Nieman Foundation at Harvard
HOME
          
LATEST STORY
“Modern” homepage design increases pageviews and reader comprehension, study finds
ABOUT                    SUBSCRIBE
April 3, 2009, 3:20 p.m.

Des Moines Register created Twitter hashtag for gay marriage ruling

One of the most popular hashtags on Twitter today is #iagaymarriage, which people are using to comment on this morning’s Iowa Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage. That’s fairly standard for big, breaking news, but this isn’t: The hashtag was created by Iowa’s largest newspaper, The Des Moines Register.

In anticipation of the ruling, the Register’s social media editor, Cavan Reagan Reichmann, sent out a message yesterday afternoon from the newspaper’s Twitter account, which has more than 2,200 followers:

Speaking over the phone from a busy Register newsroom this morning, digital editor Chris Snider told me, “We thought that we probably had enough clout that we could just create our own hashtag and hope it spreads.” It did. After the decision came down this morning, even competitors like The Gazette in Cedar Rapids were tagging their tweets with #iagaymarriage.

The hashtag’s proliferation has allowed the Register to collect reactions to the ruling on a dedicated page of the site, as well as in the sidebar of its news stories. Snider said that if the hashtag hadn’t caught on, their “backup plan” was a Twitter search for terms like “Iowa” and “gay marriage,” which could have produced a similar result.

The Register’s creation of #iagaymarriage is notable because while Twitter is all the rage among news organizations, most still treat the platform as something to be observed — as in, here’s what people are saying about this topic on Twitter. The Register, on the other hand, could rightfully boast: Here’s the conversation we helped organize on Twitter. It’s the man-on-the-street quote taken to a massive scale.

When devastating floods hit the Northwest earlier this year, Elaine Helm, new media editor at The Herald in Everett, Washington, helped establish the #waflood hashtag that spread like, say, the California wildfires hashtag (#ocfire) last year. In both cases, news organizations used the tags to gather news and reactions.

This is the first time that the Register has collected tweets about a breaking news story. Last week the newspaper launched a great landing page to follow its reporters — and some readers — on Twitter.

Snider, who has previously worked at The St. Louis Post-Dispatch and Baltimore Sun, has a great checklist that he follows for big news stories like this morning’s ruling on gay marriage. (It’s literally a checklist that you can download as a PDF.) Here are Snider’s recommendations for promoting a breaking news story:

— Post to Twitter
— Send breaking news text alert
— Send breaking news e-mail alert
— Post to Facebook
— Send update to Facebook fans
— Send a message to MySpace friends
— Create a widget so others can add news to their site
— Send to Drudge
— Post to Reddit
— Post to Digg
— Send to Fark
— Post to del.icio.us
— Post to Newsvine

Speaking of the Drudge Report, when I spoke to Snider, shortly after 10 a.m. in Des Moines, the Register’s traffic was elevated but “not crazy,” he said. They had about 215,000 pageviews at that point, compared to 160,000 by mid-morning on a typical day. But while we were on the phone, Drudge linked to the Register’s news story about the ruling at the top of his highly trafficked site. Snider said, “Well, now this thing is about to go through the roof.”

UPDATE, 3:39 p.m.: Snider tells me that the Register has seen 180,000 unique visitors already today. (That’s different than the pageviews metric cited above.) “We consider 80-100,000 uniques to be a pretty good day,” he writes in an email.

POSTED     April 3, 2009, 3:20 p.m.
SHARE THIS STORY
   
Show comments  
Show tags
 
Join the 15,000 who get the freshest future-of-journalism news in our daily email.
“Modern” homepage design increases pageviews and reader comprehension, study finds
A new report from the Engaging News Project shows that users prefer modular, image-heavy homepage designs.
Newsonomics: The halving of America’s daily newsrooms
If you’re lucky enough to have the right deep-pocketed owner buy your paper and steady it, you’ve won the lottery. If you’re in a town whose paper is owned by the better chains, or committed local ownership, your loss will probably be mitigated. Otherwise, you’re out of luck.
Gimlet wants to become the “HBO of podcasting” — here’s what its founder’s learned trying to get there
Alex Blumberg, CEO and co-founder of Gimlet Media: “People who like public radio like podcasts, but people outside of public radio also like podcasts. So let’s find those people.”
What to read next
1119
tweets
New Pew data: More Americans are getting news on Facebook and Twitter
A new study from the Pew Research Center and Knight Foundation finds that more Americans of all ages, races, genders, education levels, and incomes are using Twitter and Facebook to consume news.
542Putting the public into public media membership
Getting beyond tote bags and pledge drives is critical to the sustainability of public media. Is there an alternative vision of membership that relies on relationships more than money?
538How Upworthy is using data to move beyond clickbait and curation
After hiring Amy O’Leary from The New York Times, the site has started using user data to inform its original content production.
These stories are our most popular on Twitter over the past 30 days.
See all our most recent pieces ➚
Encyclo is our encyclopedia of the future of news, chronicling the key players in journalism’s evolution.
Here are a few of the entries you’ll find in Encyclo.   Get the full Encyclo ➚
The UpTake
Iowa Center for Public Affairs Journalism
Quartz
The Seattle Times
Sacramento Press
California Watch
Seattle PostGlobe
ReadWrite
The Daily Beast
Placeblogger
La Nación
IRE/NICAR