Twitter Journalism: limit shortfalls and master best practices

Young and upcoming journalist, are you on Twitter? If not, its probably time you were. You don’t understand a thing about the micro-blogging medium, you think it’s useless, dangerous and a waste of time… Think twice. And start tweeting! From Barack Obama to the guy-next-door, more than 100 million people around the world log in to Twitter monthly. Among them, thousands of journalists and their news outlet. Some tweet and re-tweet more than others. What exactly are they tweeting about? How are they using the social media? What are some of the best practices out there and how does one avoid Twitter’s shortfalls? How can a tweet become a reliable information?

If at this point you’re still doubtful about using Twitter straight away or in your future journalist career, it’s worth reading and following a selection of the best articles and blogs on Twitter journalism. Whilst we explore some of the best practices suggested in this literature, tested and experienced by tweeting journalists, we’ll also highlight some of the downfalls of the trendy social media. And tips to avoid them and turn your Twitter account into a precious journalistic tool.

Revolutionary distribution

For many journalists, Twitter is, first and foremost, an unprecedented large-scale content distribution tool. The mainstream media and the smaller ones too, have all their official Twitter accounts; @BBCNews, @nytimes, @Reuters, @NZZonline@RSRinfo, @franceinfo and many more across the world. Beside such main accounts, they also have multiple accounts divided into categories. Most of them use their brand name or logo for identification and authentification. And what they do there is very similar to their RSS practices but its faster and reaches many more people. They tease upcoming stories, send headlines and breaking news.

Individual journalists, when they, and the media they work for, are clearly identified, do exactly the same thing. Plus they live blog about newsworthy events as they’re unfolding (for instance the recent election of the Swiss federal cabinet). Hence the need to master hashtags. They also share their intial thoughts, analysis and findings on a story they or their colleagues have been investigating. They re-tweet content they find interesting. Media companies (such as the Boston Globe) are investing time to monitor how all these accounts (institutional and individual) are used and followed. Applications have been created to master tweets’ best timing (WhenToTweet, Tweriod, TweetWhen, TweetReports and TweetStats). But many believe Twitter can be more, much more, than just a news platform or a news amplifier.

Enhanced reporting

Twitter enhances reporting, creates new means, ways to find information, engage with your audience, build your personal brand. Twitter has created a paradigm shift in the realm of news gathering. A shift that sets many challenges to journalism ethics. But we do have tools, habits and traditions to tackle and resolve them in an efficient and coherent manner. And to get a first glimpse at how Twitter can help your reporting:

As seen in this video, the micro-blogging medium allows you to find first of all contacts. Twitter is all about who you follow and who follows you. Choose with the utmost care who you follow. Most journalists go for the regular newsmakers, public figures, authoritative ones, experts in specific domains, people that have an interesting take on themes you cover. But Twitter allows you to broaden your contacts and create different communities, such as, for example, people living in your city or in your neighborhood. It all depends on your beat and area of interests. Curate these contacts, and create lists. Twitter can also be a valuable source of information. If, for the sake of this argument, you ignore the conversations the people you follow are having, Twitter also points to trending topics in your part of the world. Trendsmap too! Remember where the Hudson River crash news broke first or the one on Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s arrest? On Twitter.


Tweets are quicker than traditional media. Most of their main 2011 stories made the headlines. As a journalist, your main concern will be to source that information. Make sure it’s a accurate information. You need to verify, track down, triangulate. Just like they’ve always thought you in journalism school. Andy Carvin, NPR’s Senior Strategist best know for his ultra-professional coverage of the Arab twittosphere during the risings, has more in this interview:

There’s a lot of dross, hoaxes, rumours and spams flying on Twitter. Stick to your best journalist practices. And use Tweet Deck, or twhirl to monitor, organize, aggregate all this fast-moving information.

Engage audiences

That’s not all! Twitter brings today’s revolutionized relation between journalists and audiences to a new dimension. Once your lists and other cummunities are properly curated, engage with your followers: crowdsource your information, start conversations or seek targeted feedback. Listen to what your community is talking about. And answer questions adressed to you, reply to general and personal remarks, suggestions. Barriers are down, no more ivory tower. This augmented relation can lead to story ideas and reliable sources of credible information. And, what is fare from negligeable today, a stronger personal brand.

Many mainstream media companies, that intensely engage with Twitter, have revised their ethical codes of conduct according to their staffs’ new practices (this evolution appears to be slower in continental Europe). They make for a compelling and essential reading to all who want to become tweeting journalists. Main advice: always uphold your basic journalistic standards. Think, before you tweet or re-tweet. Stick to accurate facts. Avoid buzz and noise, there’s already plenty of it. Make sure you have two separate accounts, a personnal one and a professional one where you avoid voicing your opinions. In both accounts, use your journalist’s common sense. It’s always better to respect your workplace and colleagues.

It appears Twitter itself is moving towards a news wire service. Traditional media will have to monitor this latest move carefully. What do you think? Is this the right way forward for Twitter? What are some of checks and balances such a system would need?


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  1. Please Stop Sharing: A Tweet (Or More) Too Far – « Ye Olde Soapbox
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