New York Times Facebook Liz Heron advises making use of features such as Facebook Subscribe to allow journalists to share updates
When Liz Heron, social media editor of the New York Times delivered the keynote speech at Journalism.co.uk's news:rewired conference, she explained how 2010 was the year her team were playing the role of "evangeliser", 2011 was "a watershed year for social media in our newsrooms" due to the Arab spring and other major news events, and that 2012 is the year when the New York Times is trying to make its "social media projects deeper and more meaningful'' with users.

Here are seven ways the New York Times is getting deep and meaningful.

1. Using Twitter hashtags to ask journalists to check facts

The New York Times is using Twitter to encourage readers to "participate in our live coverage by guiding our reporting in real-time", Heron said.

When thinking about the news organisation's coverage of the US presidential election, the NY Times realised that "a veritable cacophony of other journalists' voices" were also "live tweeting the debates and primaries".

In order to distinguish itself, the news outlet decided to encourage the reader, when "watching a political debate – or recently, President Obama's State of the Union address" to use the hashtag #asknyt to flag up particular statements that they think "should be fact-checked".

"As the night goes on, users can also vote on other readers' suggestions for fact-checkable statements," Heron told news:rewired.

2. Publishing tweets on the New York Times homepage

"We are now using the tweets-on-the-homepage approach adopted by other news organisations, including the Washington Post, the BBC and the LA Times," Heron said.

The New York Times has been doing this during primary nights "to make the coverage feel especially live".

Heron said: "The tweets are hand-selected by editors throughout the night. These are not just a collection of trending topics and random comments. They are culled from lists we create in advance, after scouring Twitter for interesting people close to the action, people who might otherwise get overlooked – local campaign staff, voters, delegates, local bloggers and others."

3. By "revamping the liveblog template" and turning it into a "second screen"

Heron recognises she is "lucky to count on about a dozen interactive developers as colleagues" on her team, "which is kind of a dream come true for a journalism nerd like me".

She told the news:rewired conference that the "team of developer-journalists has rebuilt our traditional liveblog and transformed it into more of a second screen, social media-heavy experience – a one-stop-shop for reporting, analysis, newsworthy tweets, reader engagement, and interactive election results".

4. By creating a "liveblog about liveblogs"

The New York Times team decided it should provide its "own coverage and analysis" for the "aforementioned media cacophony".

Media reporters Brian Stelter and David Carr have been using Storify to collect the "news media's tweets, videos and Facebook posts on primary nights". They have been adding their own analysis as narrative within the Storify.

5. By experimenting with "hashtag science"

The New York Times has been running an iEconomy series, an example where the news organisation has chosen "a series name based on what we thought would make the best hashtag – something that cleverly and clearly identifies the topic at hand, feels universal and inviting, fits neatly into a sentence, and above all, is short."

Heron explained how "hashtag science" can "help reach new audiences".

When the New York Times ran an iEconomy story about "harsh labour conditions in Apple's suppliers' factories in China", before running the story online or in print, "put a version translated into Mandarin out on Chinese social networks" to invite comment.

6. By encouraging journalists to use Facebook subscribe

Around 40 journalists at the New York Times are now using Facebook subscribe, a feature launched just two months ago, in December 2011.

It allows journalists to share their Facebook updates with anyone who subscribes.

New York Times journalist Nicholas Kristof has more than 350,000 subscribers; Heron herself has more 260,000. It is something journalists are embracing this side of the pond: Benjamin Cohen, technology correspondent for Channel 4 News, has 25,000 Facebook subscribers; Sky News' digital editor Neal Mann, whose social media presence is fieldproducer has more than 13,000 subscribers.

Journalism.co.uk's podcast about Facebook subscribe, which hears from Heron, Cohen and Mann, is at this link.

7. Google+ hangouts

The New York Times is also using "emerging platform" Google+. The team decided it "didn't want to spend valuable time and resources recreating the whole New York Times on a platform that was exciting, but had an uncertain future", so opted to "capitalise on its unique strengths", namely "deep discussion" and "video hangouts".

As well as asking journalists who have Google+ profiles to "jump into the comments" when the NY Times posts on its Google+ profile, it "enables back-and-forth converations between journalists and readers" by providing video hangouts, such as a half-hour Google+ video hangout where "political junkies matched the wits with campaign correspondents".

Similarly, the news outlet has also organised hour-long chats on its Facebook page.

Journalism.co.uk spoke to Liz Heron about Google+, Twitter and Facebook subscribe.

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