How do journalists grow social networking in a small(er) town?

twitter.jpgA lot of the most spirited arguments for social media are often made in places where there’s already a tech-savvy audience built in.

Yet in a place like Harrisburg, Pa., which is home to the country’s 86th-biggest newspaper and the No. 41 television market, there are a total of nine people on Twitter who have updated their status in the past six days. A local TV station has taken the initiative to faithfully feed its headlines to Twitter, and for its efforts has been rewarded with just 20 followers.

And if you search for my coverage area — the town of Hershey, Pa. — there isn’t a single tweet from the town in the past six days.

The blogging landscape, despite a dedicated few who are doing their best to prop it up, is similarly small.

As a “traditional journalist” who embraces new media as a keystone of journalism’s future, I’ve wrestled with the question: Is it partly my own responsibility to promote new media in the area? And how would I go about doing that?

To an extent I’m doing it, but maybe not enough. I encourage better blogging practices and better blogger relations in my newsroom, of course. As part of the project, I started The Hershey Home to get people who aren’t on Facebook or MySpace to participate in the online discussion.

But individual reporters can only chip away at the problem — it would take an organization-wide commitment to really make a difference. It would require serious — not token — linking to local blogs. A significant effort to use Twitter as a distribution tool. A real two-way presence on Facebook, instead of using it just to solicit sources on regional home pages.

If newspaper organizations could somehow boost the use of social media in their own areas, it would no doubt have long-term benefits for both the communities and the newspaper organizations themselves. Outside the big cities, there are a lot of newspapers that ought to be thinking about how to do that.