Twitter to journalists: Here’s how it’s done

by Mónica Guzmán on November 11, 2008

Last night I taught a class to a roomful of journalists about how to use social media. About 25 of us or so gathered in one of the first-floor conference rooms at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

In two hours, we discussed everything from how to search for groups on Facebook to all the reasons it’s so important for journalists to come out from behind their byline, go where their readers are, and talk to them.

To prepare for the class (and give people a taste of what I was talking about) I asked people on Twitter to share whatever tips they might have for journalists looking to break in to the social Web. I put out the request in a big public tweet and also sent direct messages to several journalists, bloggers, students, professors and media mavens I knew would have something valuable to say.

I put the tips up on the overhead during the class and highlighted a few in the beats between slides and questions. When we were done, I realized only I could see all the tips, and it would just be silly to keep it that way. So without further ado, here’s what some great people on Twitter advise us journalists keep in mind as we tackle social media. Follow their Twitter links to see who they are …

Why it’s awesome

jilliancyork more than anything, it’s great to have an immediate community to bounce ideas off/ask questions of/share with etc

kirida I love it when journalists use twitter. It makes me feel like Im in the loop

bydanielvictor My main message: It’s a diverse network of potential sources. Sometimes you’ll ask them to be one, sometimes you don’t even have to ask

jseattle dunno. not that much different than making notes to yourself. especially if you stick to only twittering your life filtered by your ‘beat’

Guiding principles

wnalyd @moniguzman: Always engage. Only connect. And never, ever be above your readers.

jenocal The biggie would be don’t be so afraid of the trends. Too many journalists get left behind because they don’t understand or fear them.

greglinch Join lots of sites and be everywhere your audience is (FB, MySpace, Twitter, Flickr, etc) to allow many ways to connect, but focus on core.

wnalyd @moniguzman Accept the medium for what it is. Don’t ask for an interview on Flickr and make the subject do it over the phone

WriterWay NEVER relax the traditional standards you used for verifying facts and getting both sides’ points of view!

Digidave Bottom line: Experiment – this is a time to have fun and own it!!!

mediatwit Use social media as much as you can yourself so you can figure out good ways to mine them for sources and tips.

TheHairFarmer choose which communities you belong to and spend time in carefully – are you better served with a local community or a much larger community

indietv I use social media 4: 1. get stories out everywhere! (nowpublic,iReport,current, twit,myspace,youtube) 2.Tell a story, u still gotta connect with peeps 3. keep it up, practice, learn & stay positive

wnalyd @moniguzman: Honesty + transparency ALWAYS. If you’re not, you will be found out, blogged about, it’ll end in tears.

gmarkham @moniguzman the only tip I have for social media tools is commit, don’t just play.

Come out from behind that byline

jasonp107 @moniguzman the one thing a journalist CAN NOT do in modern publishing is hide behind a byline. you are out there, so be present.

paulbalcerak Be as open on your social networks as you’d want a source to be. People don’t like one-way communication

kathyg don’t just repeat headlines — add human touch to tweets. I follow the oregonian tweets and they got the message;more interesting now

chrispirillo Social Media: They’re talking about you and the things you do, regardless. Join or die

djwudi @moniguzman Be a person, don’t just mirror an RSS feed. It’s why I watch you, and unsubbed @seattlepi “keep it real, yo!” ;)

tyfn @moniguzman journalists should use twitter to have conversations with followers, build relationships, not as a one-way broadcast tool

What to say? How to say it?

jseattle 1) Work out loud but keep it to a minimum (don’t need to know your every move, 2) Beg for a tip or a source now and then 3) Balance tease with actual info in your tweets, 4) include personal only if on target (a haircut? better be style blog)

TheHairFarmer Allow, encourage and respond to comments – facilitate a conversation for your community

wnalyd @moniguzman: Don’t spew. I don’t want to hear about the 20 things you had for lunch on 20 different tweets!

mediatwit I would also advise caution as any personal info they put up on social media sites will go out to the whole world and will be hard to delete

wnalyd Learn the various ways you can talk to people directly and not in the general stream, e.g. direct messages

Resources for journalists interested in social media

guykawasaki Step one is to use http://socialmedia.alltop.com/ and http://journalism.alltop.com/ :-)

digitalreporter Good Social Network for Wired Journalists: http://mediageeks.ning.com/

mediatwit I would recommend using these services: Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, Digg, StumbleUpon, Yahoo Buzz, Delicious, FriendFeed

ryansholin Specifically for Twitter, this is still my best rec: http://www.pbs.org/idealab/…

bydanielvictor I’d teach them how to find users: Twellow, Twitterlocal, Tweetscan. Lesson: You never know when this network might come in handy.

KateMartin13 Use twitterlocal.com to find ppl in your area. I would also add a twitter tagline on your email signature so ppl who use can add you.

greglinch @moniguzman Another good topic is mobile social media, like using Twitter/Twitpic, Qik for livestreaming video, posting updates/pics to FB

Case studies

andrew_dunn @moniguzman I’ll toot my own horn and offer this case study of Twitter during Gustav: http://dunnreporter.com/?p=317

underoak @moniguzman Ditto on @andrew_dunn’s case study of Gustav, and add @HurricaneIke, which connected lots of information and people.

bydanielvictor They’ve helped me brainstorm story ideas, alerted us to accidents, led me to tech stories. Here’s a good real-life example: http://is.gd/4yf4

Sassmo @moniguzman Don’t forget to mention how Twitter broke CA’s July earthquake story & the viralness of this post http://shorl.com/bripojepekisi

underoak @moniguzman I suggest you introduce your students to @marsphoenix, and the many tributes she had when she went dark. We’ll miss her

Role models in the social Web: Journalists to follow

greglinch Some favs @ryansholin @digidave @jiconoclast @jeffjarvis @jayrosen_nyu @waynesutton @ckrewson @10000words @agahran @howardowens @sjcobrien

wendyperrin Guess I’d advise aspiring journalists to join Twitter & follow @brianstelter, @jdickerson, @pomeranian99. Also @jayrosen_nyu, @jeffjarvis.

sscraft @moniguzman On Twitter, I follow John Dickerson (Slate), and on Facebook, I follow Cathleen Falsani (Chicago Sun -Times)

paullu @moniguzman I vote for you and @jdickerson, because you both USE twitter, instead of using it only to push links to your articles.

tyfn @moniguzman My favourite correspondent to follow is @shiralazar. She’s on Fox News, CNN, MSNBC, NBC frequently http://shiralazar.com

rubissima @moniguzman I like @guykawasaki on Twitter. His links are often really interesting

wendyperrin Other fave journalists on Twitter: @rachelsklar, @newmediajim, @marcambinder, @anamariacox.

digitalreporter Tips for journalists regarding social networking. Subscribe to Veronica Belmont’s feeds. She is a technology journalist that is plugged in

StevenWalling @moniguzman @acarvin – not technically a reporter, but NPR’s social media guy. Great balance of quanitity/quality + a personal touch

westseattleblog @moniguzman you, #1. @ricksanchezcnn is goofy but endearing and energetic in his use. @jayrosen uses Twit in a fascinating way

KateMartin13 @moniguzman hands down, my favorite journalist on Twitter is @rsylvester; on FB is David Pogue, but only because I also love technology

digitalreporter Social Netwoking tips: Check out successful YouTube videobloggers: Kina Grannis and David Choi. They know how to support a fan base

About the author: Mónica Guzmán is the online reporter at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, where she writes The Big Blog.

To keep up with the latest on the future of publishing, make sure you subscribe to the Eat Sleep Publish RSS feed

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{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Ari Herzog 11.11.08 at 10:27 am

Great advice and very useful people to follow (and who they follow). I’m also on Twitter @ariherzog.

I think it’s important, Monica, to point out that you’re describing newspaper reporters as journalists. I used to work in community journalism, and I’m now what they’d call a blogger though I call myself an online journalist. Thus, the difference between an online journalist and a print journalist (or a broadcast journalist) is a blur — not unlike the blur between marketing and new marketing.

You might also want to share papers like the Detroit Free Press which has embraced reporters/bloggers being the same for years; they were among the first of the mainstream media to accept it.

2 Colonel Tribune 11.11.08 at 10:41 am

The Chicago Tribune has:

- @JamesJanega, a metro reporter

- @MoRyan, our TV critic

- @BillDaley, our wine critic

- @MoRyan, our TV critic

More to come, but these folks are worth a follow.

3 Curt Milton 11.11.08 at 10:44 am

My tips didn’t make it to Monica last night. Probably the main one I would advise is to give good content. Share good stuff and you’ll get good stuff back. Tell people what you’re reading or writing, what interests you, etc.

4 Brandon J. Mendelson 11.11.08 at 1:28 pm

You know, I was skeptical about the post from the title as there is plenty of bad information out there about Twitter; But this post was very insightful. Thank you.

5 Jason Preston 11.11.08 at 1:41 pm

Ari – it’s a good point that not all journalists work for newspapers, of course, not all newspaper reporters are journalists, either ;)

Colonel Tribune – I wasn’t before, but now I’m following all of you!

Curt – Sorry you got dropped off the list! Share, share, share is an excellent mentality. What’s your twitter name?

Brandon – I agree, Mónica’s post is better than the average bear. Let’s also not forget that the post itself serves as a lesson and an example: she engaged with Twitter to create it!

6 oh my GOFF! 11.11.08 at 5:35 pm

Great job! This is information even a FT twitterbug can use. THANKS!
~angie goff

7 Noah 11.11.08 at 10:07 pm

For all journalists I’d suggest avoiding impartiality, where equal time is given to both sides, regardless of credibility. Instead aim for objectivity, where the aim is researching and reporting the actual truth, even when there are dissenting opinions.

A great example is the issue of climate change. There is no debate within the scientific community. Those that are interested in propagating the idea of a debate are deniers funded by big oil. There are no credible exceptions. Yet the media attempts to show both sides of the “debate,” perhaps because controversy sells, rather than calling out the deniers as the PR puppets that they are.

This problem of attempting to report in a balanced, instead of factual, manner is everywhere.
The climate change example is discussed here: http://www.fair.org/index.php?page=1978
An example of (politically motivated) false balance is discussed here:
http://www.salon.com/opinion/greenwald/2008/11/06/dowd/index.html

8 Monica Guzman 11.12.08 at 10:25 am

Ari — You’re absolutely right. I call “journalist” anyone who commits acts of journalism — regardless of who they work for or whether they have any affiliation with a media company.

Colonel Tribune — Thanks! I’ve heard great things about you. Giving a newspaper a personality and tweeting news as a character is brilliant.

Curt — Sorry I didn’t get your tips! But thanks for adding to the conversation.

Brandon — Thanks. I was overwhelmed by the responses. Hope they’re helpful.

Angie — You’re welcome :-)

Noah — You bring up a great point. The concepts of fairness and balance are more complicated than they seem, and can be misinterpreted.

9 Colonel Tribune 11.12.08 at 10:51 am

Why thank you, Monica. You know, I am occasionally available for interviews.

10 Colonel Tribune 11.12.08 at 10:51 am

Especially for fine blogs like yours. :-)

11 Dana B - SPJ 11.12.08 at 8:53 pm

Monica, thanks for teaching the class and thinking so far outside the box. This is what we all need as journalists and as social networkers ourselves. I am new to the social media game so this is all great info. Thanks so much for teaching the class. ~ Dana, SPJ

12 Dominick Brady 11.16.08 at 4:21 am

I wonder how the web 2.0 tools at our disposal, the technical aspects of story telling as well as the technological savvy of modern equipment will impact Freelancers such as myself. We’re more mobile. We’re more connected but at the same time it seems as if I’m more detached- always moving, never settling. Does the story itself suffer?

13 Bernard Glassman 02.13.09 at 6:23 pm

Not sure where the original of this is on your site, but the spelling of receive could use some attention.

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