September 9, 2010

Mother Jones’ move into social media

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Mother Jones’ move into social media from JD Lasica on Vimeo.


Publisher’s message to other nonprofits: Know your goals

JD Lasica‘If you know Mother Jones, you probably think of us as primarily a print magazine,” says publisher Steve Katz. “That’s not really true anymore.”

For the past year, I’ve been working with Jon Funabiki of San Francisco State’s Renaissance Journalism Center, a talented team of producers and five nonprofits — including Mother Jones — as part of the New Media Lab. I wrote about its kickoff summit last fall at

One of our goals has been to help nonprofits adapt to the sometimes daunting social media landscape, and Mother Jones provides a fascinating case study of a journalism publication that is transforming its business processes and newsroom culture to embrace the new realities of the mediasphere.

At the conclusion of our second New Media Lab Summit in San Francisco the other week I sat down with publisher Steve Katz to discuss those changes and Mother Jones’ participation in the New Media Lab. Here’s our 11-minute interview:

Watch, download or embed video on Vimeo

Mother Jones began in 2009 to build out its presence on Facebook and Twitter. Today, its Facebook Page has 21,756 people who liked it and its main Twitter account has 20,953 followers, in addition to its staffers’ accounts, like Katz’s.

“We’ve seen how we can use Twitter to generate journalism.”
— Steve Katz, publisher

“We’ve seen how we can use Twitter to generate journalism,” Katz says. One example came when staff reporter Mac McClelland visited Louisiana after the Gulf oil spill. Her tweets and photos turned into a blog post on the Mother Jones site, which was updated and expanded into an article for the next issue of the magazine. Katz calls it a “really cool and visible [transparent] iterative reporting process” that helped to throw a public spotlight on the issue of media access to the spill. It also had the side effect of dramatically increasing her Twitter following from about 300 to 5,480 today.

Many nonprofits are still hesitant about embracing social media, but Katz says that after watching the changes taking place in people’s online behavior, “we knew we had to be there and wanted to do it in a smart way.” A lot of the team members were already using the tools in their personal lives, he says, “and it became really obvious that this would be a tremendous benefit to Mother Jones as an organization, as a journalism outfit — and it has.”

Staffers use Facebook and Twitter to engage in conversations, to test out ideas and to generate leads and background information. Next, Mother Jones will be sending a reporter to Haiti to do an update on the aftereffects of the quake, and they plan to deeply incorporate video into their work.

Like other newsrooms and nonprofits, Mother Jones is paying increasing attention to video technologies and how they tie into social media. Shifting from a culture centered on text, whether it’s print or digital, to a more visual kind of journalism “can be fairly complicated if you want to maintain a certain level of accuracy and of quality of the output,” he says. The New Media Lab will help them test out what it takes to deliver good, quality video in different formats and to continue to do that over time.

Katz’s advice for other nonprofits thinking of venturing into social media is this: “If you are a nonprofit that has a network of people who care about what you do, these platforms are really a terrific way to connect and begin the kind of conversations that are more difficult to do without a digital platform. “JD Lasica, founder and former editor of Socialbrite, is co-founder of Cruiseable. Contact JD or follow him on Twitter or Google Plus.

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