Word on the Street

Personal essays from a young journalist in the Sunshine State.

Tag: Twitter

Teaching Twitter to journalists, hoping to make an impact

Today I taught in a Poynter seminar for news anchors. As I was getting situated in the classroom before everyone else had arrived, I wondered if I had what it took to teach such an experienced group of journalists. But as the anchors entered the room, it became clear that I had little to worry about. They greeted me with their big TV-personality smiles and seemed eager for the session to start.

No need to feel intimidated anymore. I know this stuff. No need to worry, I told myself.

I had 10 main social media tips I wanted to teach, but I only got through about four of them. The last time I taught this session to a group of news editors last month, I got through all 10 tips. The difference in the two groups reminded me that when teaching, you sometimes need to modify your lesson plan to fit the personalities and needs of the people you’re teaching. You need to meet them where they are, and hope they’ll trust you enough to let you lead them out of their comfort zone.

I think they trusted me.

To gauge their familiarity with Twitter, I asked the anchors how familiar they were with the site. A few of them were regularly tweeting, while others were on Twitter but hadn’t used it in months. Some weren’t on Twitter at all and hesitated to join. I realized early on that I’d have to turn my more advanced social media presentation into a Twitter 101 crash course. By the end of the session, everyone learned how to create Twitter lists, and search for sources and ideas on Twitter. And everyone who wasn’t already on Twitter created an account. (Score!)

Teaching the anchors reminded me how much I value face-to-face interactions. Because I interview journalists nationwide, I hardly ever interview people in person. And all of the freelancers I work with are spread around the country, so we talk via email or phone. Teaching journalists in person makes it easier for me to quickly form connections with them. After I taught, I got to coach some of the anchors 1:1. We mostly talked about Facebook and Twitter, but we also cracked jokes and talked about our personal lives and interests.

I hope to have more opportunities to teach in the future. Even if I help just a couple of journalists in each seminar, I can feel confident in knowing I’ve made an impact.

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Why Twitter Matters to Journalism

A University of Tampa student recently asked for my input regarding the use of Twitter in the journalism world. She reached out to me for comment, but didn’t end up writing the story.  So, for what it’s worth, I’m posting her questions and my answers here. Feel free to disagree with, or expand on, my points. You can follow me on Twitter @MallaryTenore.

1. What do you think are the main advantages of using Twitter to report news?

Dissemination of news. I use Twitter in place of an RSS reader because I find it to be a quality tool for assembling news. Twitter is a great resource for reporters because it is a way to stay on top of breaking news, solicit feedback and cultivate sources. Some reporters I know, for instance, will pose a reporting-related question to people on Twitter in hopes that they can get a lead or a source from it. Twitter is also great because it allows for a diversity of voices. Depending on who you’re following, you can get a wide variety of news that you might not otherwise find out about if you’re just looking at the same Web sites every day.

2. What are the disadvantages, and what changes would you like to see made?

I think that while Twitter can be extremely beneficial in the reporting process, it can also give us “an easy way out.” Reporters, for instance, may just turn to Twitter as a resource and then stop that. When it comes to finding sources, Twitter is a good starting point. The real reporting comes afterward, in the follow-up phone calls and interviews that result from what the reporter found out on Twitter. Another disadvantage is that sometimes the silly language of Twitter — tweet, twoosh, twitteria — can give people the wrong impression of the site and lead them to believe that it shouldn’t be taken seriously as a tool for journalists. Another disadvantage is that many people think that just because they can use Twitter, they should. It’s just like any other medium; sometimes it works better for certain stories than others. (Example: Rocky Mountain News journalist tweeting a funeral.)

Twitter.com

Twitter.com

3. Do you believe Twitter has enhanced or diminished the quality of journalism?

I wouldn’t say that Twitter has necessarily enhanced the quality of journalism, but I would say it has enhanced the ways that journalists are able to communicate information and the speed at which they can communicate it. Now journalists can tweet during court hearings and sports games (depending on restrictions), and other live events. Twitter can make news seem more immediate and more personal, especially when reporters build a big base of followers and then use their voice and storytelling style to connect with them. Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times does a good job of this.

4. Is this trend on the rise or flaming out?

I would say that in the past year or so, Twitter has become increasingly popular, especially among younger and mobile Internet users. When I first wrote about Twitter back in September 2007, very few news organizations were using it, and I got a lot of comments from readers who said they thought the site was dumb, irrelevant and “ridiculous.” Now, people seem to embrace it. Facebook is even copying many of Twitter’s features. Now, for instance, you can @reply someone in a Facebook status update. Will Twitter continue to thrive as a leading social media platform moving forward? Probably. But I have no doubt that other sites like it will soon emerge.

Helpful Twitter resources from Poynter.org (@poynter), the site I write/edit for:

Related Poynter/News University (@NewsUniversity) resources:

What should I add to this blog entry? How are you using Twitter as a journalist?

Sites That Help You Build, Learn More About Your Twitter Community

There are lots of neat sites to help you familiarize yourself with, and build, your Twitter community.

Here are a couple that come to mind:

Twellow — White Pages for Twitter

TweetDeck, Twhirl and Twitterfall — Desktop applications for Twitter

Qwitter — Site that lets you know whenever someone stops following you. The site seems to pride itself on “Catching Twitter quitters.” Sneaky!

Search.twitter.com — A Twitter search engine

Twittersheep — Characterizes your “flock” of followers using keywords

I experimented with Twittersheep and found that words such as “journalist,” “media” and “reporter” best describe my Twitter followers. No surprise there! You can find me on Twitter @mallarytenore.

Screengrab of my "Twitter flock"

Screengrab of my "Twitter flock"

Twitter Tatoos — The Next Big Thing?

So here’s a guy who wants to start tattooing his forearm with different people’s Twitter names. People interested in having their names tattooed on his arm can place a bid to @drew on Twitter, using the hashtag #twittertattoo. Proceeds go to the Make-A-Wish foundation. Thanks to @mashable for the tip.

I wonder if people are going to start getting 140-character tatoos now, and how many people already have them …

In Need of a Lede? Tweet about It

It all started with a Tweet.

I was at work, struggling to come up with a lede for one of my short stories about an art fair. My editor happened to be away from his desk so, in need of some inspiration, I Tweeted: “Having one of those ‘ugh, I just need to write this lede and then I can sail through this story’ type of moments.” I got five responses, including one from Steve Buttry, the editor of The (Cedar Rapids, Iowa) Gazette. He Tweeted me a link to a handout he put together for a writing workshop in 2002. The handout is a wonderful resource for those who need some inspiration or a reminder about what works, and doesn’t work, in ledes. I especially like the following tips:

1.) Avoid the blank screen.

2.) Identify the emotion.

3.) Tell your story in three words.

4.) Challenge prepositions and conjunctions.

5.) Punch quickly.

6.) Tell someone about your story.

After reading Buttry’s handout, I eventually came up with a lede. I find that writing ledes is often the most difficult part about telling stories. I often spend more time than I need to crafting a lede, which prevents me from delving into the actual story. Maybe sometimes it’s better to just write the rest of the story and then let the lede write itself.

Amy Gahran, editor of The Poynter Institute’s E-Media Tidbits, suggested as much in her response to my Tweet. “I find I write my best ledes when I leave them for last,” she Tweeted. “YMMV, of course.” (YYMV stands for “your method may vary.” When you only have 140 characters to express your thoughts, you start to learn all sorts of acronyms.) Normally, this method doesn’t work for me, but I tried it out on the art fair story and found it to be successful. What method works best for you when writing ledes?

Still scratching your head, wondering what a Tweet is? I wrote some articles about Twitter last year that may be of help:

“Newsies Twittering on Twitter” and “Experimenting with Twitter: How Newsrooms Are Using It to Reach More Users.”