October 8th, 2012
Being smart about Twitter
By Anna Pratt
The other day, I decided to “be the change I wanted to see” in my apartment by tackling a box full of old papers I had long avoided. As I was sifting through various pieces of mail, press kits, postcards, and other odds and ends, I came across a tip sheet from a journalism conference some years back. It described the “hippest new tools for journalists,” like Twitter.
It sounded so quaint. Today, Twitter is no longer new, but more of a given for journalists, including freelancers. The Online Education Database (OED) sums up some of the reasons that Twitter has become so important in a blog post targeting journalism students:
Despite criticisms that the social media site is overhyped, it has played a meaningful role in much more than just sharing what users had for dinner. Twitter is quickly becoming the go-to spot for all kinds of news, and over the past few years has broken major stories and provided insights into conflicts around the world. As a result, whether you love it or begrudge it, there’s no avoiding Twitter when it comes to modern journalism.
(Cue the Madonna YouTube video remix I just thought of: You know that we are living in a social media world, and I am a social media girl…).
It took me awhile to get used to Twitter. It was a flood of information, the tweets were disjointed and I wasn’t disciplined about sending out tweets consistently.
Today I can’t imagine working without my Twitter feed, @annapratt. It’s my newspaper, my virtual café and one of my professional development tools observing those master wits of 140 characters or fewer. So here are a few tips on using Twitter to improve your journalism — the things I wish someone had told me.
From OED, tip #7, Be judicious with your social media time. With so many social networks around, it can be frustrating trying to figure out how to manage it all. Each has its pros and cons. For example, I like how on Twitter I can connect with people I might not know in person, based on interests or location. But on Facebook, the opposite is true. There, I like getting updates from people I’ve already connected with. On Instagram, I love following a mix of people who seem to have a knack for smartphone photography.
There are also great tools to manage your social media.
(Tip #45) Get feedback. It is social media, after all. Engaging with sources in real-time conversations can improve your reporting and it’s just fun. My Twitter interactions have turned me on to story sources and leads. It’s also a great way to crowdsource questions like, “Does anyone know what local corn mazes are out there?” which can’t be fully addressed by online directories. I’ve also attracted readers on there — the social network is endless.
(Tip #49) Learn new things. I’ve been struck recently by the power of Twitter to report in real time. NPR’s Andy Carvin has redefined journalism using social media, Twitter in particular, to cover the Arab Spring from his office perch in Washington D.C. If Twitter teaches us one thing, it’s that a story is never over after we write it and we can keep up with the story through social media.
As a staff reporter-turned-freelance journalist, Anna Pratt, who lives in Minneapolis, Minn., has ventured into garbage houses, spent the night in a homeless shelter and witnessed a fistfight in a church basement, all for various stories. Over the past nine years, her byline has appeared in the Star Tribune, The Line, the Southwest Journal, the Minnesota Independent and several suburban and community papers, web publications and broadcast media in the Twin Cities. She’s had many beats, including education, community news, business, development, arts, civil/human rights and immigration. Pratt chairs the programming committee for the award-winning Minnesota Pro Chapter of SPJ and she’s running for president-elect of the chapter. She also serves on the organization’s national programming committee. To read more, visitannaprattjournalist.com.