Dispatches from the living amongst journalism's walking dead

Intro to Twitter for Journalists

(Updated June 2010)

How-Tos on Twitter

Tweet: A single Twitter message, the maximum length of which is 140 characters (so make them count).

Replying to/mentioning another Twitter user: When you include  @someonesname, it will send a public message to that user and show up in your outgoing tweets. This is also how you would address a Twitter user. Example: I spoke to @myboss today, he said I was fired. (To respond to others’ tweets on Twitter.com, hover your mouse over their message to see the reply option.)

Direct (private) messages: Use d theirname before your message to make it private. This will not show up on your public tweets. (To direct message from Twitter, hover their user icon and click on the gear to see the option or go to Direct Messages on the right side of the page.)

Re-tweeting (RT): If you see something on someone else’s Twitter feed you’d like to directly share with your followers, you can essentially “forward” their tweet to your readers by re-tweeting. (To re-tweet on Twitter’s site, hover your mouse over their message to see the re-tweet option.)

Hashtags: Sometimes on Twitter, you’ll see people use # before a word. This is called a hashtag and it is used to group tweets from lots of people relating to a certain topic or event. Use a hashtag if you happen to see one that is about a group or event you’re covering.

Starting a hashtag: If you spot a news event or hot topic on the horizon, try creating a hashtag of your own when tweeting about it. Make sure it has a # in front and is pretty short.

Tweeting links: Because you only have 140 characters to work with, you’ll want to shorten any links you put into your messages. Some applications do this for you (see below); otherwise you should shorten your link at tinyurl.com or bit.ly.

Posting photos: If you’re tweeting from a mobile application (see below), it should have a way to directly tweet images from your phone’s camera. There are desktop applications that make this a lot easier or you can upload and tweet a photo at Twitpic.

Posting your geographic location: Twitter has built-in geolocation tools you can enable if you’d like. This will include a location on a map with your tweet.

Posting from your computer: There are several applications available to tweet from your computer that are much easier to use than Twitter’s site. Check out Tweetdeck, Twhirl, Seesmic or HootSuite.

Posting from your cell phone: You can set up your Twitter account to accept tweets by text message by going to twitter.com/devices. You do this by going to Settings > Devices on your Twitter home page. Follow the directions there.

Posting from your Blackberry or iPhone: Smart phones have some nifty apps that help you tweet on the go – most include ways to easily tweet photos and GPS locators with your posts.  Check out your app store for an app that’s right for you.

Grouping Twitter contacts: Once you’re following more than a few people, it can get confusing and tiring to read the whole stream at once. Twitter has a grouping system called Lists that create narrower streams of info from select Twitterers.  You can create lists from the Twitter site or most desktop apps. Create specific lists for beat contacts, personal friends, stuff you read just for fun, etc.

Important Stuff to Remember (Ethics & Such)

  • Make sure you verify a fact before running with it (or even re-tweeting it). Think of Twitter as a tip generator, not a reporter.
  • Twitter followers will correct you when necessary – and they will quickly forgive mistakes so long as you admit to them quickly.
  • If you don’t know something, just say so.
  • Follow the Golden Rule with content. Don’t use anyone’s stuff without getting permission and giving credit.
  • The Internet is public and permanent. Everything you say – even what you think is private – can be found and documented. Act accordingly.
  • Furthermore, if you wouldn’t say it on air or in a story, don’t say it at all.
  • You don’t have to get a special Twitter account just for work. Many journalists (myself included) use one account to span both worlds. Not everyone is comfortable with that, so it’s your call.
  • Even if you have a separate Twitter account for work, keep your profession in mind. To the law (and to readers and sources) you are always a journalist in everything you do.

Finding Who to Follow

The best way to get people to follow you on Twitter is to follow the right people from the start. You don’t want to add too many people at once, as it makes it hard to follow (and might make you look like a spammer). Add a few people at a time, focusing first on adding beat sources, then moving to potential competitors, info feeds and influencers in the community.

It also doesn’t hurt to follow those who’ve replied to or re-tweeted you in the past.

Find local twitterers by location or subject: Twellow is a service that searches local people (or people anywhere, really) by their specialties and popularity on Twitter. Also try Wefollow, which let’s you find members by topic/interest area.

Follow other journalists: A great way to get started on follows is finding other journalists on Twitter. Look for people who share your beat, or even those who seem to have a Twitter presence you like, at Muckrack.com

Look at Lists: A great way to easily follow others and get started with lists is to subscribe to others’ public Twitter lists. If there’s someone you like on Twitter, see who they follow and their collected lists along the right side of their Twitter home page. See one you like? Subscribe to it or pick an individual account from their subscriptions to follow yourself.

Suggested follows:

Go to the address and click on “follow” to add them to start subscribing.

News organizations to follow on Twitter:

@cnnbrk @breakingnews @ColonelTribune @statesman

More good examples:

@johnfayman: A former pupil of mine, John is the Cincinnati Enquirer’s Reds’ beat writer. He’s a good example because he uses his account in many ways: live-tweeting games, leaving commentary, answering fan questions and re-tweeting links.

@thehyperfix: Chris Cilizza is the original live-tweeter, using this account for live coverage of press conferences. You can also follow his regular account @thefix.

More Info:

Twitter Signup and Account Setup

Data Mining Twitter (6/2010)

Making Twitter Work For Reporting (6/2010)

Need-to-Know Twitter Tips for Journalists (6/2010)

My own collection of suggested links about Twitter and social media for journalists is on Delicious.


Ruminations on the future of news


Twitterizing your staff

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