In class today, we briefly discussed the prevalence of social media in journalism. We talked about how social media can be overwhelming for journalists. For this blog post, I interviewed David Zatz, the editor of Allpar, an automotive news site that covers Fiat Chrysler. While Allpar covers news, it also features articles on classic cars, Chrysler history, and repair tips.
Allpar has social media presence on Facebook, Twitter, and more platforms. The news section of Allpar operates based on WordPress, and it has an extensive forums site for readers to interact with each other.
Zoe Zatz: How have advances in technology, such as faster servers and WiFi, affected the growth of Allpar?
David Zatz: Not really; in some ways it’s slowed our growth. On the one hand, we get more people browsing; on the other, everyone expects huge photos and video on big screens and tiny photos and video on phones.
ZZ: How has the explosion of the internet affected Allpar?
DZ: Up to a point, it’s been a major boon. The more people who can find the Internet, the more people can be readers. However, Facebook and Wikipedia have drawn off people faster than the Internet expansion has added them.
ZZ: Has attribution become an issue?
DZ: Heck, yes. It’s always been an issue. We have exclusive photos, and a Canadian newspaper, rather than simply giving credit, literally retouches the photos to remove our copyright notice. You get a photo or story, and everyone else just copies it. If you get any attribution on [a certain site], if you’re not part of the AOL family, it’s a tiny note at the end with a link – but who clicks on that? Nobody, really. And you don’t get “link credit” from Google because they only link your name, not a keyword.
ZZ: How have you used social media as an automotive journalist?
DZ: Mostly to publicize. It is rare I get anything from Facebook. Sometimes a story comes from someone doing something foolish on Twitter. If you count forums as social media, then the story is very different. Forums generate a lot of stories.
ZZ: Are there social media platforms that are useful for automotive journalism?
DZ: Not as far as I know.
ZZ: Are there social media platforms that hinder Allpar?
DZ: Facebook draws of visitors. It dominates the time of readers and they don’t go to my site. Also, it changes expectations. It makes everything have to be more instant, more visual, no depth.
When we post stories on Facebook, people make snap decisions based on the headline, nothing else. A small proportion click through. It’s harder with the more nuanced stories, like “Who tuned the “offending” diesels?” The solution is not, as Facebook readers seem to believe, throwing the EPA into jail.
ZZ: What proportion of your views comes from social media links?
DZ: 6% come from Facebook, less than 1% come from Twitter and all other social media combined.
Note: It is likely that Allpar is somewhat different from other news sources as it caters to an older audience, which generally doesn’t use much social media.
ZZ: How has social media affected the way you interact with your writers and inside sources?
DZ: Really, it hasn’t.
ZZ: How do you interact with your readers on social media?
DZ: Reluctantly, because many of them will make snap judgements based on their prejudices. Normal people become idiots when they’re on Facebook, including me.
My main interaction is posting for others to read, the old “one to many” media model. I do look at comments and if I find things I need to change or fix, I dot it, so there’s some self correction that I get from readers.
ZZ: Does the high prevalence of social media on the internet make your job easier or harder?
DZ: It makes it harder to attract and retain an audience.
ZZ: You have forums for readers to interact with each other and with you. Do you think this is more or less effective than a high social media presence?
DZ: It’s a lot more effective for interaction. People take more time for thought. It’s nearly all text. Memes are rare and simple-minded black-and-white views don’t usually last long. People learn from each other. Forums have been working well for years but most are suffering from Facebook, based on what I’ve read in a forum administrator forum.
ZZ: In one of the textbooks I’ve read, the authors stated that the news has a set of values, including: timeliness; impact; currency; conflict; emotions; prominence; and proximity. How does automotive journalism at Allpar relate to these values?
DZ: Yes, definitely. Emotions determine how much viewership (and therefore money) you get, regardless of anything else. Timeliness can make or break a story – but it’s weird, if we run something and [a big automotive news site] picks it up two weeks later, we have to run it again because [a big automotive news site] doing it makes it a story again. Conflict increases discussion but not viewership. Not sure about the rest.
ZZ: Do you have any other comments or concerns? Is there anything I missed?
DZ: See my blog post Mild to wild: The nuttiness of ‘net comments
Dave maintains a blog much like the New York Times Insider where he discusses the inner workings of Allpar. This blog is run on WordPress. In the blog post linked above, Dave discusses the differences in online comments. He talks about how more technical websites get better comments than mass-media news sites. He suspects that bots have something to do with the quality, or lack thereof, of comments on the internet. This blog post includes this quote about Facebook:
Facebook is a mixed bag, largely because it gets the fewest comments. The main distinction of Facebook is that most people never read more than the headline of any story, which is hard, because many headlines are mild clickbait — not untrue, but also not telling the whole story. That’s largely due to length limits and, well, my desire to have people leave Facebook and go to my site. I don’t get a salary from Facebook, after all.