Friday, October 12, 2012

Twitter for journalists

A researcher at the University of Colorado recently contacted me for a study he's conducting about journalists and Twitter. Instead of following his directions like a good girl and calling him for an interview, I decided instead to post my thoughts on his questions here: 

When did you start using Twitter?
About 3,000 tweets ago. I think the tweet-to-year ratio works out to equal five or six or seven years. Turns out there is no easy way to go back to the beginning of your tweets. I would like to think I was the first journalist to ever use Twitter. Feel free to spread that rumor to make me look amazing, although I have no proof whatsoever. 

Shameless plug: Follow me on Twitter @Aimeemay and Facebook @Boulderandbeautiful. 

How are you using Twitter?
I use it for a variety of reasons: to connect with the community, get story ideas, share stories, share photos/glimpses of the community, be a human face on the other end of the pen, look for trends, ask questions. 

How did you produce a story before Twitter? After Twitter?
The main way that Twitter has changed reporting is the ability to live-tweet. 
This is from a recent live-tweeting/photo slideshow I did at the Voodoo Island 1940s Tiki party. 
(Click on the images to enlarge them.) 

I often check in when I arrive on the scene of a story (via Foursquare or not), and I also often tweet behind-the-scene photos of the story being reported. 

Sometimes when I don't have the time/resources to write a full story, I just tweet it, like this: 

I also have several recurring Twitter themes that I like to tweet, such as "As Seen" pictures of things and people in the community. This works especially well with fashion reporting. 

I also regularly report where I am remotely working, to show my community presence, as well as invite people to come say hi. Community engagement and connection is one main reason I use Twitter. 

In addition, I use Twitter to:
Repost pictures from the features community advisory board and other submitted pics of news events. 

Tease upcoming stories. 

And do regular twittery things, such as retweet, post links to interesting articles, ask questions, make announcements and provide generally meaningless yet hopefully <wishful thinking> amusing dialogue about whatever I am up to. I do include some personal information on my Twitter stream, such as the occasional photo of my daughter, which I feel is appropriate if it ties in somehow with an upcoming or previous column.  

I am not afraid of being a human, and I think that is obvious in what I post. I currently have more than 620 followers, which is not bad for a local journalist, although my goal is 9.3 million. 

All of these elements tie in to how I report and how I think about the reporting process. 

Do stories initiate from the Twitter social media platform?
Occasionally, but more seem to come from Facebook. 
For example, we are covering this "Beerasana" (beer + yoga) event in a few weeks. 

And we learned about this huge water line break via pictures on Facebook. 

Here is a story idea I got from Facebook, during an outbreak of fires in our mountains: 
"Some Boulder residents fall to their knees, yoga mats praying for rain."

On Facebook, I am a member of a variety of community groups where I get story ideas, like the Longmont Area Moms Network. 
I would estimate several stories per month come directly from Facebook. 
I can only think of a handful of stories that have come from Twitter. 

Could you describe the process of how you verify facts gathered from Twitter?
I always go straight to the source if it's for a story idea via Twitter or Facebook or even just Pinterest. The same ethical and professional standards apply, of course.

How factual have you found the tweets from your followers? From who you’re following?
I follow a lot of news sites, so I trust their info. There's another argument for why journalism will never "go out of business." 

Do you interact with your followers online or offline?
Yes, both. See above. I try to always respond to Twitter messages. I also make it a point to work in the community and announce it, either formally in the paper or informally online, once a week. I also do one workout of the week every week, which brings me directly into the fitness clubs. If possible, I always prefer to do interviews in person.  You learn a lot more that way, and it's way more fun.

Do you see your social media followers as sources?Of course. Everyone who you pass virtually or physically contains a well of information that could enhance your job in some way. The trick is putting the puzzle pieces together. 

Do you ask questions or queries for help on Twitter?Yes, regularly. I also see nothing wrong with asking followers if they know someone who might be a good person to interview for a story. That's called collaboration, and any journalist who is against that is working for their ego, not for the readers. I see myself as a member of this community, not something higher and mightier. 

What typically happens when you pose a question to your followers?
I get a few responses on Twitter. Facebook is always much more successful. 
Here is a recent example of the dialogue I see:

What are you being for Halloween? What are the best costume ideas this year? I'm writing a story.
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