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Behind the Tweets: KIRO-FM Morning Anchor Linda Thomas (aka @TheNewsChick)

Linda Thomas is a popular morning host on Seattle's KIRO-FM news radio show and was one of the leading pioneers of social media among professional journalists.

This week I have a very special guest for my Behind the Tweets interview. Linda Thomas (aka @TheNewsChick on Twitter) was gracious enough to take time from her VERY busy schedule to answer a ton of questions from me regarding social media, her interesting career as a journalist, and the potential future impact of both traditional and social media.

Along with @TVAmy, Linda was one of the first journalists I recall following and engaging with in my early days with Twitter. Like so many, I was instantly enchanted by her Twitter name – it was definitely easy to remember. But more importantly, I really enjoyed her tweets and the information she was sharing. At the time, she was a freelance/independent journalist but she quickly gained a following much larger than all of the local media outlets (and journalists). It was a treat for me to listen when she would fill in on local radio newscasts as I could hear her in action. And as Linda explains, “in 2010 my dream came true with 97.3 KIRO-FM calling me back to be the morning anchor.”

Linda shares a LOT of great information – and PR pros should especially pay attention. She talks about how nearly all of her leads now come via Twitter and social media. The days of editorial calendars and canned pitches are clearly over.

And Linda even gets in a nice zinger about my beloved Oregon Ducks (did I mention she also has a great sense of humor?).

Enjoy this week’s column and thanks again Linda!!

Twitter Name(s):

@TheNewsChick

Which social media networks do you use consistently?

I’m always on Twitter and Facebook, and am now trying Google+. I use LinkedIn and Branched Out on a limited basis.

How did you first get into broadcast journalism?

I grew up in a rural area of the Midwest that didn’t have a lot going on. At night I could listen to radio stations from all over the middle part of the country – Chicago, Dallas, Atlanta, Detroit, occasionally on a skip I could hear pull in New York stations. The people on the radio seemed like friends, and that’s what I always wanted to be, someone else’s friend on the radio. My love of radio, combined with a belief that everyone has a story, led me to become a broadcast journalist.

You’ve had an interesting career path – can you provide a quick recap?

I graduated from the University of Northern Iowa with a broadcast journalism degree and then took a radio job that was in Lake Tahoe, Nevada. From there I became more serious about my career and was a news director of a radio station in Reno. I saw an opening for a temporary, night editor position at KIRO radio and landed the job. When I started working there in 1988, I looked around and didn’t see or hear other women on the air on a regular basis. I decided I would become the first female drive-time anchor on KIRO radio, because when you’re just starting out you have the audacity to believe you can do anything. With a lot of luck and support from great people, five years later was the morning drive news anchor. After that, in 1995, my daughter was born. I gave up my fulltime career to be home with her. My son was born in 2000, and after that I started freelancing as a print journalist, while still doing radio at almost every station in Seattle, filling in when someone was on vacation. I was never really done with radio when I left in 1995, and in 2010 my dream came true with 97.3 KIRO FM calling me back to be the morning anchor. Ta da! Life is good.

You’ve had the opportunity to work as a print, TV and radio broadcast journalist – which do you like best?

Radio is my first love, and will always be my favorite. Print requires a different skillset, and mindset, and is the medium that makes me feel most like a journalist. TV is not for me. I was a part of KIRO TV’s “out of the box” experiment in the late 90s when radio and TV people had to do both mediums. KIRO TV was ahead of its time with that idea. I made my TV debut from Madison Square Garden covering the Democratic National Convention. All I remember from that experience was hearing a TV producer scream in my ear that I didn’t have enough make up on. A reporter, who I will always be grateful for, dragged me across the street to a department store counter and forced a woman to “do me up.”

You have one of the best and most memorable Twitter names – TheNewsChick. You’ve even trademarked it! I won’t ask you to rehash the story here as here is a link to your version. But have you thought about sending a thank you to that early co-worker who first game you the moniker?

A co-worker at my first radio job in Tahoe said only four words when he met me, “You’re the news chick” in a dismissive way, and then he walked away. I was crushed. Apparently my brand new journalism degree didn’t impress him. 25 years later, when I was looking for a name for social media and a blog, those words came back to me. Except this time, they made me smile because I don’t take myself as seriously as I did back then. Yeah, I’m The News Chick™. I’d say thank you if I could find him online. Thanks should go to Don Smith, former Seattle P-I online manager now with Boeing, who picked “The News Chick” off of a list I gave him for a blog name. I also owned Http://thenewschick.com and he said, “If you own it, use it.” Thanks Don.

What was your “Aha” moment regarding social media (when/why did you decide to become engaged)?

I was on Twitter for at least a year before I did anything with it. I started using it actively to promote a blog that I was writing. Twitter can be used as a promotional tool, but I quickly learned it was so much more fun, interesting, and useful when it was interactive. My Aha moment was the first @ reply I got. Sorry to say, I don’t remember whom that was from, but realizing I can connect with someone, the same way I do through broadcasting, was powerful. I still use it to promote my blog, but that’s a small part of the way I use Twitter now.

Did you consciously think about using social media to help build your “personal brand?”

The only conscious effort I’ve made with building a brand is to keep it consistent – Twitter, Facebook, blog and now a radio show all with the same name. Beyond that, my brand is like my credibility…I don’t really own it. People who interact with me decide what my brand is and what it means to them, if anything. And like credibility, every day starts fresh having to earn whatever reputation and brand I have.

You were using Twitter long before many other journalists and well before you landed your current gig as morning co-host on KIRO FM. Was it Twitter’s “broadcasting” attributes that were most appealing to you? Or did you just think it was fun and cool like so many of us?

What I love about radio is that it’s immediate, but Twitter is instant. What I love about radio is connecting with an audience. I can connect with people any time I want on Twitter. In many ways, I like Twitter more than broadcasting because I can (and have) been on it all hours of the day. It’s a powerful medium.

What do you like most about being in the news/broadcasting business?

I love that people trust me enough to share their stories with me. Some are funny and uplifting, others are heartbreaking and painful. People tell me about their lives, and then I get to tell others about people in the community they should know. That’s the perfect job. I also get to go cool places that most people can’t go, and be the eyes and ears of listeners who would like to know about unusual things in the community. Pinch me. Is this really a job? It’s the best in the world.

Does Social Media play a big role in your job? This must be one big change in your current role compared to your earlier days as an anchor.

Social media is as much a part of my life as putting my feet on the floor when I get out of bed and brushing my teeth. I don’t think about the role it plays in my job, I just do it. No one tells me to be involved in social media, it’s just a part of who I am. There are some who are concerned about newspapers or radio or other traditional mediums “dying” because of the Internet and the way people prefer getting their news now. Dying? No. Evolving? Yes! There has never been a better time to be in the news industry. There have never been more ways to connect with an audience and distribute information. I can’t wait to see what the next decade will bring.

How much of your social media interaction is with colleagues in the media vs. listeners?

Some of the people I interact with on Twitter are listeners, but most aren’t. I have a few people I interact with regularly who are in the media. The majority of the people I follow, and who follow me, are just super-cool people from all walks of life.

Has social media helped you expand your professional network?

Professionally and personally, most of my best friends today and favorite people in real life are those who I met first through Twitter or Facebook. That’s the great thing about Twitter – you can easily communicate with people who you’d never run into by accident, or might not have the nerve to introduce yourself to at a professional event.

Has a PR person successfully used social media to pitch you a story? What tips do you have for PR professionals?

Almost all of the stories I do now, from features to hard news, are from tips that came through Twitter. Some are direct messages or pitches from PR people, but most are simply noticing an interesting tweet, or an unusual name and following up with the story. Twitter is so much better for me than press releases because I know dozens of other people in the Seattle area will get the same press release, but, I could be one of the few to notice something or someone on Twitter.

What’s the best story tip or idea you’ve ever received via social media?

I can’t pick just one “best” story. My new radio show (The News Chick on 97.3 KIRO FM, Saturdays at 8 a.m. repeated Saturday afternoon at 2 and Sunday at 4, in case you’re wondering) is exclusively the stories of people I’ve met through Twitter and some of the cool things they’re doing. From @StevenMatsumoto’s plan to create a garment district in Seattle to @MacBlend’s documentary on the stories behind the people who hold cardboard signs and ask for money in the Seattle area. Interesting people and projects I wouldn’t know about if not for Twitter. Thank you Twitter!

What are the biggest changes you’ve seen in the broadcast world during your career? What changes do you anticipate in the next 2-3 years?

Huge changes in broadcasting. The Internet has given people so many options for getting information and entertainment. Time-shifted listening is a growing area for radio. People want to hear their favorite hosts or news on their own schedule, not ours, so we’re podcasting more things and making it available on iTunes and as downloads. We also stream online for convenience. Radio is the original mobile medium, and it will continue to adapt to peoples’ mobile lives.

Do you tweet and post to Facebook while you’re on the air?

When don’t I tweet and post to Facebook? Yes, I use Twitter and Facebook regularly on the air. Often to generate comments from listeners, or find out what people think about a particular subject. It’s more efficient and effective than asking people to send us an email or even call us. Who has time? Our listeners are multitasking, just like I am.

What tool(s) do you use to manage your social media accounts?

I’ve tried them all, but still like TweetDeck the best.

What do you think about some of the other social media platforms that have recently gotten attention such as Empire Avenue, Quora and GetGlue? Are you trying to keep up with all of them?

I try every new platform, mostly out of curiosity. People have been telling me for years that Twitter is a fad that will go away. Even if that’s true, social sharing will not go away. Until something more awesome comes along, I still like Twitter and Facebook the best for connecting and sharing. Not lovin the new Google+ yet. I haven’t played with that enough to know whether it’ll be useful.

How do you see social media impacting the broadcasting industry?

There are a lot of savvy broadcasters who understand how to use social media to interact with their listeners. There are also those who merely consider it to be a promotional tool. One is effective; the other is a waste of time. Social media has given some people a jump start on a career that would have been difficult to accomplish going through the old method of starting at a small station then working your way up. If you’re a compelling broadcaster, start your own Internet show, get your own viewers on a number of different platforms. Broadcasters might still think they hold the key to this medium as they guard the door – good luck with that, people are crawling in the windows. Bye bye old guard.

Do you recommend all media professionals tweet?

I was on a mission to get co-workers to tweet a couple of years ago. Most resisted saying, “But who cares what I had for lunch?” If that’s their attitude about Twitter, then I’d say no, they shouldn’t be involved with social media. If they want to learn about what’s going on in their community, and help listeners, viewers and readers who reach out to them, then get on it in a big way and you’ll never regret it. I’ve added 5 co-workers to my Twitter-converts collection, and I’m going after one more this week!

How do you use Twitter? How about Facebook? Linkedin? Do they serve similar or different roles for you?

I don’t actively use Linkedin, although it’s linked to my Twitter feed. Twitter is my go to platform when I want to mention something related to news. Facebook is a little more personal, and the place to go if you want to see my latest boot purchases. Kinda have a thing for boots, which you’ll only see on Facebook 😉

It seems like you have a million things going on – how do you manage your time?

Each week I think, this is the week I’m going to put some balance into my life. By mid-Monday morning that’s generally forgotten. I’m at the radio station at 3 a.m., on the air from 5-9, after the show I work on my new weekend show and other features for radio until noon, then I go home and work on my blog until 6 or 7 p.m. when my kids gently ask, “Um, are you going to make some dinner?” My life won’t be this crazy forever, but it is for now and I’m enjoying it.

How do you decide who you’re going to follow or become friends with on Facebook?

If someone is in Seattle and they follow me, they can be sure that I’ll follow back. I like local followers. I don’t spend as much time as I should looking for people to follow. I am trying to get @ConanOBrien to follow me. I’m tweeting him once a day, every day, for a year to ask him to follow me. Oh, no, that’s not obsessive.

Who is a better tweeter – you or @TVAmy?

I think @TVAMY has it all going on!

Who are the most famous alums from your Alma Mater, University of Northern Iowa?

Famous UNI grads – Mark Steines, host of Entertainment Tonight, and Kurt Warner, two-time National Football League MVP, MVP of Super Bowl XXXIV, and my favorite Chris Pirillo, founder of Lockergnome and a zillion other tech things.

Are they going to be any good in football this fall?

Panthers should be good, and no matter what their record ends up being they’ll always be better role models than the Oregon Ducks : )

Are you a big sports fan too? Which sports and teams are you most passionate?

I’m not a sports fan. I do like the Seattle Mist and the Seattle Majestics because many of those women are social media friends.

Best movie that features Seattle?

Has to be “Sleepless in Seattle.”

For visitors to Seattle, where is the one *must go* activity/place you recommend?

I love Fishermen’s Terminal in the Ballard area of Seattle and the restaurant that’s there – Chinooks. It’s where I take my out of town visitors.

One place in the world you want to visit?

Just one? Paris, although the French language makes me laugh, so I have to grow up a little more before I could handle it.

Who is the most fun/famous celeb you’ve met or interviewed?

I’ve met a lot of amazing people through work. Former President Bill Clinton was probably the biggest political celeb. The coolest celeb was interviewing local rapper Ben Haggerty, aka Macklemore, in the living room of his apartment earlier this year.

Thank you again Linda!!!

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