A Silverfish Hand Catch Lands in the Backchannel

Posted: July 21, 2010 in Uncategorized

Silverfish Hand Catch

Who would have thought it would take a Silverfish Hand Catch to tear down the walls between traditional media and social media?

I promise I’ll get back to the fish but obviously a statement like that requires a little bit of a back-story. A few months ago I began “tweeting” from the news desk during live newscasts. At first one or two people would “tweet” back, usually just curious whether it was really the “guy on the TV” tweeting. They wondered a) how I had the time and b)why I had the interest.

That got me thinking.

As I’ve reported in this blog before I have had a very long one-sided relationship with the people who watch my newscasts. I talk, they listen. If they had something to say to me they yelled it at the TV screen like Don Quixote tilting at windmills. Twitter changed all  that. I can now hear you and I can now answer you.

So a few weeks ago I created the “backchannel”… while the news rolled forward on the front channel… Channel 7… I tweeted on the backchannel. I invited viewers to watch the news, tweet comments and questions to me and to ‘discuss among themselves’ when I was actually busy reading the stories. I really only had a vague idea of where the ‘backchannel’ might take us all, but I hoped it was a first step to tearing down the glass screen that divides us.

I can’t speak for the dozens of people who check in regularly every night…sometimes at 6 or 7:00.. but mostly 11:00. I don’t know exactly what they get out of it except a kind of cool experience of actually conversing in real time with the guy on TV. But I can tell you what I get out of it. For the first time in years I actually feel like I’m talking to someone rather than at them. Frankly it’s energizing!

But I promised to talk about the fish. Specifically the Silverfish Hand Catch. You may have heard about the “Old Spice” guerrilla marketing campaign. The ridiculously handsome guy standing in a towel in his bathroom with his six pack abs and mellifluous baritone voice answering tweets from average people. In his final video posted on YouTube, the actor ended with a spectacular “Silverfish Hand Catch”. What did it mean? Who knows, who cares; it became an Internet buzzword that landed with all the grace of a flying Asian Carp in my ‘backchannel’ Monday night.

For that you can either blame or credit Charlie Wollborg, a brilliant marketing man who knows a few things about getting people engaged in social media. Early in the newscast @CharlieCurve posted the following Tweet– and everything changed:

First of all, to be clear, I probably wouldn’t have said “Silverfish Hand Catch” even if a thousand people had re-tweeted the post. I like to think of the backchannel as a kind of Las Vegas…what happens there, stays there. If I start excluding people on the front channel I risk losing them (not to mention my job!). So I needed to keep the whole “Silverfish” affair a “backchannel” thing, which wasn’t easy. Over the next half hour my Tweet stream exploded with re-tweets and suggestions of how to work the phrase “Silverfish Hand Catch” into the newscast. @CharlieCurve suggested I introduce the weather segment by saying, “It’s 74° in Detroit right now. A perfect night for a Silverfish Hand Catch.” @danielmrose suggested an addition to the Tigers highlights: “A fan in the stands just made a Silverfish Hand Catch.”  And on and on. It was all a bit silly sure, but I realized something else was going on. The audience of our 11:00 newscast wasn’t just talking to me…they were talking to each other! I felt like Alexander Graham Bell when he made his first call to Watson. The backchannel worked!

I hope it continues to work…and not just as a novel way to include the TV guy in on-line hijinx. I hope people watch my newscast, ask questions, make comments and most of all talk to each other about what’s going on in our community.

In the meantime. No, I did not say “Silverfish Hand Catch” on the newscast. Technically we came a few short of 100 re-tweets so I was “off the hook” so to speak.  But I did do something in the final seconds of the newscast that let my Twitter friends know I heard them loud and clear.

You’ll have to watch the clip to see what it was.  And you’ll have to join us some night on the backchannel.

Bring your own fish.



  1. This whole thing is incredibly surreal.

    The “backchannel” really does incentivize Twitter users to tune in to the news. To echo Stephen’s comments, it has pretty much flipped the relationship dynamic between viewers and the journalists on TV.

    *note to self – create Twitter search for “#backchannel”*

  2. Joni Golden says:

    Steven, you get a quarter for “mellifluous”. That is A-level vocabulary.

    I like the whole backchannel idea, it’s a human connection in a world with too few of those.

  3. Well, you’ve “caught” me in the back channel and I’ve been boycotting the news for years. You may not realize how significant that is, let me tell you it is!

  4. The backchannel is a brilliant thing, and it further cements the idea that communities, audiences, and (most of all) people want to be engaged on a personal level.

    It’s amazing watching it “click” with everyone. In real time.

  5. wattyz says:

    I’m with Catherine…the #backchannel made me turn the tv on for the first time in almost a year. Out of everything there is to watch, I’d have never imagined I’d be turning the tv on for the local news. It’s one of those times you realize that technology is and can be interactive to viewers at home, and not in the form of a video game. Real time, with a real person. That’s what the audience wants, and what brings us back. Thank you!

    I wonder how long before other stations attempt this?

  6. There’s no doubt you’ve changed the way many people get their news. We’re no longer just watching and listening to you, just as you’re no longer talk at us.

    In a way it’s just another addition to all the great things that make Detroit and its ‘burbs awesome.

    Tweeting news guy who rocks? Yeah, we got that too!

  7. Kenn says:

    There’s nothing more valuable than engaging your audience. While I’ve never worked in your field, I can only imagine it’s tough to talk ‘at’ a camera. Regardless of career, it’s always rewarding to know that people are indeed listening and responding to what you do. I salute you, the all the 7 folks that are using social media to connect with us, the audience. It builds loyalty, it builds trust, and it humanizes the ‘man on the TV.’ Engagement… that’s the key to a successful news organization like 7.

  8. jamiefavreau says:

    I admit I was not sure why I was listed on the Backchannel. Now I get it!!

  9. Steve –

    I was listening to WNBY (AM 1470) as we were driving through Newberry the other day. The 930-1000a show was a call-in advertising show, with people from the eastern UP calling in to say that they needed a field of hay mowed or wanted 16 quarts of blueberries or had a small engine or an arc welder for sale. All very local and practical and something very clearly where the radio audience had some direct connection with the radio announcer.

    Hard to do call-in on television, but twitter makes a good channel for text. At some point you start to think “well of course, this should be the normal case,” and then wonder how the world of local television starts to change.

    • sclarkwxyz says:

      I worked in small-town radio when I first started. We did the funeral announcements every morning– and if we missed them somehow– I could be assured of being in the obituaries the next day. We also had a two-hour show called “tradio”… an on-air garage sale where people just called in to sell their junk. Cable has massively fractured the TV community and reduced revenue available for “local” TV. It’s caused us to become less local. Now the Internet is both forcing us– and allowing us to become more “local” again.

  10. […] us to a great block post from Stephen Clark, a newscaster for a local Detroit TV station, about his realization of how Twitter is changing the way he relates to the community of folks who watch the ne…: As I’ve reported in this blog before I have had a very long one-sided relationship with the […]

  11. […] us to a great block post from Stephen Clark, a newscaster for a local Detroit TV station, about his realization of how Twitter is changing the way he relates to the community of folks who watch the ne…: As I’ve reported in this blog before I have had a very long one-sided relationship with the […]

  12. […] more on this one moment, check out Stephen’s post on how the “air” silverfish hand catch […]

  13. […] and dear to my heart. We started off talking about local news anchor Stephen Clark’s “#backchannel” and if the media (in this case, a news anchor) can successfully manage a community. That led […]

  14. […] Days later, I noticed a twitter uproar. People tweeting and retweeting about a silver fish hand catch and Stephen Clark. After some nosing around I found a video of his newscast which meant nothing until I found this Old Spice video. Stephen tied it all together for me when he explained the event on his blog. […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s