The Nanny Nine: Dennis Powell, Senior Producer ABC News and AARP Inside E Street
Dennis Powell didn’t plan on being a television producer. He likens it to “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying”. After studying theatre in school, he became a clerk in the ABC business office, moved on to Video Tape Editor at ABC News, and then advanced to Producer. Over thirty years years later he is still in the journalism field. During that time frame, Dennis was a Senior Producer for ABC’s World News, covering events surrounding the President, legislation on Capitol Hill, Department of Transportation & Department of Homeland Security. Most recently he worked on ABC News ‘This Week with George Stephanopoulos’. Dennis is currently the Senior Editorial Producer for Inside E Street, a public affairs show produced by AARP, airing on most PBS stations.
When I heard Dennis speak at a Social Media breakfast event in Mpls recently, I was immediately intrigued with what he and the ABC News team do regarding Social Media and the news. It is this team’s mission to gather information for the news stories, to harness it, and verify authenticity. This is often with pictures or videos that surface on Social Media sites. As an example, ABC’s Social Media team’s focus this week was the conclave in Rome, with the Cardinals voting on the new Pope. As I write this today, Wednesday, March 13, having seen that the new Pope was just selected, I have no doubt that Dennis and the team are scouring the web for unique pictures and videos of first-hand accounts related to the story.
1. Most businesses use Social Media to put their information out to the masses, onto their Facebook & Twitter sights. How do you and your team use Social Media?
We mine sites like Twitter and Facebook for news. If a story should break about a shooting at a mall, or a let’s say a tornado hits a community we would start the search in social media for those who might be involved. We’re looking for first hand accounts and also content like photos or videos.
2. Facebook vs Twitter for resourcing info – do you like one better?
Twitter is our number one go to place by virtue of it being an open platform. Facebook and Reddit are close second and third.
3. Do any of your news stories start from something your team has seen on a Social Media site?
Sure. It would have been hard to do a story about the man who was strapped to his seat on board an Iceland Air flight recently had we not found a photo (and later video) of him. But it’s more often the case that we hear about a story first and find the content (eyewitnesses, photos, video) to go along with the story.
4. Was it easy for you to adapt to using Social Media to gather information for news stories?
Easy? Nooooo! I like most of my generation of journalists came to social media kicking and screaming. I can even remember the story that changed my mind about social media and how we could use it for newsgathering. In 2009 a commuter plane crashed in Buffalo, NY killing all on board. Our intern at the time used social media to find eyewitnesses and photos of the crash site. I became an easy convert at that point. BTW that intern is now in charge of social media integration at ABC today.
5. Do you think the divide between traditional media and Social Media is fading away?
Sure we all use social media today to push content in hopes of linking them back to the mother ship. Huffington Post is probably one of the best examples of using social media to push content. But let’s be clear good journalism is not done in 140 characters … it’s a tool. It’s a delivery system.
6. What is the biggest challenge your Social Media team faces?
At the moment we are a voluntary group that convenes for large planned events (election night coverage, the inauguration) or when big news strikes (a hurricane, earthquake, or mass shooting). Soon though the Social Media Desk will operate 1440 (the number of minutes in a day) and provide content and support on a daily basis.
7. What is the best moment your team has had regarding Social Media?
Hurricane Sandy was a seminal moment for us. The team worked for 48 hours nonstop curating tweets, photos, and videos along with the authentication process for all platforms at ABC (GMA, World News, Nightline, ABC Digital, and Special Events). We eventually sourced over 300 stills and videos with some of them used to lead a broadcast.
We also were able to use social media during this event to inform how we deployed resources. Where did we see flooding happen, where was the power out, we learned of an evacuation at a hospital on social media.
8. Do you have any predictions in the “what’s next?” regarding Social Media, in general or professionally?
I’m not a good predictor so I’ll punt on this one. The one thing I’d like to see is better search engines for content to better see through the clutter!
9. What is your best piece of advice to other news organizations utilizing Social Media channels to gather insights & info?
When using any new channel for information and content use good journalism standards and practices. Be skeptical and ask lots of questions.
Facebook: ABC News
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