The Mercury Uses Pinterest for Public Good
Posted: 3/19/2013  |  By: Nu Yang
Pinterest is a content sharing service that allows members to pin images and videos to virtual pinboards. Launched in 2010, Pinterest’s pages are typically filled with hairstyles, fashion tips, and cooking recipes, but The Mercury in Pottstown, Pa., is using the social media site for the public good.

The daily newspaper currently has 38 active boards on its Pinterest page (pinterest.com/themercury), including one called Wanted by Police, which features a gallery of mugshots provided by local police.

According to community engagement editor Diane Hoffman, the board was created by a former police reporter in July 2012 as a way to “get the word out about who the police wanted.”

Hoffman said feedback was positive, and readers left comments providing tips on mugshots pinned to the page. Pottstown Police Capt. F. Richard Drumheller told NPR in December that the department saw a 57 percent increase in warrant services.

The paper’s current police reporter, Caroline Sweeney, is tasked with uploading the photos and information provided by the police department. Offenses range from fraud to attempted murder.

“It’s opened up a new dimension of communication between the police and the newspaper,” Hoffman said, adding that the police are “pretty anxious” to pass along the information. By having the Mercury handle the gallery, she said it saves the police department time. The page is updated as each new photo and information is given out.

Mercury online editor Eileen Faust said a newspaper’s website can change a lot, from layouts to links. With Pinterest, she said there are no changes to the platform, and Pinterest is more graphic-friendly, allowing images to open up to a larger view, even on mobile devices.

Even though the mugshots also appear in print, Hoffman said posting the photos to a popular social media avenue such as Pinterest is more engaging for readers and allows them to become part of the process.

“It gives them the ability to comment and be aware of the information in one easy-to-read format,” she said.

Faust said one reason the Pinterest page may be so successful is that readers are more comfortable communicating via social media. Rather than making a phone call, readers are more inclined to leave a tip in a comment. She said police officers, along with the newspaper staff, follow up on any tips left on the page.

Both Hoffman and Faust said one of the lessons they have learned is to make sure the page is updated regularly with the status of a person being sought by police.

“Once a person is caught and in custody, we make note of it, or if that person is cleared, we post an update,” Hoffman said.

Since its launch, the Wanted by Police board has expanded into a regional effort with collaborations from nearby newspapers. When asked if she sees social media becoming a more popular reporting tool, Hoffman’s response was, “I don’t see how it couldn’t.”

Without the Pinterest board, Hoffman said all of those arrests wouldn’t have been possible.