From The Huffington Post to the NHL
Why social media buff Craig Kanalley is returning to his hometown as social media czar of the Buffalo Sabres. Fri., June 28, 2013.
By Gabrielle Kratsas
AJR editorial assistant Gabrielle Kratsas (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a student at the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland.
It's a bit of a leap, but his faith is behind it.
When he first saw the opportunity to lead the Buffalo Sabres' social media efforts, Craig Kanalley, The Huffington Post's senior editor of big news and live events, thought the marketing position seemed a bit entry-level. So he passed on it.
But the Buffalo native, who has focused heavily on social media throughout his career, ultimately couldn't resist the lure of returning from New York City to his hometown and going to work as his favorite sports team's social media manager.
Although marketing for a hockey team is a far cry from rounding up the latest on NSA leaker Edward Snowden or the U.S. Supreme Court's DOMA decision, Kanalley, 27, sees parallels that will help in his transition from The Huffington Post's intense news atmosphere. He will miss breaking news, but at the same time he doesn't think the new position is a huge departure. "I think that it's..sports news," Kanalley says. "The sports fanatics will consider it news, anyway." He will have the opportunity to cover events live, conduct interviews and engage with readers, viewers and fans.
Kanalley's passion for social media is powerful. "I think [social media is] great for conversation," he says.
In his view, not only have social media given journalists the ability to raise their profiles and distribute and share content more efficiently, they have also given readers and viewers the chance to speak up.
Says Kanalley of the audience, "They don't want to be talked down to, and that's obviously very different from the way things used to be in journalism. I think way more people now want to have a voice, and they're not afraid to voice those opinions and how they feel about things through social media.
"People want to feel part of the news and part of the process. At The Huffington Post, I've seen this with our comments. But also you see the same thing on Facebook and Twitter and with other news organizations," Kanalley says. "There are more sources now than ever, and, as journalists, we should be taking advantage of that."
But he also sees a downside: The more voices in a room, the louder it gets. "One thing I'm a little bit worried about..is I think [social media has] become very noisy, and there's a lot of people shouting and [being] very self-promotional, like, 'Look at me, and look at what I'm doing,' " he says.
"Social media is not all about any individual person. It's about connecting with people and sharing with people. I don't want to say people are using it wrong, but I feel there are a lot better uses for social media than what people are using it for in journalism right now," adds Kanalley, who first contacted Arianna Huffington in 2009 hoping to create a partnership for his blog, Breaking Tweets. The site analyzed the coverage of and reaction to breaking news stories on Twitter, but he has since left the blog behind.
"The whole thing of a journalist live-tweeting a breaking news event--I don't really know if that's necessary anymore, because it seems that everyone is doing the same thing," he says. "When I live-tweeted things like in 2009 and 2010, it was very novel, but now everyone is doing the same thing and it isn't very unique. I think, as journalists, we love it, but we are not who we are trying to reach."
Although the partnership never happened, Kanalley was immediately offered a job at The Huffington Post. Today is his last day there.
Kanalley, who has worked under the title of senior editor of big news and live events since 2011, got his first job at HuffPost in 2009 just after receiving his M.A. in journalism at DePaul University, where he specialized in online journalism and new media. Although his undergrad career at St. John Fisher College in Rochester had focused on print journalism, the rise of social media caught his attention when Twitter started gaining speed in 2009.
"A lot of it was timing," he says. "I definitely saw [social media's] potential back then and thought, 'This is going to be really big.' " He even asked his professors if he could strictly focus on social media at DePaul.
"The interesting thing about social media is it's always changing and evolving, so if you look at any one of these social media companies, they're always launching new features and they're always tweaking the product, and whenever they do that, it kind of changes things for journalism and opens opportunities."
Starting Monday, Kanalley will switch roles and begin directing social media for the Sabres, controlling all of the hockey team's platforms: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, Google Plus and more. The organization actually changed the job title from "social media coordinator" and expanded the role in order to better suit Kanalley's social media expertise.
In addition to taking a significant pay cut, Kanalley expects to work longer hours, but that doesn't bother him. "I think I'll be able to handle it just fine because of my experience in journalism," he says. "I think if you're doing something you enjoy and you're having fun, it's not as stressful, and that's kind of how I look at this. The good news is there's an off season."
Once he's in Buffalo, Kanalley hopes to listen more to the Sabres' fan base and help it get to know the players better through social media. "One thing I think fans would love is more behind-the-scenes content, so I will be working to hopefully accomplish that ..through things like Vine and Facebook videos and more photos," he says. Another goal is to get the team's mascot, Sabretooth, a presence on social media.
"I'm going to be looking to do a lot of experiments, just trying lots of new ideas--things people aren't doing with sports and social media," Kanalley says.
So what advice does the social media buff have for young people entering journalism in this exciting and turbulent era? "The technology and the way people use social media is constantly changing, and the new features change how people use the media," he says. "Stay on top of trends and technology. And an interest to experiment and try new things is a great trait for young journalists to have. Young people have a fresh perspective, and that's what they can bring to the table."