Archive for the ‘Twitter’ Category

Can Facebook be a successful breaking news platform?

Recent weeks have seen a debate as to whether Facebook can catch up with Twitter and breaking news through its algorithms. (Vicipaedianus x / Wikimedia Commons under CC license)

Recent weeks have seen a debate as to whether Facebook can catch up with Twitter and breaking news through its algorithms. (Vicipaedianus x / Wikimedia Commons under CC license)

Within the last few weeks, there has been much debate on social media’s effect as a platform of journalism. The news coming out of Ferguson, Missouri in particular with the protests in light of the death of Michael Brown, has seen much reflection on what Facebook and Twitter can become for journalists.

What has come to focus is on the matter of the algorithm, how it should be written, and if it should be redone, as much of the news on Ferguson came on Twitter rather than Facebook, where much of the focus this past month was on the ice bucket challenge for the ALS Foundation. As Mathew Ingram noted on GigaOM, the tone on Facebook is set by the powerful ranking algorithms.

Indeed, because of this, some are suggesting that Twitter has become the go-to source to keep up with real time trends, news and conversations, including John Naughton of The Open University in the UK, writing in the British Sunday newspaper The Observer, noting statistics that saw higher Facebook referrals for articles related to the ice bucket challenge rather than the events in Ferguson.

Naughton then wrote this conclusion.

“What you see on Twitter is determined by who you follow,” Naughton said. “In contrast, what you see in your Facebook newsfeed is “curated” by the company’s algorithms, which try to guess what will interest you (and induce you to buy something, perhaps). Having a frank discussion about the racism that disfigures America might not fit that bill. Which is why Facebook is for ice-bucket memes and Twitter is for what’s actually going on.”

In a telephone interview with this blog, Gina Cole of the Seattle Times said Ferguson conveyed a tone for Twitter and the reaction afterward, including coverage.

It’s interesting to see how this was more nationally covered on Twitter and how many were on the ground because of Twitter,” Cole said. “You can turn Ferguson into #Ferguson and everybody knows where to go to get information.”

Cole added that at the time it was an excellent source for breaking news and discussion on the subject, compared to Facebook. Cole said the algorithms caused a difference in how the story was seen on both platforms. Cole notes the follow function on Facebook, which allows users to follow users’ posts that are public, including journalists, however was not sure how much of a role it had.

It’s odd to watch these two platforms try to become more like each other, when really as a user I think of them differently and use them differently,” Cole said, adding that you may not want to see multiple postings by one person. “If something is happening, you want a live stream of event. Twitter’s platform is more suited to that.”

But can Facebook compete with Twitter when it comes to a breaking news platform? Cole says its possible, but significant changes would need to be made.

Algorithms would have to change, posting display would have to change,” Cole said. “Facebook needs to find a way to be differently useful than Twitter. Find a niche. Find a way I can use Facebook that Twitter doesn’t offer.”

Alex Veeneman is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists based in Chicago. Veeneman also serves as Special Projects Editor and writer for Kettle Magazine, an online publication in the UK. You can tweet him @alex_veeneman.

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The debate on a Twitter edit tool


Twitter may be releasing an edit tool – but the question is when? Photo via Wikimedia Commons (CC)

It has long been known that Twitter has become an essential social media platform for journalists, either through editorial or career purposes. Yet, there had been recent speculation on if the social network would introduce an edit tool to allow users to edit their tweets.

The most recent speculation came just before last Christmas. This report from The Next Web indicated that users would see an edit feature for a brief period, and would therefore allow these changes to be made. Facebook has a similar editing tool in place where users can edit posts once they are live.

It has been a tool that journalists have been wanting, prompting a discussion on the subject during the #wjchat Twitter chat, held Wednesday evenings at 8 ET/5 PT.

Sara Catania, the vice president for digital at NBC4 Southern California in Los Angeles, an NBC owned station, in a telephone interview for this blog, said it was long overdue, adding there was much excitement when Facebook introduced their tool.

I don’t think you’d find a journalist saying that an editing tool is a bad idea,” Catania said. “There was much celebration when Facebook introduced their tool. We wanted the flexibility to make corrections and add content to a post. Once Facebook enabled that, it created a greater degree of flexibility for us.”

Catania says if a feature is implemented, it should allow the user to look at the edit history, similar to what Facebook does, to show the audience what changes were made,

Those posts are flagged as edited and they can look at the edit trail,” Catania said. “That would be important in a Twitter editing tool. Without that capability, an editing tool would not be as beneficial to news organizations as we would like.”

A spokesperson for Twitter did not respond to a request via email seeking comment for this post.

Catania says overall, an editing tool would be appreciated in the long term by news organizations, especially considering the algorithm Twitter uses, where an incorrect tweet could be retweeted (similar to incidents with the Associated Press on coverage of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17), and a revised tweet could gain less traction as they travel separately.

Accuracy is an expectation,” Catania said. “Twitter challenges and makes it harder to fulfill and carry through that expectation. Having that tool would help that.”

Alex Veeneman is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists based in Chicago. Veeneman also serves as Deputy Editor and writer for Kettle Magazine, an online publication in the UK. You can tweet him @alex_veeneman or email

Author’s note: This post was updated on August 11 to reflect a correction – KNBC, known as NBC4 Southern California, is an owned and operated station of NBC, and not an affiliate as previously indicated. We apologize for the mistake.

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Digital Journalism takes a big step forward

SPJ DigitalFrom typewriters to Twitter, technology has shaped and reshaped journalism. Only now, the technology is coming faster than we can master it.

In the span of a lifetime, hot type gave way to cold type, which in turn sank beneath a wave of websites and blogs and social media apps. Today, we have come to think that two-year-old tech is obsolete, and that new news can become old news before readers reach the last sentence.

Moreover, we’ve entered an age when, thanks to rapidly evolving technology, the practice of journalism is no longer restricted to journalists.

All of this is why the Society of Professional Journalists has tried to evolve as well — it’s casting a wider net for freelance news gatherers and non-affiliated journalists, and revising its Code of Ethics to meet the needs of the new age.

And it’s expanding the Digital Journalism committee into a digital journalism community.

The new community, SPJ Digital, began unofficially last week but already has a Twitter account (@SPJDigital) and a presence on Google+. It debuts officially in September at EIJ in Nashville under the shrewd guidance of student journalist and editor Alex Veeneman.

Incoming SPJ president Dana Neuts says SPJ Digital’s mission is to “examine and raise awareness of current trends in social media, as well as digital innovations and the digital culture and their affect on the culture, craft and practice of journalism.”

In committee form, Digital Journalism has been chiefly a conduit for information on digital culture. Members met at SPJ’s annual convocation to discuss potential topics for Net Worked, as well as the Digital Media Toolbox and occasional features in Quill, and report on hot tech and trends worthy of special consideration by SPJ leadership.

As a community, SPJ Digital will keep the discussion going year round, encourage input and participation from digitally savvy citizens both inside and outside journalism, and help everyone see the blur of onrushing technology a little more clearly.

The mission is to “serve all members interested in the digital future of the industry as well as the profession,” Neuts said.

A new landing site for SPJ Digital on is in the works. Neuts and Veeneman invite those who are interested in joining the community to stay tuned for updates and registration information at @SPJDigital, Google+, and right here at Net Worked.


David Sheets is a freelance writer and editor, Region 7 director, and past-president of SPJ’s St. Louis Pro chapter. Reach him by e-mail at, on Twitter at @DKSheets, on Facebook and LinkedIn.




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Learn how to be an investigative journalist, for free

Knight Foundation logoHave you ever wanted to learn about investigative journalism but felt you didn’t have the money or enough flexibility in your schedule to do it?

The Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas knows the feeling.

That’s why the center intends to offer a five-week open online training course covering the nuts and bolts of investigative journalism, for free.

Yes. Free.

The course, “Investigative Journalism for the Digital Age,” begins Monday, May 12, and concludes June 14. Among the planned topics are general concepts about conducting investigations, finding and cultivating sources, analyzing digital data and databases, sifting through social media for useful information, and presenting stories with attention to fairness and ethics.

Four instructors will present multiple videos edited in a college-style classroom format. The instructors are Brant Houston, who teaches investigative journalism and advanced reporting at the University of Illinois; Michael Berens, an investigative reporter for the Seattle Times and winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting; Steve Doig, data journalism specialist at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism; and Lise Olson, senior investigative reporter at the Houston Chronicle.

Each week’s work can be completed at the student’s own pace; however, quizzes will be given at the conclusion of each instruction module. Students can request a certificate of completion at the course’s conclusion for a small fee.

The lessons are not just convenient; they’re essential.

“These days, if you don’t know how to tap the Internet, explore the World Wide Web, explore Facebook, use Twitter, use all sorts of social media and search tools, you’re basically illiterate as an investigative reporter,” Olson says in a video that introduces the course.

Anyone who is interested should register now at the Knight Center’s Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) site. The center is supported by the Knight Foundation.


David Sheets is a freelance writer and editor, Region 7 director, and past-president of SPJ’s St. Louis Pro chapter. Reach him by e-mail at, on Twitter at @DKSheets, on Facebook and LinkedIn.

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Instagram now lets you embed photos, video on websites

Instagram logoInstagram expanded its image-sharing capabilities Wednesday.

The social networking service unveiled a new feature that allows Web embedding for user photos and video. Before Wednesday, most sharing outside Instagram was limited to other social sharing sites such as Facebook, Flickr, Tumblr and Twitter.

Now, users can find share buttons next to their images appearing on Instagram’s website. Clicking on the button, located just south of the comment button, opens a small window containing an embed code that can be pasted into blogs, Web pages and news articles.

Below that code in the same window is a publish button. The photo or video includes an Instagram identity wherever it’s published.

As for technical details, that’s all Instagram said about the new feature. The rest of the service’s news release Wednesday dwelled on content ownership, which Instagram insists will remain with the image’s owner.

“Your embedded photo or video appears with your Instagram user name, and clicking on the Instagram logo will take people to your page on,” the release said.

In December, Instagram changed its terms-of-use policy to permit all user content as fodder for “paid or sponsored content or promotions.” The only way to avoid this was for users to delete their accounts.

Subsequent outcry from privacy advocates as well as Instagram users forced the service to apologize and change the policy after one day.

Instagram launched in 2010 originally for Apple platforms but grew to include Android devices in April 2012. That same month, Facebook acquired Instagram for about $1 billion in cash and stock.


David Sheets is a freelance editor, Region 7 director, and past-president of SPJ’s St. Louis Pro chapter. Reach him by e-mail at, on Twitter at @DKSheets, on Facebook and LinkedIn.

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With Twitter, Sometimes Timing Is Everything


There’s more to Twitter than just crafting a good Tweet, using the right hashtag and including links.

In many ways, the timing can make or break your Tweet.

Take this Tweet by Robbie Brown of the New York Times. He sent it out in the middle of the mid-season finale of The Walking Dead on Sunday, Dec. 2. It leads readers to an article he wrote about the town where many of the show’s scenes are filmed.

Brown Tweeted right about the time many of the show’s 10 million viewers were trolling Twitter looking for Walking Dead information and chatter.

In an interview last week, he said the timing was coincidental. It just so happened his story was posted right before the episode aired.

But, Brown also knew that it might pick up some extra eyeballs as a result.

“Because so many people watch TV with their phone in their hands like I did, I figured some people would be looking for something to do during a commercial break,” Brown said.

So while several studies have found the best time to do your tweeting is Monday through Thursday between 1 and 3 p.m., that’s more of a general guideline.

Considering your audience, and applying a little common sense, will help boost the number of eyeballs your tweet — and your article — will receive.

Jodie Mozdzer Gil is an assistant professor of multimedia journalism at Southern Connecticut State University. She previously reported for the Valley Independent Sentinel, the Hartford Courant and the Waterbury Republican American. You can follow her on Twitter @mozactly.

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Sometimes it takes an epiphany to get you to think “Digital First”

Steve Buttry, who has the impressive if murky title of “Digital Transformation Editor” for Digital First Media, the entity that now operates the combined newspaper and television properties of the Journal Register Company and MediaNews Group, spends a lot of his time speaking not only to working journalists but to journalism students. He preaches the gospel of digital media as not only the future, but the present reality of the news business.

I happen to agree, and was glad to meet the man at an all-day Digital Media Workshop at the University of Colorado, sponsored by the Digital News Test Kitchen, a cutting-edge media think-tank. Buttry, who’s based in northern Virginia, spent the workshop sharing his views on the importance of embracing the evolving tools and technologies of news, and also giving hands-on tips that journalists can employ to tell stories for the new age.

He had lots of examples of newspapers doing innovative work and trying new ideas, like using a board on one Journal Register paper’s Pinterest page to show the local police’s Most Wanted mugshots (arrests increased). He also offered do’s and don’ts for other social media and digital tools.

In true digital-first fashion, there was a flurry of tweets during the workshop posted by attendees (lord knows when Buttry found the time to re-tweet some of them while he was still presenting), and Buttry posted on his blog about the workshop within a few hours. The post includes helpful links to all the examples of great multimedia and cutting-edge work that he used during his talk, and they’re worth checking out for anyone interested in the best that digital journalism has to offer.

His blog post includes a link to a Storify timeline, a compilation of tweets and photos uploaded live as the workshop progressed, curated by a journalism student, Rob Denton. Denton signed up for Storify when Buttry mentioned it, and created the timeline during the workshop. That’s how easy it can be to try out and learn some of the cool new tools that are available for journalists to use.

On his blog, Buttry also uses a service called Slideshare to upload all the slides from his presentation – a wealth of intelligence available for anyone to learn from. Slideshare is a social network to distribute PowerPoint presentations, and a perfect way to share expertise (assuming that your PowerPoint presentation isn’t a snoozer, and Buttry’s aren’t).

During the Q&A session, I asked if there was an epiphany in his career, which began in traditional newspapers that led him to embrace online media. “It’s really more a process than an epiphany,” he said.

He noted that he went into journalism in part because he knew he’d learn something new every day, and embracing new tools and platforms hasn’t been so different. He did remember that in 1984, he was in charge of a Des Moines Register initiative to raise community engagement by “crowdsourcing” news into a “Hometown” section. The idea didn’t fly with traditional journalists, but he was impressed with the power of the people who contributed.

He also remembered an early introduction to the Web as a research tool through a “Computer Assisted Reporting” (that’s what they used to call online, database-driven journalism stuff back in the day) project for the Omaha World Herald as the closest thing he had to an epiphany.

My epiphany was when I was entertainment editor at the Colorado Springs Gazette in 1994 (we were one of the first five American newspapers to have a website), and I got an email from a reader. He was thanking me for the paper’s arts coverage because he was a local scientist stuck in Antarctica for the winter, and our website allowed him to keep up with the rich local arts scene.

The knowledge that someone halfway around the globe could instantly read what I was publishing online changed my whole concept of news media. I realized that family and friends in Japan could now instantly follow what I was doing, and read my articles. Today that doesn’t seem too shocking, since we could Skype around the world for free and video-chat on Google Hangout, or read live tweets and watch live streamed video from anywhere in the world — or even outer space.

But back then, I have to admit, the idea blew my mind. That’s when I knew the Internet would be the future of news media, and that I had to find my place in it during the dawn of this evolution. I haven’t regretted the decision once.

If you had an epiphany about online media, send it along to — I’d love to hear your stories.

A version of this post was submitted for SPJ’s Quill magazine.

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Six keys to professional tweeting

It’s amazing the things that we see people tweet about. Personal beliefs. Private conversations. Elicit behavior. Groundless criticism. Uneducated perspective.

Yes, I’m talking about journalists, too.

Sure, some genuine news seeps through to the Twitterverse — the brilliant coverage by Andy Carvin of last year’s “Arab Spring” foremost among the examples. (Remarkably, a year later, his work still sets the standard.) Otherwise, what remains on that social network largely amounts to boorishness and self-aggrandizement, impugning and assuming, snobbery and effrontery.

When I came up through the journalism ranks, any sort of spotlight-hogging was frowned upon as ethically dubious, if not forbidden by company policy. Today, a persistent and effusive social media presence is considered essential to one’s employment, if for no other reason than to continually trumpet a media “brand.”

This deep bow to branding waxes ominous, thanks largely to such popular social media measuring sticks as Klout assigning a manufactured importance to digital socialization — an importance weighted in favor of quantity instead of quality. If we agree to hold up these sticks as accurate, then news reporting via social media is bound not to be.

Why? Because there’s a certain assurance news consumers get from a journalist’s professional detachment, and we see that assurance petering out now as news providers strive to be heard above the loud partisan polemic drowning rational thought — a polemic they help stir up.

The solution, short of wiping social media off the map, is greater attentiveness toward distinguishing personal from professional content. Though there are claims that a personal touch demystifies media and as a result makes news more consumable, personalization also blurs the line separating judgment from fact. And when journalists apply it, they put their profession at risk of being marginalized by “citizen” journalists who insist they’re merely following the example.

So, then, make that example an admirable one:

Separate personal from professional tweets — If this means creating separate Twitter accounts, so be it. And try not to use the company logo or any derivative as a personal avatar.

Exercise care with criticism — Do you love “50 Shades of Grey”? Do you hate the movie remake of “Spider-Man”? That’s fine, but keep those opinions off all professional social media accounts, unless it has a discernible job relevance. Otherwise, inserting opinion only waters down what little objectivity a journalist can muster.

Keep company matters inside the company — There may be discord between management and staff, or personnel matters that prove irksome, but venting discontent via veiled insult on social media not only undermines others’ faith in you, it also could prove actionable in a court of law. In the same vein, honesty regarding one’s own reporting or editing errors may evoke pangs of guilt and frustration, but it  reinforces credibility and respectability as well.

Rein in the urge to be defensive — By its nature, journalism invites criticism, warranted or not. Certainly, some of that criticism can be mean-spirited and vindictive, instead of constructive. Avoid driving a conversation further down the same dark road. As humorist Mark Twain once said, “Never argue with stupid people; they will drag you down to their level and beat you with experience.”

Resist posting vacation and food photos — It’s always good to get away from it all when possible; it’s bad to drag readers and viewers along. That beach picture with Diamond Head in the background, while pretty, smacks of braggadocio, and may even suggest to others a laxity at work — especially if the picture puts you in one place while the calendar says you should be somewhere else. Food photos, on the other hand, pose a different problem, one rooted in esthetics. Put simply, food never looks as good in social media as it does in person.

Avoid posting sales pitches — Ensure personal brand integrity by not promoting other brands in tweets through sales pitches or links to special deals. Leave that up to the sales people who are supposed to market those products.

David Sheets is a content editor at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and, a candidate for Region 7 director, and past-president of SPJ’s St. Louis Pro chapter. Reach him by e-mail at, on Twitter at @DKSheets, or on Facebook and LinkedIn.

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Keep those tweets short and sweet

Kind of silly, huh, telling people to be brief on Twitter? After all, who can possibly wax wordy with only 140 total characters?

The answer: everyone.

It turns out that tweets using the full count are not as widely read as those running 20 to 40 characters less, public relations and social media analysts say. For one thing, Twitter is a scannable medium, something we can read in a glance. A simple sentence —  subject, verb, object and little else — registers with us faster than a sentence padded with adjectives, adverbs and pronouns. Those supplementary words may be good for grammar, but they can act like speed bumps on Twitter, slowing down our understanding of what’s said.

For another thing, the shorter the tweet, the more likely that followers will fill out the rest of the empty space behind it with ideas of their own, because the Twitterverse abhors a vacuum.

So, when you tweet, keep it short and sweet. But in striving to do this, make sure those tweets have one or more of these things:

At least one link — Web links make tweets valuable by providing more information than the tweet can do on its own. Readers see such tweets as portals to other places they may not already know about. The result: tweets with links are two to three times more likely to be read than tweets without them.

At least one “hashtag” — Prefaced with the pound sign (example: #SPJ), any word or string of connected words becomes a searchable element in Twitter. Hashtags are essential to search strings and topic lists, so including a tag greatly improves the chances that a tweet will turn up in searches by other Twitterers not already in your network.

A reference to at least one other Twitterer — Mentioning at least one other Twitterer fairly guarantees that tweet will trickle through said Twitterer’s network. That’s because social media is, at its heart, an ego-driven tool, and the more egos you massage, the more likely those egos will massage you in return.

A photograph — Social media is increasingly a visual experience, as the rapid rise of Pinterest and Facebook’s purchase of Instagram can attest. That’s why more photos have been appearing on Twitter via tools such as TwitPic. As the saying goes, “A picture is worth a thousand words,” or a thousand more than fit in a tweet. By some estimates, tweets with photos are five times more likely to be retweeted.

A full biography — There’s not much room to muse in Twitter’s bio space, either, but a concise self-description attracts other Twitterers as much as a well-reasoned or witty comment. Openness is attractive; people tend not to engage others on social media who avoid being forthcoming about themselves.

David Sheets is a sports content editor at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and, and president of SPJ’s St. Louis Pro chapter. Reach him by e-mail at, on Twitter at @DKSheets, or on Facebook and LinkedIn.

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Face-to-face beats FaceTime most every time

In our hyper-connected world, journalists are bound to think their jobs can’t get any better, what with social media filling communication gaps once considered too broad to hurdle.

That’s because it’s possible now to reach out from 10 miles or 1,000 miles and see what others see, hear what others hear — in effect, be where they are while we’re where we are. All that’s required is a smartphone, a tablet computer, and insight or a sense of humor quick enough to capture the crucial moment.

But while we’re hearing and seeing these other people’s experiences, we’re at the same time not actually hearing or seeing these people. One can have thousands of “friends” via Facebook or tens of thousands of “followers” via Twitter without actually knowing who these people are, a dichotomy that over time is bound to redefine what friendships and followings mean to us.

This dichotomy has spawned a wealth of analyses about the value of social media and whether humans are losing a key quality about themselves by not often meeting face-to-face, because these in-person meetings provide a wealth of information that digitized discourse does not.

Journalists coming into the profession today need to realize this, as this realization may mean the difference between producing good stories or great ones. By meeting interview subjects and sources in person, and not relying so much on technology, a journalist can:

Watch body language — Fear, happiness, anxiety, anticipation, these are traits not even Apple’s FaceTime can accurately detect. The casual twisting of one’s wedding ring, or tugging on a suit coat, or the bouncing foot at the end of a crossed leg, all show that the interviewee probably has other thoughts vying for attention between answers to a journalist’s questions. Pay attention to these quirks; they could point the way to the truth of the matter.

See the other side — Experiencing what life is like from other people’s perspectives opens one’s mind to their reality far better than a text or tweet or phone call. The government official begging for more funds from behind a marble desk likely won’t generate the kind of sympathy from readers as would the official who shares desk space with one or more colleagues, or has no desk, due to budget cuts. The welfare mother living in suburbia is sure to have a different if no less poignant story from the one who lives over a heating grate in an urban sidewalk. Often, knowing the story means knowing where the story comes from and seeing it for yourself.

Find common ground — Face-to-face meetings give both sides in an interview the opportunity to size up one another. They also provide journalists a means to finding common interests — favorite films, football teams or food, for example — the discovery of which can introduce a degree of trust that distance and technology can’t. If, say, the interview subject is a Packers fan (as I am), that key personal detail may stay buried unless I see the person walk up wearing a team jersey or swinging a Packers keychain. Otherwise, the journalist misses a chance to connect at a deeper level and the interviewee misses out knowing that reporters can be Packers fans, too.

Make good impressions — Along this line, face-to-face meetings break down barriers that interviewees presume always exist between journalists and the public. My entire career, first-time interviews have started out stiff and hesitant because neither of us is sure how the other will act initially. Convening over coffee or lunch gives journalists the opportunity to make a good, friendly, professional first impression that could be the catalyst for regular exchanges of information.

Learn secrets — In-person interviews also can be where people feel more comfortable, and safer, revealing off-the-record details. We never know for sure who’s watching or reading our electronic correspondence; a face-to-face meeting far removed from sources of tension opens conversations to more detail and color than a hushed or vague exchange via phone or email.

Technology has made talking to one another easier than ever, but it hasn’t necessarily made us easier to understand. Take time to meet people face-to-face and reduce the doubt and uncertainty that have sprouted like weeds throughout our digital world.

David Sheets is a sports content editor at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and, and president of SPJ’s St. Louis Pro chapter. Reach him by e-mail at, on Twitter at @DKSheets, or on Facebook and LinkedIn.

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