A frequent question I hear from journalists interested in learning Twitter overlaps with an excuse I hear from those resisting Twitter:
“No one cares what I have to say,” goes the excuse. “What should I tweet?” goes the question.
My answer: Tweet about what you’re working on. And if no one cares about what you’re working on, find better stories or find another line of work.
I continue my #twutorial series with some advice for journalists on how and what to tweet:
Converse with the community
Journalists do much of our work by conversing with the community. People suggest story ideas. We ask people we know to suggest sources for stories we are working on. We check in with sources to find out what’s going on. We interview people. People call in with tips. Twitter can and should become part of your conversation. It doesn’t replace all the other ways of talking with the community in person, on the phone and by email. It just becomes one more channel of conversation.
For instance, I wanted a broader sample of journalists’ tweets to use as examples for this post than the ones that I would remember on my own. So I asked my Twitter community for help:
#twutorial, interested in examples (tweeps to follow or illustrative tweets) of journos using Twitter effectively.
— Steve Buttry (@stevebuttry) August 3, 2012
#twutorial examples I’m seeking: crowdsourcing, sharing links, tweeting from news event, conversing w/ community, breaking news …
— Steve Buttry (@stevebuttry) August 3, 2012
I also asked for help earlier, and I cannot recall who called this tweet to my attention (identify yourself, please, and I will credit), a reporter introducing herself to the community:
— Ruxandra Guidi (@RuxandraGuidi) February 9, 2012
Conversation means listening as well as talking. Check your mentions frequently (second tab from the left at the top of Twitter’s home page; should be a separate column if you’re using TweetDeck or HootSuite and a tab on mobile apps, probably with the @ sign). Reply to questions from the community and thank those who are complimenting you or retweeting you:
— Wilmington Youth Lax (@WilmingtonLax) July 27, 2012
@wilmingtonlax Thanks for passing this along to your followers for me!
— Joyce Tsai (@JoyceTsaiSun) July 27, 2012
An earlier entry in the #twutorial category noted several ways that our Digital First colleagues at the Denver Post used Twitter effectively in covering the #theatershooting in Aurora, Colo.
I’m sure someone could do a similar study of how Milwaukee journalists use Twitter in covering Sunday’s #templeshooting. I’m not going to do that, but will pass along a sample of tweets from Sunday:
#templeshooting is “down” but authorities don’t know if there are more suspects in Oak Creek incident.
— Oak Creek Patch (@OakCreekPatch) August 5, 2012
I just got a chill. Official briefing says seven deceased. Reports of multiple gunmen, have not been confirmed.
— Duane Dudek (@TheDudekAbides) August 5, 2012
ATF agents working on tracing the gun(s) use in the
#Templeshooting, sources tell us.
— john diedrich (@john_diedrich) August 5, 2012
#sikhtemple Head priest locked inside bathroom with cell phone as an estimated 20 to 30 victims in temple. Ambulances waiting
— Karen Herzog (@HerzogJS) August 5, 2012
Investigators believe there was only one shooter, but “this is still an active scene” and SWAT teams still inside after
— Dan O’Donnell (@DanODwtmj) August 5, 2012
This next tweet makes an excellent point about tweeting breaking news: If you’re covering a story that involves a hostage situation, a fugitive or another situation where a criminal suspect could see your tweets, be careful about tweeting too specifically about police actions:
Police asking media not to broadcast pictures or video of tactical units getting into position
— Oak Creek Patch (@OakCreekPatch) August 5, 2012
Beyond the journalists, I recommend reading the tweets of John Schneider, a scanner junkie who may have tweeted the first report of the shooting.
Report of Officer down in Oak Creek. Active shooter. — John Schneider (@mkescan) August 5, 2012
For another great example of breaking news coverage, check Brian Stelter’s tweets about the Joplin tornado:
The tornado had picked up the pick-up, compacted it, carried it out of the hospital parking lot, and placed it nearly a block away… — Brian Stelter (@brianstelter) May 24, 2011
Twisted wreckage in. grass. Appears plane hit hydro pole on way down. — Dave Dutton (@DaveDutton) December 15, 2011
Jen Connic recommends weather blogger Stephen Stirling as a good example of tweeting about breaking news:
A severe thunderstorm is heading into Cumberland and Salem counties. Could produce quarter-sized hail, 60 mph winds. — Stephen Stirling (@SStirling) August 3, 2012
Tweet the unfolding story
I occasionally hear of newsrooms with formal or informal policies (for instance, it’s the AP’s policy) that say reporters shouldn’t break news on Twitter before they have reported the news on their website (or the wire, in AP’s case). I regard such policies as foolish. You can tweet faster than you can post to the website or the wire, so Twitter is where you can break the news the fastest. (And, when our Social Media Wire rolls out across Digital First Media sites, we’ll be breaking simultaneously on Twitter and our website, making the point moot.)
Livetweeting a routine breaking cop story can make a brief but newsy and compelling narrative as Lanz Christian Bañes of timesheraldonline.com and the Vallejo Times-Herald showed in this story from last weekend:
Got some info from police about the shooting. Three injured (foot, arm and arm). Might be gang-related. Story soon. — Lanz Christian Bañes (@LanzTimesH) August 5, 2012
I’m not sure at what point Bañes had enough for a story, but tweeting as the story unfolded was exactly the right approach. It would be fine for someone in the newsroom to create an article with about a paragraph or two of introduction, saying that Bañes was on the scene of a reported shooting, and then feed in the tweets. But you really didn’t have a story to report yet. You knew something was going down and he reported as it happened and Twitter was an ideal format for that reporting, even if he didn’t yet have a link to promote.
Note how he tweeted just what he knew, tweeted what he could see without speculating beyond the “possible shooting,” which presumably came from the police scanner or an officer at the scene.
If you are livetweeting an event or a breaking news story, including a link in every tweet will annoy your tweeps. But occasional links in the stream of tweets will be seen as helpful. I like how Brian Indrelunas of mydesert.com and the Desert Sun notes in these tweets that the story is continuing to unfold:
— Brian Indrelunas (@BriNews) July 31, 2012
Here’s what we know so far on what sounds like police chase in Palm Desert: by.BriNe.ws/OJalMX Still awaiting info from spokesman.
— Brian Indrelunas (@BriNews) August 2, 2012
If you do that, be sure to tweet the update, as Indrelunas did (thanks to Stefan Arnold for recommending Indrelunas as a journalist using Twitter well):
— Brian Indrelunas (@BriNews) August 2, 2012
I’ve done a separate post on suggestions for livetweeting, so I won’t repeat them here, but livetweeting should absolutely be part of the Twitter routine for reporters covering events and breaking news. Matthew B. Mowery, Detroit Tigers beat writer for theoaklandpress.com and the Oakland Press, does a nice job of livetweeting games and post-game press conferences. A few samples from his dozens of tweets covering Saturday’s game, a pitching gem by Doug Fister:
Fifteen up, fifteen down. — Matthew B. Mowery (@matthewbmowery) August 5, 2012
And there it is. Ezequiel Carrera triples over Austin Jackson’s head. Fister’s perfect game attempt, no-hitter over with two-outs in the 6th — Matthew B. Mowery (@matthewbmowery) August 5, 2012
I’ve also blogged about livetweeting trials and high school football games. If you’re covering a routine meeting of a city council, school board, county commission or state legislature, you should livetweet it.
Mayor Huerta decides to postpone decision to terminate contract with Chief Sills until a new city manager is hired — Claudia Meléndez (@MelendezSalinas) July 25, 2012
Virtually any event worth a reporter’s time is worth livetweeting, whether that’s a constant stream that captures the full flavor and detail of the event or occasional tweets that reflect the highlights. One of the most creative examples of livetweeting was Jeff Jarvis’ tweets on the 9/11 anniversary, livetweeting that horrific day 10 years later.
I was on my way into work now, driving to Jersey City and the (last) PATH train to the World Trade Center. #911 — Jeff Jarvis (@jeffjarvis) September 11, 2011
Crowdsourcing sometimes works better from your newsroom’s branded account, because it may have more followers:
On the other hand, people sometimes respond better to a person than to a brand. It’s a good idea to crowdsource from both personal and branded accounts (and from Facebook as well as Twitter).
You can crowdsource to seek answers to questions from the community. These tweets show how journalists can join the community conversation:
@oakcreekpatch We are planning one of our own at Cathedral Square at 8pm tonight in downtown Milwaukee if you could help spread the word.
— Steffi5461 (@Steffi5461) August 5, 2012
Use Twitter to connect with people in the community who know something about the stories and issues you cover:
Anyone willing to talk to me about their experience at the
@mnfoodtruckfair. E-mail me your number at firstname.lastname@example.org
— Megan Boldt (@meganboldt) August 5, 2012
Andy Carvin is one of the best at crowdsourcing on Twitter. This tweet drew heavy response and ultimately helped him and his tweeps debunk speculation that Libyan insurgents were using Israeli munitions:
— Andy Carvin (@acarvin) March 12, 2011
Tweet interesting stuff
Journalists should be fun and interesting to follow. Not every tweet needs to be part of actual news coverage. Maybe you just tweet about an interesting story you’re working on (teasing a story hours or days before you can tweet a link to the finished product:
Wrapped an interview w/ artist Belle Yang & her father in the family’s amazing living room. Full of art w/ a grand view of Carmel Valley.
— Marcos Cabrera (@MarcosACabrera) July 30, 2012
Maybe you note upcoming news events and stories:
St. Paul, a year into its three-year plan to raise achievement, is hosting a press briefing on the test scores tomorrow afternoon.
— Mila Koumpilova (@MilaPiPress) July 30, 2012
Maybe you tweet some tidbits from the day’s news:
The practice highlight of the day, according to Gary Andersen? Walk-on kicker Brock Warren made all of his field goal attempts
— Tony Jones (@TonyAggieville) August 5, 2012
You may want to save your best photos for your website and tweet links to them. But a routine photo from an event you’re covering makes a good tweet:
— Karen Robes Meeks (@KarenMeeksPT) August 3, 2012
Greylock arts on Summer St. in Adams having opening tonight till 8:30pm. twitter.com/NAT_DigitalJil…
— Gillian Jones (@NAT_DigitalJill) July 20, 2012
The ability to tweet links blows away the argument that the 140-character limit makes Twitter too short and shallow for reporters to use. Every long, thoughtful, nuanced story you write can be covered in a shortened link that takes tweeps to the full story. Use a service such as bitly if you want to track how people use your links. But Twitter shortens the link automatically if you want to just cut and paste links into a tweet.
Terry Casey, until recently the engagement editor at the Times Herald in Norristown, Pa., sent me a great example of a reporter, Carl Hessler of The Mercury in Pottstown, Pa., telling a story as he tweeted a link:
— Carl Hessler Jr. (@MontcoCourtNews) March 16, 2012
“Instead of tweeting the headline and the link, he told a great story in fewer than 140 characters (139, but still counts) AND included a short link to the article online,” Terry said in an email to colleagues at the Times Herald.
Hessler didn’t take the easy way of just tweeting the headline with his link. He found a moment in the story, crystallized that into a tweet and added a link.
Tweeting a headline with a link is better than not tweeting the link, but headlines are headlines and tweets are tweets. Don’t complain about Twitter’s 140-character limit if you’re tweeting headlines that only use up about half the limit, if that. Use some of that extra space to be more conversational, to entice an intrigue me into clicking that link. Like this tweet (Stefan Arnold also recommended Kate McGinty’s tweets):
Man robs liquor store with an iPhone app. Yup. You read that correctly:bit.ly/OxMP4s
— Kate McGinty (@TDSKateM) August 3, 2012
Another thing I like about this tweet is that the reporter is not promoting her own story. Yes, you should promote your own stories with the competition, but you also should share interesting stories you read from other sources (including the competition).
Here’s another example of sharing a link from another source (and an example of retweeting; when colleagues or people in your community say interesting things or share interesting links, retweeting them is a good part of the Twitter conversation):
— George Kelly (@allaboutgeorge) August 2, 2012
Sometimes you can summarize the story a bit better and more conversationally than a headline does:
Alleged drunken driver takes out a pole in Lowell, flees the scene, and ends up in handcuffs. Pictures here. blogs.lowellsun.com/policeline/201…
— Robert Mills (@Robert_Mills) August 5, 2012
Journo conversation, etc.
I’ve focused here on the work-related conversation with the community, but I’ll give brief mention to two other valid uses of Twitter by journalists:
- Journalists are having lots of conversations among ourselves on Twitter. I encourage that, whether it’s fun conversations such as #copyeditorbands, debates about journalism issues, asking colleagues for suggestions or scheduled journalism chats such as #wjchat or #dfmchat.
- I have blogged before about being personable and professional on Twitter. I encourage some tweets that show your personality, just as you use some humor with sources and chat with them about sports, family and other interests.
I also am not going to elaborate here the issue of expressing opinions on Twitter, which I’ve written about before. You and your editor should discuss whether opinions are appropriate in your Twitter use. The answer will vary depending on the assignment and the editor.
But understand that even if it’s not appropriate for you to express opinions, you should show some of yourself in your professional use of Twitter:
Theater shooting: Alex Sullivan’s life framed in touching memories. (crying and thinking of my own brother)denverpost.com/news/ci_211598…
— Mahala Gaylord (@mahalagaylord) July 26, 2012
A great unrelated example
When I crowdsourced my search for examples for this blog post, Kathy Vey of OpenFile tweeted an example of how useful Twitter can be for finding sources in breaking stories. That’s not exactly the topic of this post, but the example (especially the second link, a Reddit compilation of sources on a breaking story) is too good not to share:
— Kathy Vey (@kvey) August 3, 2012
Seeking your tips
My probable topic for next week will be finding people to follow in the community and building your Twitter community. If you have advice, please share it in the comments here or on Twitter using #twutorial.