Twitter Talk: Less Squawking, More Singing

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Courtesy of mashable.com

When I first discovered Twitter’s existence in college I rolled my eyes at a website devoted entirely to people sharing their minute-by-minute thoughts in annoying 140 character bursts.  After I eventually gave in to the trend, I felt a rush of sensory overload from the thousands of people shouting at me from tiny megaphones inside my computer screen. Today, Twitter continues to buzz more than ever with tweets from companies, organizations, politicians, celebrities and even parody accounts (I follow @VeryGrumpyCat). Scrolling through the “live feed” one can find emergency pictures of cute puppies, Kim Kardashian’s inner thoughts and the latest White House updates all in about 15 seconds.

This new way of receiving and sharing information is causing many journalists to break a serious sweat as we struggle to reach an elusive public. However, I believe the key to using Twitter effectively as a journalist lies in sorting through all this madness and tapping into the site’s ample opportunities by tweeting efficiently, creatively and professionally.

A positive side to Twitter is the way it connects journalists directly to their sources and opens up the door for ongoing conversation between journalists and readers. For my In-Depth Reporting class, Don Brown suggested that one of the way best ways to contact a local politician for a story was to find him on Twitter because he is more likely to check that account than phone or email.  It may be a little strange but I think journalists should use Twitter as a launching pad to reach out to public figures and other possible sources. I agree with reporter Paul Farhi when he states in his article, “The Twitter Explosion,” that the site “can be a living, breathing tip sheet for facts, new sources and story ideas.”

The Twitter blog post directed at journalists has some excellent recommendations about squeezing the most juice out of the site through the use of hashtags to credit sources and give a context for topic discussions. Journalists should focus on maximum relevancy in the news atmosphere and stray away from 30 tweets in a day that are mostly silly and ill researched. Journalists should also assemble a diverse “followers” and “following” list, which will lead to a knowledge base that aids in story creation. As the website’s blog post emphasizes, that “retweet” button will send waves of good karma through the tweeting sphere and prevent Twitter from solely functioning as a personal soapbox.

On one hand, Twitter is rapidly sharing information and connecting millions of people across geographic constraints at zero cost. Journalists would deem themselves obsolete not to buckle up and join this exciting, fast-paced ride.  In “Twittering The News,” Alfred Hermida points out that Twitter can be positively viewed as an awareness system sending out ripples of opportunities for people to receive a plethora of information and cultivate that knowledge within individual contexts.

However, with great power comes great responsibility and one too many “just brushed my teeth” tweets can hinder Twitter’s effectiveness as a news service.  A journalist could make the career-damaging mistake of sending out a false tweet that grows like an amoeba as its retweeted, linked and shared throughout the tangled Internet labyrinth.

In conclusion, Twitter does not have to hurt the credibility and quality of journalism if reporters are smart tweeters who tap into the site’s abundance of resources. Ultimately, it is the journalist’s job to produce and decipher informative twitter gems that glow brightly among an abundance of useless Kardashian coals.

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