Why journalists should use Twitter

In my humble Canadian opinion, Twitter has changed the way we gather, research, report and break news. It certainly has for me, and if you haven’t embraced it with open arms you might want to start… NOW!

Since most people find my posts via Facebook and Twitter, I won’t bore you with the basics about Twitter. I’ll give you my personal experiences on how it’s helped me contribute more to the newsroom and in one case even helped an NBA player get out of a “sticky” situation.

I joined Twitter on January 20th, 2009. At the time this was published I’ve sent 8,079  ‘tweets’. I have no idea what my first tweet was or what I even did for the first month or two on the website. I started really utilizing Twitter during the Orlando Magic’s 2009 run in the NBA Playoffs. I was going into locker rooms full of pushy reporters, photographers and really, really tall players. I figured if I learned some of the reporters names covering opposing teams they may not smash my microphone down with quite as much force while in the scrum jockeying to get soundbites. It didn’t work right away, but over time it helped! I gathered stats and other random facts that people were tweeting throughout the game and used that to try and ask better questions. It was pretty effective.

These tweets proved to be very valuable – These tweets really helped us out!

One very early morning in September of 2009, I was sitting in our TV station’s control room coordinating reporter live shots. I heard someone at the assignment desk say (well, they probably yelled), people were calling in saying someone had jumped off of a Carnival cruise ship and one of Disney’s ships was searching for him off of Cape Canaveral. Our assignment editor tried to confirm it through the Coast Guard, but they wouldn’t budge. Carnival and Disney didn’t respond either. I started searching  Twitter. I eventually found @BigHeadDennis. He sent out six tweets (at right). It confirmed what we had been hearing from viewers. We were able to report SOMETHING. We attributed the source and that he was found on Twitter. We were the first on the air and first to have live presence from a reporter. Dennis’ tweets make the national news that day. Not too shabby.

Twitter has an ‘advanced search option’ that has really helped me out. Here in Florida we have a lot of Severe Weather warnings. It’s not always easy to get crews out to areas that have been damaged from a storm quickly. During wall-to-wall coverage, viewers expect to see something, especially those not affected by the storm. If they don’t see damage they want to see Judge Judy or whatever it is you’ve taken off air. I’ve been able to find pictures, videos and people willing to talk on-air thanks to Twitter. The advanced search tool allows you to narrow searches to exact storm locations. If you search ‘hail’, for instance, you aren’t getting video for hail in London or a YouTube video of a Hail Mary pass.

Most agencies have their own Twitter accounts. During storm coverage or breaking news, their tweets replace information you’d normally have to call them for. For example, during Tropical Storm Isaac (eventually Hurricane Isaac), power companies were sending out outage updates. The Florida Department of Transportation posted road closures. Sheriff’s offices informed people about what they were doing to help those affected by the storm. As a viewer during the storm, I was able to see how Twitter worked AGAINST some stations. Reporters would recommend Twitter accounts to follow, which was good.  However, in their next live hit they must have forgotten to refresh their feed to get the latest info. Generally, the numbers they were reporting were inaccurate because more tweets were sent out, with updated information. Some, if not most viewers would notice. That’s not good.

One of my favorite Twitter moments happened during the NBA Eastern Conference Finals in 2010. The Magic were playing the Boston Celtics. I was covering the Celtics. They were up 2-0, I was waiting to get into the locker room to get some soundbites from players. I refreshed my Twitter feed and saw an ‘overly confident’ tweet from Celtic’s star Paul Pierce’s account, stating “Anybody got a broom?”. The problem was, Pierce was standing outside the locker room doing a interview with a reporter. He did not have a phone in his hand. So, I tweeted the facts.

My tweet was re-tweeted about 50 times in a matter of minutes. It turns out his account was hacked. Tweeting my observations got me a mention in some national sports blogs like SportsByBrooks.  Athlete Interactive President David Neiman, who’s company coordinates Pierce’s account, even sent me a Facebook message. He thanked me for being an objective third-party.

I didn’t realize at the time it would make a difference what I said.

That’s the beauty of Twitter and that’s why you should start utilizing it’s power now.