Indianapolis Star journalists adopt #myassignment hashtag

The Indianapolis Star has started, apparently without much fanfare, to ask its journalists to tag their posts about work with an interesting if generic tag: #myassignment

I noticed this hashtag start to pop up in my feed a few weeks ago, but I didn’t notice a mention in the newspaper or on their website. The main @IndyStar feed, as shown above, has been retweeting several of the posts, however, which piqued my interest. (Background: I work in Indianapolis and subscribe to the Indy Star, which is the closest thing to a hometown paper for the suburb where I live. As such, I follow a disproportionate number of Star journalists.) I contacted executive editor Dennis Ryerson to ask about it but haven’t heard back yet.

That post, by the courts reporter, was about as much explanation as you’ll find online. And it’s enough to explain the purpose and that this wasn’t random or organic. The Star has a fair number of staffers tweeting, so the mix hasn’t leaned too heavily toward news, entertainment, design, or anything yet.

I love the idea. During winter storms, wild fires or other disasters and breaking news, hashtags linked to those events quickly gather steam and are easy to follow for the latest information. But it’s an interesting idea for a newspaper to take the idea to the next level and explain what their doing on a day-to-day basis. I saw tweets about everything from a weather graphic and laying out the business page to city council meetings and a play-by-play of a government hearing. It’s an interesting and electic mix of what you’d expect to see if you’ve ever worked for a newspaper or broadcast station. If you haven’t, it’s probably even more entertaining and insightful on a day-to-day behind-the-curtain level. As both a reporter and a subscriber, I find it fascinating and fun. I’d love to see more news organiations adopt the same strategy. (I imagine some have done similar work just outside of my geographic area, and I’d love links to that in the comments, so I can highlight those ideas as well!)

Interacting with the community before my stories hit print — and after — was the most fun part of social media, including my Twitter and schools beat blog, when I covered education. It was a great source of leads, sources and feedback from my followers and the wider community. I still keep in touch, via Twitter and Facebook, with a number of those Twitter community members even after having moved away.

Already the local community is starting to notice:

That said, I have some reservations and suggestions related to the Indy Star approach, which if you’re thinking of taking on this idea might be worth considering. First:

I tend to agree with this user (a former business reporter for the Star) that the utility of the hashtag is in its relative isolation — for now. As he says, what about when PR reps start tagging their releases with it? What about when spammers start talking about “#myassignment to sell you #apple #iPads to #workfromhome for #free” … And so forth. Of course, any hashtag may fall prey to these tactics — it’s a flaw in the system — but a consideration nonetheless.

My second concern is simply the generic choice of tag. While it makes it quite obvious the point of this hashtag, and it doesn’t use too many characters from the limit, it doesn’t pin down the beat or the location. #myassignment could work just as well in Detroit or Palm Springs or Tampa or New York City. In fact, it’d be fun to follow that tag if reporters from all over the country did adopt it, if only to see who’s working on what and what’s dominating the news cycle everywhere. They might do better to tag it #myassignmentindy or #mystarstory or whatever. I know it’s not as short or simple, and simplicity is what makes it sticky, but generic makes it easy to copy and dilute.

I’d like to see the Star do something more with the tag than toss it out in the sea of Twitter to be forgotten before the next day’s deadwood edition. Beyond retweeting a few, possibly they could design a widget for their Twitter staff listing page or elsewhere that highlights staffers tweets with the tag. (It can be done relatively easily by creating a list of those people and then pulling out the hashtaged posts only from that list.) I wonder if that’s not really the plan down the line? It should be.

What do you think of the idea? Has your organization tried something similar? How did it fare? And would you care to follow your local news reporters as they bump along their assignments? Share your thoughts in the comments or with @10000words on Twitter.