Viral News: The Distributed Watercooler

As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, journalists are loath to do anything they think would make them “seem like a pimp.” The problem with their hesitancy is that it too often means that important news stories get buried beneath entertaining ones and the public discourse is diminished.

The good news is that in the world of viral media, journalists can turn their readers in to their best advocates. But to do that, we have to use social media tools and engage in online social networks.

I had an experience this week that demonstrates what can happen if you do.

1. I created a presentation of slides about editing online news. I uploaded it to

2. I embedded the slide show in my blog.

3. My blog post was sent out via RSS.

4. Nieman Labs saw the post and shared it with its 790 followers on Twitter. (I only have 193. I’m feeling a little insecure about that, so if you want to help a brother out…)

5. Two people who follow Nieman Labs on Twitter “re-tweeted” the original message to their 499 followers.

6. That drove up page views to the Slideshare file, which appears to have caused its editors to promote it on the site’s News & Politics section front.

7. Other people took the Slideshow and embedded it on their sites.

8. Traffic to my blog doubled over the last two days. I received links and comments from England, Australia, Spain and Hungary.

Now, what’s the business model for all this? If I sold ads on my Web site, I’d have doubled my inventory. If I sold consulting services, I’d have doubled my leads at zero incremental cost.

But let’s just talk about the journalism. More people saw my content because they met at a virtual water cooler and one of them said to another “Man, did you hear about this.” Using social media made it easier for them not just to reference my story, but to repeat it in its entirety. That kind of impact on even a dull subject as this is enough to warm a journalists heart. Imagine if this had been about something important, like the high school dropout rate in North Carolina?

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2 thoughts on “Viral News: The Distributed Watercooler”

  1. How much does this matter for local news?

    Local issues are unlikely to interest people elsewhere. How likely is issues-oriented coverage to go viral, especially for the people in the local area?

    And if event-oriented coverage does go viral, and a local site draws a lot of people from other regions — those visitors are unlikely to be customers for local advertisers.

    Don’t viral effects have the potential to give misleading numbers?

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