Las Vegas Sun

April 19, 2014

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From the publisher:

Getting along on social media

They’ve taken a pounding in the last few years, but the print media continue to make a large footprint in our world.

Sure, a number of traditional newspapers and magazines are fighting to retain paid subscribers at a time when so much online content is free. But advertisers pay for audiences that can become customers, and many publications are still doing a better job of delivering such prospects than their digital competitors.

It’s basically a numbers game. There are about 22,000 newspapers and magazines published in the United States, which seems like a lot, but it’s estimated that there are more than 100 million websites. Even though they don’t all sell advertising, the fact is that it is difficult to achieve market share online.

There are other reasons print has kept a relatively strong grip on news and information consumers — such as credibility, portability and even the force of habit. But still, nobody I know would deny the inevitable dominance of digital information. And along with it, the correspondent expansion of social media.

It’s been a dozen years now that our team began building news-driven websites in earnest. It’s easy to recall that even in the late 1990s, there were relatively few in our organization who believed in the information transition that was under way. I was among those who didn’t totally buy in. Little did we know.

Today, our otherwise serious news-gathering organization is among those companies that have embraced Facebook and Twitter, something else I used to be skeptical about. But now, I’m proud to say that our titles score very high in numbers of friends and followers, and we’ll likely end the year with 10 times more than we had in January.

Smokin’!

Facebook has already well established itself as a clever and convenient way for like-minded “friends” to share timely information. Over the weekend, for example, I got an update on UNLV football, which I wanted. On the other hand, I also got invited to taste a new vodka, to attend a fall TV programming premiere and to show up for a bunch of networking events where people mostly seem to pose for Facebook pictures.

Facebook offers a make-believe world in which we can create the comments and photos we want to be measured by. And on Facebook, we all sort of get along in a way we don’t in the real world.

For example, Sherm Frederick, publisher of the Las Vegas Review-Journal and thus a political combatant and competitor in my real life, is my friend on Facebook. There, he can see pictures of me fly fishing peacefully, and I can look at photos of him reading to schoolchildren. Then we both exit Facebook and return to making each other miserable.

This is not uncommon. People often tell me they accept rivals as friends on Facebook because they can watch their page for subtle clues that may tip off their strategies.

Facebook can also be a pleasant way to stay in touch with colleagues. By following him on Facebook, for example, I learned that one office associate who was supposed to be working at the time was instead actually enjoying a hot dog at Dodger Stadium. And obviously bragging about it.

Twitter, a social networking and micro-blogging service, is a slightly different model. Its users send and receive brief messages of up to 140 characters from each other, which you probably know are called tweets.

Almost every public figure seems to be tweeting these days, giving us access to all sorts of information we never previously had, or maybe even wanted. Young Lady Gaga and old Mick Jagger both tweet, although one must exert caution in following them because, for whatever reason, there are a lot of Lady Gaga and Mick Jagger impostors in this world.

In recent months, I’ve clumsily tweeted from ball games and taverns and from a few places that were mistakes, and if you’ve read any of my tweets, you may have noticed I haven’t found the right tone as yet. Or maybe the problem is simply that some of us don’t know how to write succinct enough.

You see, for both Facebook and Twitter, that’s what it’s all about: brevity. Short bursts of information. Tidbits.

This is how we are all able to get along in the world of social media, by sharing just enough information to stay out of trouble with each other. Like me and Sherm.

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