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When cops and Twitter tell different stories

July 4 in Philadelphia offered us a solid case study on the proper place of Twitter in reporting. Word of a shooting at a crowded Center City fireworks show spread rapidly through Twitter, and some people are disappointed that local media did not report on it. I’m about as big of a Twitter fan as you’ll find, but I mostly disagree with the criticism.

In case you have a short attention span, here’s the quick version:

  • When monitoring Twitter for breaking news, one first-hand account is worth far more than 1,000 tweets of hearsay.
  • Tweets of hearsay still have value and shouldn’t be ignored.
  • Think of Twitter users as sources, and vet them the same way you’d vet any other source.

What follows is a recreation of the night and an explanation of how some reporters responded.

One important take-away from all of this: If anyone were offering real evidence in a haystack like this, you need to know a few tricks to find that needle. If you haven’t mastered the possibilities of Twitter’s advanced search, learn them now before you’ll need them.

One trick is to narrow your search to within a few miles of the location, and search for phrases a witness might use. During the Discovery crisis in Silver Spring, Md. last year, I was able to find a few people inside the building by a geo-targeted search for phrases like “I’m safe” and “I’m OK.” I also searched for “Discovery”+”works there” to find the people saying “OMG my brother/wife/friend works there,” then messaged them to see if we could get in touch with that person.

And lastly, I’d make the point that in the midst of Breaking News Information Chaos like this, when hundreds of people are reporting their own news, the role of the trusted news organization or individual reporter becomes more important, not less important. Readers are waiting for us to provide a level of authority they don’t grant  fellow users. prominently links to Technically Philly, angels rejoice

We saw a small but significant milestone at this morning.

Should you have visited the site between roughly 10:15 a.m. and 11:10 a.m. this morning, you would have seen this:


It’s significant because this is the first time has directly linked to an external blog from a prominent spot on its home page, taking readers directly off the site. According to Technically Philly‘s Christopher Wink, it netted them over 600 referrals, which passed Reddit and Hacker News as the most single-day, single-source referral traffic they’ve ever received.

A quick sausage-making recap: Wink alerted me via Twitter to a post that looked like it would have mainstream appeal. I agreed and sent an e-mail to our team of web producers. They agreed to offer up the valuable real estate in a way the site historically hasn’t done.

No, I don’t expect a party to be thrown in our honor. I know some people will roll their eyes and make comments about it being 1998 and such.

But this is a clear step toward opening’s gates, which is something people like Wink have been waiting for us to do. I’m not rolling out any Mission Accomplished banners, as there is a looong way to go, but it’s great to see a tangible step.

If you’d like to debate the merits of this, or how success will be defined with such an approach, let’s feel free to discuss it in the comments.

Help determine’s linking/aggregation strategy

(To those who don’t know me, I’m a community-builder at I’ve been here for about a month and I’m pleased to meet you. Your feedback on this issue will impact not just, but really the entire publishing scene in the region. I could really, really use your thoughts on what follows, and I swear to you I am listening.)

It’s been widely reported that Greg Osberg, the new-ish CEO of Philadelphia Media Networks, wants to be more of a “portal.” Most of us can agree needs to use its traffic muscle to promote other great work happening outside the Inquirer and Daily News, interspersing off-site links with our headlines right from our home page and section fronts. What we have to do now is figure out how it’s going to work.

We are soon going to be courting a diverse set of partners from across the region, from neighborhood blogs with a few dozen readers to the major broadcast news stations. Seeing as is the biggest news site in the region, this has the potential to direct massive amounts of traffic to these sites.

With that in mind, I need your help. Right now, we are considering three possibilities for how we will link:

  • Landing page: Every partner in our network will be given its own branded landing page on (here’s an example from New Jersey Spotlight). When a partner has a story worth extra attention, links from the homepage or a section front will take readers to this landing page. It will have a partial feed RSS with links to the partner to read the full story, plus the partner’s own banner and site description.  There are ads on this page sold by staff.
  • Direct link: When an outside site has a story worth extra attention, links from the homepage or a section front will take readers directly to the site.
  • Branded bar: When you click on an external link, from a partner or non-partner, you’ll be taken directly to the site and your browser will display a bar at the top (think StumbleUpon). It could include a variety of content, including account info, related stories, related partner stories, an advertisement, a site description, etc. It would be easily hidden. Both and the outside site would register page views.

And here are the three things we have to keep in mind:

  • I am but one employee of, and these are just some ideas. You should not assume any of these ideas will be implemented.
  • Any solution must be enticing to the maximum amount of potential partners. It must benefit the partners as much, and very likely more, than
  • Any solution must, in the big picture, lead to greater revenue for

If you’re in favor of the landing page, I challenge you to address the possibility that fewer partners, especially competitive news sources, would enter an agreement.

If you’re in favor of a branded bar, I challenge you to address how we can make it non-invasive and valuable for both our readers and partners.

If you’re in favor of direct links, I challenge you to address how can make up the revenue we could gain through the other two options.

Folks, I promise you: Your feedback and ideas here will be huge. I need to know how partners would respond to these options, what other ideas you have, and what balance we can offer between these varied approaches. I really do want to come up with a plan that’s beneficial for everyone.

I’m joining

I’m thrilled to deliver some great news: In a few weeks I’ll start in a community-building role at, and I’m freaking pumped.

I’m a Pennsylvania boy by roots. I grew up in State College, attended Penn State, then spent the first four years of my career at The Patriot-News in Harrisburg. I know to never order a cheesesteak outside Pennsylvania, I was at The Vet to see Curt Schilling pitch a shutout in Game 5 of the 1993 World Series, and I grew up dreaming of being a reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Well, this is even better. is the website for both the Inquirer and the Daily News, and I’ve witnessed support from the publisher on down to do great, innovative things with the site. I’ll be fortunate to have some say over that direction, and will do so in a role that perfectly captures what made me fall in love with online journalism: Collaboration and community. I can’t imagine a role better suited to my abilities and passions.

And yes, a familiar face will occasionally be there. Jim Brady, the man who brought us TBD, is consulting there part-time. There’s no one I’d rather be working with…again. Jim also deserves major, major thanks for taking it upon himself, at no one’s request, to be a talent agent for ex-TBDers (part 1 and part 2). If you’re reading this and you’re a hiring manager, please hire one of them. You will not regret it.

At the risk of getting too sappy, I was blissfully overwhelmed by the support of the Twitter community after news of the layoffs. Didn’t matter if it was a job lead or just a quick chin-up message; it felt like everyone had my back in some way. I hope to somehow return the favor someday to everyone who helped out.

To my new and soon-to-be friends in Philly, can’t wait to see you. To those who helped me through this whole thing, I offer you this: