Tag Archives: Harrisburg

Another Twitter testimonial: The networked brainstorming session

A simple task every reporter has to deal with: Brainstorming story ideas. In this case, I needed to seek out a little-known charity or organization to feature.

Instead of sitting around and hoping a good idea popped into my head, or maybe e-mailing a source or two and crossing my fingers, I put my question out there on Twitter and Facebook.

I simply wrote: “Looking for a charity or organization in the HBG area that doesn’t often get press but could use some. Any ideas?”

The response was pretty incredible.

On Twitter, I got 13 recommendations from 12 different people.

On Facebook, I found eight more from seven people, plus a link to a directory that I didn’t know existed.

So lest you think all this Twitter nonsense is a waste of time if you’re a reporter, I just got 21 recommendations out of 19 people, most of them coming in less than an hour.

Any reporter, no matter how many times you’ve uttered the phrase “I just don’t get that stuff,” would have to love those numbers.

All it took was me typing two sentences, and the networked community took over. The implications of that for all forms of reporting are wildly exciting.

How to turn an inside brief into a front page centerpiece

Front page of The Patriot-News, 07/24/08It was the kind of press release every reporter hates getting: The dreaded check presentation. You’re almost tempted to cover it, but you know it’s only considered news if you’re lazy or desperately need to fill space. I was neither, and backed by an editor who similarly hates canned press conferences, I decided to ignore the check presentation to announce federal assistance for a new parking center in Hershey, Pa. Check presentations aren’t news.

That said, my editor and I agreed that the parking center was an important topic, even if it was hang-me-please boring. So I set out to update the project’s progress, likely to land inside the local section, maybe sneaking out to the section’s front if it got lucky.

This is the first spot where a reporter can choose to elevate a story higher than your editors might initially think it belongs.

Instead of a simple and hang-me-please boring update on where the project has gone, I wanted to focus on where this new parking center could fit in the area’s long-range plans, especially when it comes to public transportation.

I called the usual suspects: A township official who offered an insightful interview. The director of the bus company to discuss how it could fit into future schedules as a park-and-ride, and how much ridership statistics have increased. An out-of-town public transportation activist to pontificate on why the Hershey community has a lot of potential for bus and rail traffic.

Since we came into this story with low expectations, I likely could have stopped here, written the usual 12 inches and moved on to work on a story everyone liked better.

But I decided to act on a hunch and take a round trip on the bus around the time professionals would be going home from Harrisburg to Hershey. These are the people everyone had been speaking about attracting, and no one — myself, my editors, the bus company officials, the locals I asked on Twitter — really knew  whether or not they existed. It was a pure fishing expedition.

And it ended up better than I could have ever imagined. I spoke to a large group of regulars who passed out cookies and sang carols at Christmas time, went out for drinks together on Friday, spoke glowingly about how much money they were saving, and were even thinking of starting a bocce team together. It was a fantastic human story that most people would be surprised to read about. And they even offered support to the idea that their group is indeed growing.

So now the story has evolved:

Check presentation –> Project update –> Look ahead at regional public transportation –> The revelation of a money-saving subculture

And the final product got to incorporate all that project updating and looking ahead that we set out to do.

For young reporters or interns who are gunning for the front page and struggling to make it there, it requires an open mind and a willingness to occasionally go on that fishing expedition. Even the most mundane check presentation can become front page material with a bit of luck and elbow grease.

More good advice here from Hilary Lehman, an intern in San Antonio.

I didn’t believe it, but Twitter is worth a try

twitter-logo.jpgA little over a month ago, I started using Twitter despite a lot of skepticism. I really didn’t think it would have much value for me, despite what a boatload of journalists have said. I said I would give it a one-month trial run and re-evaluate afterward.

The result, which I hope will be taken to heart by other reporters who have been similarly skeptical:

It’s a lot better than I expected, and worth the time for any reporter or news organization.

(For those catching up, Twitter is a blogging tool that allows users to post messages only 140 characters at a time. It’s essentially a blog mashed up with a chat room, and there’s a lot of speculation that it’s the next great medium for reaching young people.)

I’ve previously written about some positive examples of my Twitter use. But let’s go back and revisit the two main hesitations that I had before signing up, and those that are shared by a lot of skeptics:

1) There just aren’t enough local users to help my reporting.

When I first signed up, this definitely appeared to be the case. But this wasn’t completely true, and became less and less true after I signed up.

I found 14 local users in the first day, which was more than I thought but still not a big number. I used a combination of the site’s search feature, Twitterlocal, TwitDir and Tweetscan to find them.

But a funny thing happened: Apparently my presence on the site motivated others to give it a try. After many of the local bloggers made a run onto the site, one of them wrote:

What was this impetus for this local surge in interest? My research has traced it to Daniel Victor, a Patriot News reporter who actually seems to “get it” in terms of the impacts of social media on traditional journalism. He started a all-out “one-month twitter twial” in an effort to see what would happen. Well, so far, so good…

I gotta say, this is a communication tool that is really cool, and I cannot wait for it to expand outward from the small circle of locals who are currently trying it out. So, I encourage you to give it a go, as we see where this grand experiment takes up.

Now, I clearly can’t take credit for bringing Twitter to my area, because there were people before me who are very enthusiastic about it.

But imagine that: Instead of complaining about the lack of users, I apparently helped create more users. This wasn’t an intention of mine, but surely any reporter or news organization could see the value in getting more people in the community connected to each other. Especially when it’s in a place where we can benefit from their knowledge, and let them consume our news if they so choose.

2) There just aren’t enough users to improve my social life.

Well, sort of. I’d maintain that this is a secondary benefit, but it has been slightly better than I expected.

Since the first few days I arrived, there’s been talk of a local “Tweetup” to get local users together.

Even though that hasn’t yet happened, though I don’t doubt that it will, I couldn’t begin to count the interesting conversations I’ve had with people I would have never known otherwise. There have been several times when I’d find a local going to the same bar I was headed to. It led to one party invitation, and I ended up meeting one of the Twitterers in real life through common friends. As long as you’re not using your account to spam innocent people or annoyingly bug them about things they have no interest in, there’s a lot of social potential.

I wouldn’t encourage people to sign up by guaranteeing an explosion on your social calendar, but it’s a nice little perk. If nothing else, it’s fun to participate.

So what should journalists take away from my one-month trial, and why do I think it’s important for every journalist to consider some kind of Twitter use?

1) In communities where Twitter hasn’t taken hold — which is true in most of America — there’s a tremendous opportunity here for digital leadership. Be the trend-setter in your community. For the first time in the digital age, seize an opportunity to place your news organization at the forefront of an emerging conversation medium.

2) In communities where there is already a lot of Twitter activity, there’s a lot of discussion happening without you. It’s an absolute gold mine for sources, information and story ideas.

3) You don’t have to be tech-savvy to appreciate the value of a conversation with the community. This is increasingly becoming a great way to do that, and is likely to become even better in the future.

4) You only have to put as much time into it as you want, so there’s no reason you shouldn’t be giving it a trial run like I did. I suspect that if you give it an honest try, you’ll find it as worthwhile as I have.

When protesters are outside, Twitter beats local newspaper site

A little past 9 a.m. today, a long fleet of truckers roared down the central business area of Harrisburg, all incessantly honking their horns. Some had signs taped outside their windows, revealing that they were protesting gas prices at the Capitol.

Interesting story, as anyone who lives or has an office downtown surely has heard them.

So let’s compare “coverage” from Twitter users and the local newspaper’s Web site, shall we?

Dani_PA Dani_PA PA truckers “convoying” to Capitol today to protest gas prices.Gas is too expensive, so they’re spending mucho $$ to drive w/o pay? (9:10 a.m.)

Daniel Victor bydanielvictor Trucks blaring horns on 2nd Street in protest of gas prices. Normally I’d be amused but they woke me up. Was looking fwd to sleeping in.

Daniel Victor bydanielvictor Thought it was a Three Mile Island alarm or some other apocalypse notification system.

Aaron Gotwalt gotwalt Hundreds of tractor trailers driving by the office honking their horns to protest gas prices. It’s like a hangover simulator.

Larry Marburger lmarburger I’m sure a horn-blaring truck convoy will lower the price of gas. Thank you, Harrisburg.

Greg Newman 20seven @bydanielvictor Is it that crazy downtown?

Daniel Victor bydanielvictor @20seven A bit quieter now, but still hard to hear my TV. Pennlive says they’re going to Capitol: http://tinyurl.com/2sxq25

Greg Newman 20seven @bydanielvictor yeah, all inlets to harrisburg are supposed to be backed up, plus a overturned TT on 81 north on or at the bridge

Dani_PA Dani_PA I HATE PA TRUCKERS AND THEIR HORNS. Nonstop for 30 min. Doesn’t Harrisburg have a noise violation policy? Why aren’t they getting ticketed!

Maurice Reeves MauriceReeves @Dani_PA LOL. you must be hearing the rally at the State Capitol building. I’m glad I’m not in Harrisburg right now.

Now let’s compare that all with what readers would find at the local newspaper’s Web site at 9:55 a.m.:

Traffic around The Capital Complex could be complex this morning when 75 truckers bring their rigs without trailers into downtown Harrisburg for a 10 a.m. rally. (emphasis added)

The newspaper’s update has more details, of course. But I italicized “could be complex” because it’s predictive, where as Twitter is immediately reactive.

Twitter showed me a variety of sources, and I laughed out loud at the “hangover simulator” comment.

Twitter allowed @20seven to ask a witness — whether or not I’m a reporter, I’m sure, was irrelevant — about what’s happening right now.

Twitter allowed me to link to our newspaper’s Web site for details.

And Twitter allowed @20seven to tell me, and any of his other followers, about traffic details I wouldn’t know about any other way.

Now I’m not criticizing my newspaper’s handling of it. In fact, it shows we’ve come a long way in that a morning newspaper can tell people why there are a bunch of horns blaring outside their window at 9 a.m.

The newspaper’s Web site did as well as it could under how we currently operate. Problem is, this experience on Twitter shows how the supposed immediacy of blogging just won’t be immediate enough as more people find their way to services like Twitter.