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Last  week my state’s largest daily newspaper, The Hartford Courant, (it also bils itself as  “America’s oldest continuously published newspaper“) took a gigantic digital step forward into the future. It created a Facebook page and begun inviting “fans” to join. This week the paper took another big digital step forward and created its own Tweeter feed. Hooray for them. 

While there are still a number of print Neanderthals around who want to block online content from readers, the Courant and a (slow) growing number of media outlets have figured out that the best way to get people to visit their news sites is to meet them on the social networking playground. 

“Social networking sites such as Facebook are where many people start the day for news about their friends and colleagues and, as such, it’s the perfect interface for news sites,” says Quinnipiac University Journalism Professor Richard Hanley.

The Courant brags that 800,000 people read the Courant via the newspaper and online. So, far  – as of this blog post “only”192 Facebook users have become Courant Facebook fans. By comparison The New York Times Facebook site has 357,678 fans.

The Courant’s current low fan base probably has more to do with little to no promotion in the paper or the main Courant website that readers can now check them out on the social networking powerhouse. Talk about a soft product launch!

So what are the advantages of news organizations jumping on Facebook? ” Facebook is the “newspaper” for many people,”

Richard Hanley, Quinnipiac University

Richard Hanley, Quinnipiac University

 says Hanley.  “It is much more powerful than the traditional newspaper because it incorporates news about friends and family into an interface where more traditional news can be posted. I’ve seen the future of newspapers, and it is Facebook.

The obvious goal for a news organization on Facebook is to drive traffic back to its site. What are some other potential positive outcomes:

The Cool Factor:

When it comes to the web these days there are few things hotter than social networks. It seems like EVERYBODY is using Facebook, Linkedin or some other social networking tool. The news media would be crazy if they didn’t try and tap into the “current cool factor.”

News Gathering Tool:

There are literally millions of stories on social networking sites waiting to be told. Reporters shouldn’t be afraid to engage, dig in and tell these stories. 

Not All Facebook Sites Are Created Equally:

One word of advice if a news outlet decides to launch a Facebook page; make sure there is news worth reading on the site. Some don’t (see below) The Hartford Courant has done that successfully with its Facebook page. In fact, I would argue that its Facebook page is easier to navigate AND agregate news than its official news website. Why? One reason is that you can actually syndicate news feeds via RSS on Facebook. RSS is not available for most news items on Courant.com.

Here’s a list of the nation’s top newspapers and how/if they have set up Facebook groups.

USA TODAY – NO OFFICIAL FACEBOOK PROFILE 

 WALL STREET JOURNAL:  Not even sure if this is the “official” Wall Street Journal Facebook profile. Doesn’t display updated news like other Facebook fan groups

NEW YORK TIMES: Circulation: 1,121,623 New York Times gets it! 358,459 Facebook fans seem to agree.

LA  TIMES Circulation: 907,997  1,265 Facebook fans

WASHINGTON POST Circulation: 740,947.  954 Facebook fans

NEW YORK DAILY NEWS Circulation: 708,773 NO OFFICIAL FACEBOOK PROFILE

NEW YORK POST Circulation: 565,679. 718 Facebook fansDoesn’t provide news feeds.

NEWSDAY Circulation: 527,744. 254 Facebook fans.  Offers instant updates on your Facebook feed from Newsday on your Blackberry, iPhone or other mobile device. (Newsday also includes Twitter links to all of the pro sports teams, politics and top headlines.

HOUSTON CHRONICLE

Circulation: 477,493 No Facebook profile