It's a Social Media World, Music Journalists and Publicists Just Live In It

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President-elect Donald Trump is already shaking things up in Washington, D.C., by eschewing more traditional forms of communicating his message, preferring instead to speak directly through Twitter to his 19 million-plus followers. As a result, the political press frequently finds itself in the still-unfamiliar position of reporting on those tweets rather than breaking the news first.

While that may take some getting used to for the White House Correspondents Association, the entertainment media has long since come to a truce with the idea of chasing social-media-generated stories. In fact, the job of entertainment journalist has changed significantly in recent times. News about music, tours, weddings, pregnancies and the like that has historically been announced via press release, in a carefully arranged exclusive in a consumer publication like People or sussed out through good ­old-fashioned reporting more often now comes directly from the artists themselves via their social-media channels.

While some members of the media welcome that development, particularly because it often provides them with the candid photos and ­behind-the-scenes glimpses into stars’ personal lives their readers love, they say it comes with an emotional price. To stay up to date, journalists and bloggers must constantly monitor Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat and even Pinterest and YouTube as artists break news via posts, live streams and their own weekly video series. It isn’t easy to keep up with it all when the job entails covering hundreds of acts, and there’s usually no way to know when or how news will arrive.

Since the holidays alone, news has broken on social media about engagements for country stars Kelsea BalleriniKacey Musgraves and up-and-comers William Michael Morgan and Jennifer Wayne. On Jan. 16, Garth Brooks made national news when he used his weekly Facebook Live show, Inside Studio G, to explain why he would not be performing at Trump's inauguration. Three days before that, Little Big Town’s Kimberly Schlapman surprised her Instagram followers with the announcement that she and her husband had adopted a baby girl.

Ashley MonroeMo Pitney and Dan + Shay’s Shay Mooney also announced baby-related news just since Christmas on Instagram. And Love and Theft’s Stephen Barker Liles revealed the gender of the baby he and his wife are expecting via a video posted to YouTube and the band’s social-media sites.

Among the many other social-media posts that became stories in the last month were Carrie Underwood sharing news about her dog’s paralysis from a herniated disk and Brett Eldredge posting a photo of a snake he discovered in a toilet while on vacation. Sam Hunt, meanwhile, bypassed his label and went straight to SoundCloud just after midnight on Jan. 1 to release his new song, “Drinkin’ Too Much.”

“At this point, I basically see my iPhone as an extension of my right hand,” says Hunter Kelly, senior correspondent for Cox Media Group’s Rare Country. “I’m on it from morning to night checking socials, keeping on top of what everybody’s sharing.” Kelly says that’s part of a decided shift in his job “from living and dying by my email inbox to living on social-media accounts, monitoring what everyone’s doing throughout the day.”

“You need to be on top of the news 24/7,” says Lisa Konicki, editor in chief of Cumulus’ Nash Country Daily. “You never know when an artist is going to tweet or Facebook information you can turn into a story. It’s extremely time consuming.” She adds, “News can come on Christmas — [like] Kelsea Ballerini and Kacey Musgraves announcing their engagements — or a late Friday night after work … You just never know.”

Most writers have mastered tricks for staying on top of the barrage of news. “The list and alerts features offered by social-media platforms are your friends when it comes to keeping up with the big artists,” says Kelly. “That’s especially true, given the shift to algorithmic feeds on Instagram and Twitter in the past year.”

Konicki is also a fan of news alerts. “I don’t think there is any surefire way to keep up with all the content,” she says. “I would just recommend setting up accounts on all social-media platforms and follow every country music artist that uses those platforms. Set notifications to be alerted when certain news comes in, and just keep checking your feed during your waking hours.”

“Setting up alerts and regularly checking various artist accounts is the only way to keep up,” agrees Billy Dukes, senior editor at Townsquare Media’s Taste of Country. “It’s as much a part of our day-to-day as scanning headlines and sorting through emails from publicists. Of course we miss some, as we’re not going to sit through every Facebook Live video in hopes of a nugget we can use. Alas, we can’t be first on everything.”

Jon Freeman, staff editor for Rolling Stone Country, has had to adopt a new mind-set to keep social media from burying him. “Rather than work myself into an early grave, I try to keep some things in mind,” he explains. “The incorporation of social media is now a key part of an artist’s marketing strategy, so it isn’t always imperative — or interesting — for me to copy and repeat every little development. It’s fair to question if something is actually newsworthy.”

Despite the headaches, writers say there are real positives to this modern method of finding stories. “I’ve always lived in this social-media world and relied on an artist’s Twitter and In­stagram pages for content,” says Dukes. “I tend to prefer it, as it’s first-person news and often comes with a more interesting photo I can use. Also, there’s no filler or confusing verbiage like you find in so many press releases.”

“Today, every announcement and life event is captured in photos and videos on artists’ social-media accounts,” says Kelly. “It’s great, enriching content for stories that would otherwise be pretty dry. Country fans love getting a view of artists’ mundane, everyday life moments. I see those posts as the seed to spark creative story ideas, and those posts are also a godsend when preparing for interviews and video shoots.”

Konicki says the rise of social media as news-breaker means “content is handed to you … Feeding content to a website is a beast, so you are in constant need of information for stories. It doesn’t stop. Social media has pretty much allowed this news to be placed right at our fingertips, allowing us that content to build the story. We are no longer totally dependent on being sent the information from publicists. We literally get it right from the artists themselves. There’s no better source.”

Artists obviously see the positives too. In a 2016 interview with Billboard, Brooks joked that he gets his “butt chewed out” by his publicists when he announces news directly to fans via his Facebook Live series, but explained that he loves doing things that way because he can see and hear fans’ immediate reaction.

Because of that mind-set among artists, it’s not just writers who have to keep up with social media. Publicity pros are affected too. Kristie Sheppard Sloan, co-owner of Nashville PR firm the Greenroom (and one of Brooks’ publicists), says, “I would guess there isn’t a publicist in town who hasn’t had to jump into action because of a premature tweet from an excited artist or signed up for a Snapchat account just to keep up with breaking news.” 


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