FOR as long as I can remember, those of us in the newspaper business have agonised over how to engage young people.

There's an interesting take on the subject by Patrick Smith on The Media Briefing website - - in which he argues that social publishing has to be part of the answer.

I've reached the conclusion that anyone in our industry who isn't using social media is missing a very big trick.

Indeed, I'd go as far as to say that a key factor in my recruitment and promotion decisions from now on will be an applicant's knowledge and experience of social media.

For news editors and reporters especially, I'd want to see evidence that they'd built a following and had used it effectively.

Twitter and Facebook are now central to what we do. They generate stories, build relationships with readers - young ones in particular - promote the paper and drive traffic to the website. They are even throwing up successful advertising leads.

It's not about deserting print - it's about supporting and complementing print.

Our front page lead today is about a Darlington car crash which ended in a fireball rescue by passing motorists. It's a great story, enriched by a Twitter appeal, which produced key eye-witness accounts.

A couple of weeks ago, we had a bus driver slicing his top deck off by trying to squeeze under a bridge in Darlington, injuring youngsters on their way to college.

Twitter feedback again improved our coverage of a major local story because young people are following us in a way that could never have happened before.

Like a lot of journalists who've been around the block a few times, I was a cynic. But now I'm a convert because I see the benefits every day.

I'd wager a lot of money that we now sell more papers on some days by using Twitter to promote content than we do by sticking bills outside shops - many of which are a waste of time because newsagents can't be bothered to keep them up to date.

Twitter is the modern newspaper bill - quicker, cheaper, and often more effective. I tweeted a 2 for 1 fish & chips offer that was coming up in the paper and it got more retweets than there was cod to go round.

I see journalists and editors turning their noses up at the word Twitter and saying: "I don't have time to Tweet."

It's a lame excuse. A tweet takes seconds, it's easy and it saves time. It's now part and parcel of the job and it's paying dividends.