These people make me care

January 8, 2010


Once upon a time, I really didn’t care which local news station I watched. None was particularly bad, but none was particularly compelling, at least not to the point at which I had developed a true connection or a sense of loyalty.

Then came Jason DeRusha.

A few years ago, I heard the WCCO reporter speak at a breakfast gathering for PR folks, and he talked about his trials and tribulations with starting a blog to complement his on-camera work for our local CBS affiliate. I seem to recall that story included A) no one at the station (beyond the Web geek who helped him set it up) having a clue he was doing it, for a while, at least, and B) lawyers who started having heart murmurs upon learning of the experiment.

Ultimately, DeRusha’s inner geek won out, and the blog continues to this day. And he’s a rabid twitterer, using the platform to constantly interact with people who follow his work rather closely. He’s built quite the fan following.

And then there’s Julio.

Julio Ojeda-Zapata is a technology writer at the St. Paul Pioneer Press, keeper of the Your Tech Weblog, author of Twitter Means Business (great book, in which several of my good friends and I are quoted) — and he’s a friend of mine.

He became a friend of mine because of Twitter. That online communication platform helped us get to know each other, helped him learn that I might make for a good interview for material for his book, and helped me get to know more about his work and his interests.

“So what?” the skeptic asks. “DeRusha gets a bunch of people to laugh at him wearing Zubaz and Julio has an army of geeks following his Posterous feed. Big deal.”

There’s more to it than that, and it is a big deal. These people make me care. I care about their work, I care about them and, by extension, I care about their respective news organizations. I feel, sometimes more strongly than others, a connection with DeRusha and Julio and ‘CCO and the PiPress. Sometimes I can actually witness a news story develop, in real time, by following blog posts, Twitter messages, video streams and the like — and that’s just plain cool. It’s like the difference between grabbing a beer at an unfamiliar bar or strolling into the place where you know the bartender and which dart board suffers from the least foot-traffic interference.

And there are several more examples: Bob Collins at MPR (though he tries hard to separate personal from professional), David Brauer at MinnPost and so many more, locally and beyond, that I’m going to stop trying to rattle them off.

“Are you suggesting that serious journalists, fewer and fewer of whom have gainful employment with each passing day, should spend their precious time twittering just so people like you feel closer to them?” Yes. But not for the sake of making me fell all warm and cuddly. Because it’s their job.

Julio moderated a discussion at a local Social Media Breakfast gathering a couple of months ago, a panel discussion in which DeRusha and others participated. At one point, DeRusha said something to this effect:

People ask me, “How much time do you spend doing this stuff?” And I don’t know how to respond. That’s like asking, “How much time do you spend being a reporter?”

It’s not just about being on Twitter for the sake of being on Twitter. It’s one of many methods by which a reporter can conduct research, find sources to interview, learn of potentially significant or interesting stories, share their work, build a strong and loyal following of fans, and so much more.

And just think for a second about the significance of a journalist with fans. That’s perhaps the closest thing they have to job security.

Photo courtesy of Perfect Porridge via Flickr