Five Ways to Gather and Report News with Twitter

    by Ryan Sholin
    August 3, 2008

    I read Chris O’Brien’s IdeaLab post about the latest Twitterquake and the 10 (so far) comments with a great deal of interest.

    After all, ReportingOn borrows a great deal from Twitter, and I’ve been writing about the exponentially growing micro-blogging service for around a year now.

    I can’t help but notice that a commenter or two seem to think that anyone actually takes is seriously when Twitter asks its base question of “What are you doing?”


    This is what makes it easy for those who haven’t sipped from the Tweetstream to write it off as crap for tweens.

    Actually, that’s the first time I’ve ever heard anyone call it that, but you get the idea.

    So without further prologue, here are five ways to gather and report news with Twitter:

    1. The low-hanging fruit: Tweet your headlines. Use Twitterfeed to push RSS to Twitter. Breaking news is best, but feeds from niche sections are best. Bonus points: Skip the feed and add tweets by hand when there’s an interesting comment thread, a poll, a video — something special to alert on with a well-crafted tease.
    2. Dr. Obvious: Live-tweet an event. First of all, stop thinking about Twitter as a place on the Web, and start thinking about it as a platform for publishing. Use services like Flickr, Utterz, or a variety of mobile Twitter clients to publish audio and photos in your stream along with text updates. Embed a widget on your home page or the relevant event package page, or republish the RSS feed in any format that makes sense for your site. Getting this set up during a fun event (think: state fair) will make it easier to run in a hard news situation (think: election night). Bonus points: Use Twitter as an easy way to report late high school football scores on a Friday night. Interview the coach with your phone straight to an audio-to-Twitter service for a near-live broadcast after the game.
    3. Birds of a feather: Gather intelligence from the crowd. Use hashtags for upcoming events or ongoing issues and encourage readers who tweet to use those tags. Embed the feed from the tag on the event package page on your site. This works with reviews and local businesses, too. Bonus points:
    4. Data mining: Find the sources in the noise. Follow keywords (think: names of local politicians, cops, and business owners) related to your beat and you may find new sources in the chatter. Contact them by DM on Twitter even if you can’t get them to return your calls of e-mails — if they’re a regular user, they won’t be able to miss that connection. Bonus points: Republish public Twitter streams of conversation about local news on your site.
    5. Network effect: Use Twitter followers as a focus group. Reach out to the early adopters in your town (find them by subscribing to Twitter search feeds for the name of your town or your news organization) and use them as a sounding board for upcoming coverage and new features on the site. Bonus points: Governor coming to town? Ask the local Twitter users to submit their own questions.

    Add your own suggestions in the comments.

    If you still think Twitter isn’t something you could use at your news site or as a part of your local news project or organization, check out these resources:

    • Erica Smith keeps a running list of Newspapers that Twitter, including monthly data on their follower and update numbers.
    • Twitter recently purchased the best search engine for Twitter.
    • The Twitter Fan Wiki is full of everything from explanations of Twitter etiquette to a set of links to technical instructions on using the Twitter API in your choice of processing and templating languages.
    • Twittermap is an incredibly simple way to find local Twitter users.

    Add your own suggestions for reporting with Twitter in the comments — and be sure to include your Twitter ID to make new connections.

    I’m ryansholin.

    Tagged: local news news gathering reporting twitter
    • Great list Ryan.

      I think one of the best aspects of Twitter is quality of the responses I receive when posing questions to the crowd. Of course, this really depends on the folks I follow, and those who follow me.

      The biggest problem with using Twitter as a news gathering tool is the lack of awareness among the general population.

    • Ryan: This is very helpful list. I thought the comment about the “tween” thing was interesting on my post because it made me realize that, in fact, Twitter seems to skewed toward “older” demo, college and above. Unlike, say, Facebook in its early days. I’d be curious to see any data out there on Twitter demo, if it exists.

      Also, your post crystalized for me something that I’d been thinking about last week. What’s great about Twitter is that it’s both a news gathering tool and a publishing/distribution platform. It’s lightweight and flexible, and so allows for a lot of spontaneity.

    • Twitter owned E3 earlier this month. Everyone in the crowd was documenting the news through Twitter. It was great for those of us who are too poor to make it there.

      But I’ve just finished a blog about how some news groups can become annoying on Twitter check it out.


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