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Treat Twitter as a legitimate source of news

Published: 14 November 2012

Twitter has provided journalists with not only a new channel to distribute their content but also an opportunity to connect with their audience. It’s also, according to Steve Buttry, one of the most useful tools ever developed for journalists during this career. And yet, some don’t take it seriously while others disregard it as a legitimate source of news.

Treat <i>Twitter</i> as a legitimate source of news
By Darren Gilbert

It’s an observation made by Hofstra University journalism lecturer, Kerry Fincham on Poynter and one that is backed up by Sue Burzynski Bullard, an associate professor of journalism at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in her piece for Nieman Reports. Bullard encouraged her students to create Twitter accounts from where they could report the news. However, they were skeptical, viewing the channel as nothing more than “streams of narcissism revealing no journalistic value”. Now, while this might be a reasonable opinion for some, it’s also short-sighted.

One only has to look at the results of Bullard’s experiment with her students to back that up. Many of her students have since realised the power of Twitter and the opportunities that it provides for the newsroom and story generation. But of course, that has to be tempered with another point: Twitter is valuable for journalists so long as it is used correctly. If used incorrectly, it can become nothing more than a time suck.

Twitter breaks news:

As Digital First Media's digital transformation editor, Buttry observes, Twitter is a great channel for breaking news. In fact, there is the argument that the social networking site can be viewed as the modern source of breaking news. Now, while this is all good and well, it does pose a problem for journalists, believes Buttry. “[It] has always been to try to find people who witnessed the event or were affected by it.” Fortunately, Twitter has its own advanced search feature, which Buttry says every reporter needs to make use of.

Not only is it effective in real-time search when you’re working on a story people might be tweeting about, as Buttry points out, but it also allows journalists to pin-point who to speak to when following up on a later day. As much as Twitter is a valuable tool, it should be viewed as one that aims to enhance, not replace traditional journaliam. Having said that, though, it’s important to remember a further point that Buttry makes: “Covering breaking news today without using Twitter is journalistic malpractice.”

Twitter allows you to crowdsource the news:

While this works best only if you have developed a large following, crowdsourcing the news by asking questions to your followers is a valuable way to get news quickly. It also depends on how often you engage with your followers. Don’t expect to receive a large amount of answers to a question first time up if you don’t use Twitter often. In getting the best answers, it’s about engaging with your audience first.

Again, it needs to be remembered that for journalists, Twitter is a tool. One good source that points you in the right direction is just as good as a number of answers to your initial question. “For an effective Twitter user, answers can come in seconds,” says Buttry. “More likely, you’ll find a few helpful sources on Twitter, saving some time, and you can concentrate your old-school efforts on finding the last few sources you’ll need.”

Twitter allows you to distribute your content to a wide audience:

Anyone using Twitter knows this. This point can also be viewed as the most common reason that you can use to plead Twitter case of being valuable. “Virtually every day when I post something new on my blog, Twitter is the leading source of traffic to my blog,” points out Buttry. I’d agree. Now, this is not to discount Facebook since it also plays a role in driving traffic, but looking at the three Updates websites for one moment, Twitter is a major if not the leading source of traffic for them.

And I’ll go even further than that. As Buttry points out in another point, it allows for journalists to continue the conversation after posting a story on Twitter. Any interaction on the site with your audience should be valued as it allows you the opportunity to not only build credible relationships and a loyal following but also to place you in prime position when a news story breaks. It also means you get the jump on your competitors.

What do you think? Is Twitter valuable for journalists? Tell us below?
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