The Future of News: An Interview with Lou Dubois of NBC
A few years back, I connected with journalist/blogger/nice guy, Lou Dubois through social media. I don’t remember how it happened but over time, we got to know each other and it led to Lou including a few of my quotes/thoughts in some of his articles in outlets like Inc. and Sports Illustrated. Since then, Lou has taken a role at NBC News. Given the evolving state of the news and the role that social media plays in that role, I felt like it might be helpful to take a few minutes to sit down with Lou to ask him about his new(ish) job.
[Aaron] What is your current role at NBC News?
[Lou] By title, I am the Social Media Editor at NBC News. What does that mean? It’s more than spending your day on Facebook and Twitter. I’m of the belief that the role of a “Social Media Editor” is unique to each organization. My main responsibility is to socialize and evangelize much of the news, reporting, video and photography happening across our organization via various social platforms on a day-to-day basis. Personally, I’m doing that on the @NBCNews social accounts. When news happens, we’re making sure to deliver information to our social audience in a factual, efficient manner. I work on a team that oversees the strategy and implementation of various initiatives across the news division, in addition to developing and instructing employees of internal best practices on new, old and emerging social platforms.
[Aaron] How has reporting/writing changed over the last 2 years? 5 years?
[Lou] News is no longer delivered to consumers at their front door or on television. With new media, the way in which we discover, report and share news has been seriously challenged. What used to wait for the evening news or for the morning paper now happens in real-time on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and websites around the world. Citizen journalism and user-generated content have led us to the point where anyone can create and distribute information quickly, and news organizations have to take note and keep track of all of that. Two years ago Instagram barely existed, and five years ago Twitter had just started to gain real traction. It’s important to note that social media is still a small part of the population, but a part of the population that we certainly don’t neglect. While there are over a billion people on Facebook, only 14% of Americans use Twitter, so as a news organization it is important to cater to that audience but also not to neglect the large percentage of news consumers who aren’t digital natives. And one last very important point: for better or worse, this democratization of media has led to a lot of noise on the web. Things can be reported and spread very quickly, but it doesn’t replace solid, on-the-ground reporting. It’s also raised the value of verification. It’s been said before but is worth repeating: it is better to be right than first whenever there is an ounce of uncertainty on a story.
[Aaron] How do you use social media as part of gathering and reporting the news?
[Lou] I think real news events tell this story better than generalities, but I’ll tell you that monitoring social media has become an increasingly important part of all of our jobs in the media. During Superstorm Sandy on the East Coast, Instagram saw 1.3 million photos uploaded, with users reportedly uploading 10-storm related photos to the service every second. That’s telling the story of a news event with pictures much as we always have but now those photographers are simply everyone with smartphones and they’re doing it in real-time. The trick for Instagram and for news organizations alike is mining all of those photos and making sense of them to tell a story. This is why curation is increasingly important for organizations. When the tragic shooting happened at the movie theatre in Aurora, Colorado over the summer, some of the first images and videos from the scene came from people within the theater who posted them on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and more. It’s not absurd to ask if an event isn’t tweeted then did it really happen? Facebook continues to grow, and with over a billion users (and ownership in Instagram), it’s changing the way we as news organizations have conversations with our audience. Social media has become a real-time feedback engine as well: we no longer have to wait for ratings and reviews, we can get all of that in real-time from our audience.
[Aaron] Which other person in the new space/blogosphere do you most admire? Why?
[Lou] I love what the team at Vox Media is doing with all of their sites within SBNation, The Verge and now Polygon. Led by Jim Bankoff, they act like a startup and adapt quickly to changing market conditions, creating incredible and emotional content in a smart, visually stimulating design.
[Aaron] What is your dream job?
[Lou] I feel blessed every day because I think I have a dream job with an incredible organization and team who understands the changing media landscape here at NBC News. But if you had asked me this question when I was a kid, I would have told you United States Air Force Pilot. It was something I always dreamt about but until recently, you couldn’t become a pilot with corrected vision. That’s been updated and so I guess there’s still a part of me that would love be a pilot, if I really am dreaming…
[Aaron] Best advice for someone that wants to engage you (or the outlets you work for)?
[Lou] This may seem overly simple, but the best advice I can give is to “Be Real.” The rise of the web has made it increasingly easy to find more information about someone without ever actually communicating with one another. That works both ways. Do your research before you reach out and figure out how we can actually help each other instead of just sending a general pitch that you’ve likely crafted for a variety of news agencies. If I don’t know you, I’m likely to look up who you are before I even think about responding. An idea coming from someone who I may be connected to via social networks or who I’ve seen sharing knowledge and stories is much more likely to get a response.
[Aaron] And for fun, what was the first concert you ever attended?
[Lou] When I was 11 years old, my parents took me to see The Beach Boys perform at this incredible venue outside of Philadelphia (where I grew up) called the Valley Forge Music Fair. It was a round theater with seating for less than 3,000 people, and the band actually recorded a live album from this performance. But the highlight to me as a kid was having the drummer from the band (I don’t recall if it was Mike Kowalski or not) hand me his drumsticks. They’re still on display at my parents’ house to this day.
Thanks Lou! Great answers and I look forward to hearing more about how your job is evolving over the coming months/years!