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Manning the anchor desk on Facebook - Metro US

Manning the anchor desk on Facebook

Ray Heard — a silver-haired surfer who can “still hang 10 on a Hobie dating back to Frankie Avalon” — just might be Facebook’s un-official news director, thanks to his daily stream of news links for more than 600 friends, many of whom are big names in Canadian politics and news.

Even though it’s been more than 20 years since the septuagenarian stepped into a newsroom, his hard news sense now transmits in his status feed.

“I post provocative stuff,” he says of his opinionated news shares. “I never say I’m taking a walk with my dog.”

So what exactly makes this veteran newsman Facebook gerontocracy?

For one, his experience. Peter C. Newman calls him a “power broker,” and a quick glance at the Facebook info backs the label. Born and raised in South Africa when apartheid was at its worst, Heard cut his teeth as a London Observer reporter covering the White House. “I was in Selma (Alabama), for the assassination of Martin Luther King, I was with Robert Kennedy when he was shot, and of course, I covered Watergate.”

After heading the Global news department in the 1980s, he went into politics as John Turner’s communications director — hence his Liberal slant, eventually settling into corporate communications where he consulted everyone from Royal Bank CEOs to Izzy Asper.

For friends that include Maclean’s Andrew Coyne and Zoomer’s Moses Znaimer, he shares links with a healthy dose of opinion. “This is the biggest ecological disaster, ever,” reads one update from last week linking to a Huffington Post story on the Gulf oil leak. “Yet, it’s still a sidebar in our mainstream media.”

Heard thinks his news shares correspond with newspapers’ current “transitional period.” While online news sites struggle to involve readers in a “participatory” news cycle, social network sites like Facebook and Twitter fill the gap, spinning out the news as social objects to be shared.

“Whether we like it or not, everything’s gone viral. Look at the oil spill in the gulf — you can find out more about that on YouTube,” he says, commending online news sites like the Daily Beast and Huffington Post for its relentless coverage.

“Hard news is still what’s gonna sell, whether it’s newspapers or (on the) iPad.”

The only challenge, he cedes, is “getting people to buy online what we call a newspaper.”

Rea McNamara writes about the on/offline statuses of niches and subcultures. Follow her on Twitter @reeraw.

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