Steve Harris is a feature reporter on KMOV’s morning show in St. Louis. He doesn’t have the biggest following in the world — with just under 5,000 likes on his page — but he has found a way to truly engage those followers and make them part of his reporting process.
He uses his social media — Facebook mostly — as a news gathering tool. Sometimes it’s a way for him to get story ideas, but more often he uses it to get comments and opinions from his followers as elements in his packages.
“As far as interaction, it’s usually when I think it’s something people can relate to,” Harris said. “I know people are thinking this. I’ve heard people talk about this. So I’ll put this on, and I know I’ll get a pretty good response and get some pretty good ideas.”
While this is a fairly new trend in news gathering, Harris said it actually started in 2012 at KMOV. His news director at the time, Sean McLaughlin, made a big push to have reporters integrate social media in their reporting. At the time, Harris said, the staff thought he was crazy and everyone pushed back against it. Mobile and Facebook were in their early stages and TV was still king.
“I was kind of his pet project,” he said. Harris had just made the transition from photographer to feature reporter. At first he wasn’t a big fan of using social media. “It was kind of a chore at first,” he said. “Man, I’m trying to put these packages together, then I gotta do Facebook.”
For one of his early stories, the station sent Harris to the Grammys. They had him pose the question “What would you ask people if you were on the Grammys red carpet?” to his followers. At first he thought it was a dumb thing to ask, but he was amazed when he got over 3,000 comments in response.
Once he realized what an incredible news gathering tool social media could be, he fully embraced it. Now he routinely asks his followers to answer questions like what’s in your junk drawer or what’s your favorite type of hot cocoa.
Harris doesn’t ask for his viewers’ input on every story, just the ones where it makes sense — when it’s something people can relate to, he said.
He tries to go through his feed each day, and at least like all of the comments he gets so his viewers know that he’s looking at what they write.
When he is looking for comments to include in a package, the ones that stand out to him are those that are clever or those that represent a general consensus.
“I’ll go down through [the post], and find some interesting comments,” Harris said. “And I’ll clip them, and put them on and read them, so they can kind of feel like ‘Well look, I mattered. This guy put me on TV.’”
For Harris, it’s more than a way to gather additional elements — it’s a way to forge a unique and personal connection with his viewers. “They feel like they have more of a voice in what I do,” Harris said.
Do you know an anchor, reporter or meteorologist who is using social media to engage with his or her viewers and deserves to be our next Social Media Spotlight? If so, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll check them out.