Ali Velshi: “Hairless Prophet of Doom” Turned Social Media Evangelist

Ali Velshi & I in the CNN Newsroom

Assignment Snapshot: Find a reporter who is enhancing their journalism through their use of social media. Explain why. Write a 500 word feature, including screen grabs of their social media activity. You may wish to conduct an original interview with your subject.

Ali Velshi doesn’t sleep.

No one will ever convince me otherwise. He’s the most curious person I’ve ever met. A REQUIREMENT for a journo. He has a brain that doesn’t stop working which made our professional marriage at CNN a successful one. When we fought, it could clear a room. When we innovated, it was something special. I’ve never wanted to strangle someone so much that I would walk through fire for.

We both live, breathe, eat and sleep what we do. It’s less about balance and more about passion because I can tell you, Ali is as equally devoted to his friends and family. If you are a friend of Ali’s you’re a friend for life. If you’re not a friend…well….

So why do I mention all this?  Because everything I just said about Ali is embodied in his social presence. I know a lot of great journalists who use social in different ways:  Ed Henry, Anderson Cooper, Adam Harding, Wolf Blitzer, Jack Gray. Evolving into the kind of reporter/correspondent that social media demands wasn’t work for Ali Velshi though — it was instinct. It just happened.

He’s always been that way-born in Kenya, raised in Toronto, got a degree in religion but then became the Hairless Prophet of Doom. Now you can find Ali on Al Jazeera America or in a book store or on Linked In  (His latest offering: State of Media: TV Journalism Is Sick. Here’s How To Cure It) or pretty much anywhere his consumer is.

So if you read my blog at all…you know I’m a fan of lists. In keeping with tradition, here are 6 perfect examples of how Ali Velshi is the quintessential Twitter Journalist-Evangelist:

1. When you are a journalist, the price of admission is breaking news. Ali is always on top of breaking news and capitalizes on reach by using the #BREAKING hashtag that aggregates such content:

2. If breaking news is the price of admission, engagement is the rent to stay. Ali always engages…even when someone disagrees. (Now as his former executive producer, I’m not gonna lie, there were a few gray hairs on this gal’s head because of some of his heated engagement!)

3. Share. The more you share the work of others, the more people will see you. The more people that see you, the more your work is read. The more your work is read, the more contacts AND support you have. The more contacts and support you have, the greater your chance of becoming an influencer.

4. Ali has embraced the concept of tagging and hash-tagging. The journalist in the social media age must embrace context, virality and the embracing of others. Anyone searching #Crime or #Chicago will see Ali’s tweet. He also tags the Chicago Police Department both calling attention to his work and reaching their audience.

5. The new journalist is also a self-promoter in an effort to become an Influencer. We just have to be. There is a lot of noise out there so putting yourself in front of people often and in interesting ways will continue to expose your stories. Ali could teach a masterclass in promotion. Here are two examples of promoting his television and his journalism. As you can see, he published his journalism straight to Linked In.

6. We have to have fun both when we tell our stories and all the spaces in between. My friend Ali personifies fun.



This week’s work examined the social media journalism of Alex Thomson. Whether he is covering a family reunion during tragedy or pushing vines of an Ebola-ridden country, his work is an extraordinary use of social media in storytelling. There are many ways in which this medium transformed the modern-day journalist.

Ali Velshi uses his social platforms as a way to extend his reach and engage and dialogue with his audience. He uses it for ideas and instant feedback and to take the temperature of those he serves. I know it has enhanced what he does. I have sat in editorial meetings with him when he brings the viewer voice straight to our table. I have watched from control rooms as he dialogues with the audience in real time. Ali isn’t just a working social journalist, he’s a social evangelist.

We had a little technical difficulty but the conversation picks up just a little after where we left off…

Special thanks to my dear friend and former colleague Ali Velshi for taking the time to talk with me. If you aren’t following him, you should. It’s never a dull moment with the hairless prophet of doom.

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