in their fields. For me that means, I twitter, write for online and print, soon will blog, do interviews - like this one -- and accept speaking engagements and explore other online and in person opportunities."
"Social media is part of my job description, just as it has been part of recent job postings for other positions at the paper," she said. "But I don't see social media as something distinct from the rest of what I do as a reporter. It is integral to my job, just like a telephone is integral to my job. It helps round out my sources and the outlets for my work. Since coming here, I've gotten tips from Twitter that I've used and shared, posted news and links on Twitter, written stories for online and the print product and worked on other parts of our online/social political arsenal. And my Facebook friends, who are both professional and personal, were among the first to get my Strib contact information. More specifics on how I'll use online social networking will develop as my job here develops."
She doesn't just use social media tools, either. In the case of MnPolTwitter, she built a wiki herself.
"I initiated MnPolTwitter in the spring after fellow twitterer PoliticsMN tweeted something about looking for a round-up of the state's politicians on Twitter. After I looked around and couldn't find one, I decided to do a little work to develop one and a few days later MnPolTwitter was born," she said. "Since it was an idea that started on social media and was about social media, it seemed only right to publish it online as social media -- thus the free pbwiki. As a wiki, people can add themselves, keep it vibrant and no one person holds control. Although it is pretty comprehensive in its listings, it could always be more complete, so please encourage folks to sign in and add themselves or others."
"The overall goal of MnPolTwitter is pretty limited -- to list the state's political and government twitterers," she said. "So I'm not sure that's the right venue for something much more expansive. That doesn't mean news outlets in Minnesota or other folks interested in Minnesota politics can't or won't expand wiki clearinghouses online. I've been impressed that the Twitter wiki, so far, has been free of political posturing or fights. But, as you know, online political fights can get pretty testy -- and figuring out how to harness the good will and avoid the testiness would be a major challenge for anything political that happens online."
Follow Stassen-Berger on Twitter @RachelSB.