“We’d like to write blog posts, but don’t have time.”

That’s the oft-heard lament in newsrooms. More and more traditional journalists recognize the benefits of blogging and social media, but many just can’t figure out how to add them to their existing workload.

I have a solution that seems to work in our newsroom. When faced with this issue, I recommend colleagues do everything they usually do, such as have brainstorming sessions, take part in editorial meetings, do research and collect web links — except now they should do it publicly.

So now, for example, brainstorming can be done with a wiki-like tool, and notes from a meeting or background research can become a blog post. Instead of saving bookmarks as private “favorites” in a web browser, you can publish them as social bookmarks. Ideas and discussions can be expressed as blog posts or as status updates on social networks.

I call this approach “live-streaming the newsroom.” It was the subject of a three-day workshop I recently gave in Moscow. I was brought there by two Russian media NGOs: Eurasia-Media, the media training department of the New Eurasia Foundation, and the Foundation for Independent Radio Broadcasting (FNR).

Below is an overview of the tools we used and discussed during the workshop. We also put them into use to cover the “end of the line” of several Moscow subway lines (an approach that was inspired by a project by The New York Times).

Tools for (Almost) Instantaneous Blogging

  • Mindmaps In preparing the project, I published a MindMeister mindmap that charted out various social media tools. The map was published as an open wiki, and, as a result, people have added useful information. My colleague and co-organizer Charles Maynes at FNR also translated some key nodes into Russian. For the Moscow subway project, we made yet another mindmap.
  • Posterous/Tumblr Between classic blogging and micro-blogging services such as Twitter, there are new possibilities that allow for rapid blogging in short or long formats that also incorporate multimedia. We used “Posterous“http://www.Posterous.com, though we also could have used Tumblr. These platforms enable bloggers to post using email. Simply attach pictures, audio files or a link to YouTube, and Posterous integrates it all into a post. Here’s how we used it on our workshop blog, newsroomru.
  • RSS Reader While preparing the workshop — and during the workshop — I used Google Reader as a feed reader and Diigo as social bookmark platform. I like the fact that Diigo enables you to create public or private groups. Have a look at the MixedRealities group.
  • Twitter During the event, I commented on the workshop using Twitter. I used the hashtags #newsroom and #newsroomru.
  • Photo/Video Sharing Flickr is extremely useful for various reasons: You can select the appropriate Creative Commons license for re-publishing pictures, and publishing pictures on Flickr can also attract new visitors to your site or blog. For video, we used YouTube. We shot using semi-professional videocameras as well as the Flip video camera, which enables fast and easy recording, editing and publishing.
  • Audio Sharing Are your colleagues still hesitant to write their own blog posts? Talk to them and record your conversation using AudioBoo (using either a laptop or an iPhone), and publish the result instantaneously via Posterous.
  • Chats Why not discuss coverage, or even the preparation of coverage, in a moderated chat session? We tried out CoverItLive on the workshop blog (on Posterous) and it worked perfectly. Within the CoverItLive interface, you can integrate streaming video (I showed Ustream), Twitter feeds and Twitter lists.
  • Twitter I think it’s essential to recontextualize services like Twitter. For example, try curating with Twitter by using lists. Posterous can also be recontextualized by easily integrating into some of the major blogging platforms. Diigo, Twitter, Flickr etc can also be aggregated in a FriendFeed stream, which one can embed easily on a site or blog. No scripting knowledge required…
  • Community We also thought about how to keep in contact after the workshop ends and the participating journalists go home. Then there’s the larger question of how to set up a platform for your media community. We used Ning to create the newsroomru group. Maybe we’ll also use Second Life for synchronous immersive encounters in the future. (I also briefly demonstrated Second Life, which recently made it much easier to integrate web content.)

Mindset

All the above mentioned tools only become game changers in the newsroom if journalists stop thinking that they should only publish a nearly perfect, finished product. Newsgathering is an ongoing process. It’s great to publish perfectly crafted articles, videos and audio — but this should not stop us from streaming the production process.

It will, of course, be difficult to do this for some investigative work; but I think many projects can benefit from bringing your community into the brainstorming phase. It hardly takes any time at all.

Most of the things a journalist does to cover his or her beat can be live-streamed using the above mentioned tools, among many others. The value is that the audience will give you helpful suggestions, and practicing transparency will lead to increased credibility.

*****

How do you integrate social media into the workflow of the newsroom? Which other tools would you use? And don’t forget that you can still add to our social media mindmap wiki!

Roland Legrand is in charge of Internet and new media at Mediafin, the publisher of leading Belgian business newspapers De Tijd and L’Echo. He studied applied economics and philosophy. After a brief teaching experience, he became a financial journalist working for the Belgian wire service Belga and subsequently for Mediafin. He works in Brussels, and lives in Antwerp with his wife Liesbeth.