Ismael Cala, producer and host of CNN en Español, was skeptical of the role of social media in news. Fast forward a few years and Cala is leading the way. He’s a journalist who has one of the most successful news shows, which he attributes to having embraced social media. He recently spoke at Social Media Week in Miami on how social media has changed the news industry.
CNN en Español reports they have 27 million subscribers in Latin America and 7 million in the United States. The latest count of the show’s Twitter account @CNNEE had 2,072,021, followers- and according to the show it has the number one Twitter account worldwide for a news show in Spanish and number seven for news in any other language. The fan page of CNN en Espanol reached 947,735 fans. CNN en Español’s various fan pages have gained the most fans among any Spanish news medium. (Find Cala on Twitter @CalaCNN)
So, how did they do it? Cala tells VOXXI how social media helped with the show’s success.
Q: What were your first thoughts when you signed up for Twitter or Facebook?
When I started on Facebook it was a very private and personal thing. It was my friends from school asking me to get on Facebook.
I left Cuba in 1998. My university colleagues and friends are living all over the world. Because I’m a public figure and I’ve been in media for a long time, six months after I opened the Facebook page, people were asking me to accept their friendship. It was not a personal page anymore.
After reaching the maximum friends allowed by Facebook, 5000, I opened a fan page for CNNE . To tell you the truth it is a full time job. It takes a lot of time to interact and answer questions. I didn’t want to open this for the purpose of gaining fans. I wanted to really be a part of it.
Q: What challenges did you face when you made the switch to new media?
From inside the company it took a little bit of time to realize what we could do with Facebook and Twitter. We realized that it was inevitable. We realized that it was not the future, but the present.
You have to think twice when it comes to posting something that is controversial, something that can express a political opinion- that as a journalist would put your independence at risk. At the same tim, you cannot always avoid giving your opinion because people will say you don’t have a voice; that you don’t want to give a personal feel of what is happening. It’s really risky because you have to be personable and approachable. You have to answer to people.
Q: How do you see the difference between Latin American social media and the United States audience?
In Latin America they are more interested in regional politics. In the U.S. people are interested in domestic issues and how it will have an influence on their homeland. We combine topics to make a show that will be interesting to everybody. The show is tailored to the U.S., but with enough appeal to our Latin American audience. It’s hard to do it with such a vast audience.
We have reactions from people in other countries who are saying “hey, you are talking about a situation in Ecuador, but in Venezuela we are experiencing the same situation.” I can incorporate that into the conversation and our shows.
As an example, if I’m going to interview President Obama, I would ask Twitter followers to send in their question. And people immediately react. They give us the topics that they are interested in. I really think that this is the best resource a journalist has.
Q: How has Twitter become a currency?
This can be very controversial because some people have Twitter accounts with followers, but those who do not are still powerful and influential.
If you do not have a Twitter account and you are a leader, a powerhouse, you are losing a great opportunity. When we bring a guest to the show, we look at their Twitter followers. If they have 2 million followers… it’s because they’re a leader and people are interested in knowing about them. We know that would be a show of interest to many people.
Q: Has the gap between “the media” and readers closed with the advent of social media platforms?
Social media has changed and reshaped media. That authoriatian figure with the deep voice, the one that had the information that no one else could give you, those days are gone. Now we are just a facilitator. What we offer now is more about analysis and good content. It’s about getting reactions and interacting with readers. It’s a totatlly different way of addressing the news. Before, we were the sender of information. Now we are sending information and getting information back from our audience.
Q: What advice do you have for journalists who have not jumped on the social media bandwagon?
Get on the train, because it will leave you behind. I’m not saying that social media will replace traditional media. No. I don’t think it will do that, what I think is that it is an integrated platform. We are getting iReports from people all over the world. That is part of social media. We are integrating Twitter and Facebook into the content of our shows. It’s what people want to see on TV. TV doesn’t break the news anymore. The news breaks online. Now people are learning of the news on their smartphones. I learned about Whitney Houston’s death on Twitter.