Tag Archives: Twitter

TBD Community Hosts: What we do, sort of

It’s difficult to explain that I’m not exactly a reporter anymore, but I am still a journalist. When I tell people I’m one of TBD‘s community hosts, the most common reaction is: “Oh…what’s that?” Fair question, and the four of us are aren’t great at answering it.

If I only have one sentence, I usually say that “we get real people involved in the news process.” It’s a wildly inadequate description, and people who are actually listening know it.

So instead of talking vaguely about engaging, crowdsourcing, blogging, recruiting and reporting, I thought I’d let you in one the last three days on the job. I can’t say these are standard days, because there really aren’t any standard days and weekends are unusual, but this’ll at least give you a cross-section of what we do.

SATURDAY

This is a strange day for me: I’ve got an actual reporting assignment during the Rally for Sanity and/or Fear. I wasn’t hired to be a traditional reporter, but on big days like this our job descriptions become irrelevant. No boxes here, and I used to be a newspaper reporter so I can still occasionally wield a notepad.

I polled 75 rally-goers and took a few hundred photos before going home. Had my Internet and/or phone connections worked, I would have been tweeting and twitpic-ing the hell out of the rally. I upload my photos to TBD’s Flickr gallery, post my story and I’m done. Our full-time reporters do way more interesting work than this.

SUNDAY

Shortly before noon, I create a CoverItLive event for a live chat during the Washington Redskins game. I had arranged for three bloggers in our TBD Community Network to lead the chat, and I got them set up to participate then promoted it on Twitter and on our homepage.

About 15 minutes before kickoff, I realize it’d be pretty awesome to curate tweets from Redskins fans during the game using Storify. I could show the emotional swings by capturing how fans were feeling minute-by-minute after every twist and turn in the game, I thought.

So during the game I constantly searched Twitter for the most interesting tweets and wrote a narrative to tie them together, all the while offering game analysis in the live chat while approving user comments. About 15 minutes after the game ended, I posted the result of that Storify effort.

For the rest of the night, I monitored our TBD Community Network blogs for new posts about the Redskins game. When I found one, I’d pitch them to our web producer so they’d land on TBD’s homepage. And I wrote a blog post inviting fans to weigh in on a pressing question for the Redskins.

MONDAY

Almost immediately after waking up, I again searched for new Redskins posts from our network, and promoted their latest posts on our sports page.

At 10 a.m., I appeared live on one of our television shows, NewsTalk with Bruce DuPuyt, to discuss my weekend coverage of the rally.

Immediately afterward I set up a CoverItLive chat with Mike Jones, our Redskins beat writer, and began promoting it on the site and Twitter. I moderate the chat, approving questions and asking follow-ups to reader questions.

When news broke that Randy Moss had been waived by the Minnesota Vikings, it couldn’t have been more than five to 10 minutes before I had a blog post up asking whether the Redskins should try to pick him up. I added a twtpoll to the post, then tweeted the link from @bydanielvictor, @tbdscrum and @tbd.

While keeping an eye on that conversation, I took my aggregation shift. This largely consists of reading through posts from our 196 network members, looking to see if I can geotag the posts with a specific neighborhood, town or zip code, writing or editing a teaser, making sure the headline is in proper style, and posting it to the site.

During that shift, I also sent out e-mails to two blogs that cover the Washington Capitals, introducing myself to folks I’d like to join the network.

…The point of this all is to say: We do a lot of different things, and every day is different. Today, for example, we’ll be plotting user reports about polling problems on a Crowdmap, and monitoring a Foursquare experiment spearheaded by our social media editor Mandy Jenkins. On Saturday, fellow community host Nathasha Lim monitored a Twitter account for out-of-towners to ask questions about DC, while community host Lisa Rowan led a Halloween costume contest. Most days are filled with a lot more recruiting new blogs for the network, and responding to questions or comments from our existing members – especially senior community host Jeff Sonderman, who is blessed/cursed with the coding skills to field the more technical questions. (And it’s all under the guidance of Steve Buttry, our community engagement team’s fearless leader.)

So if you have any ideas how to better condense that all into a sentence, I’d really love to hear it. It’d be great to see fewer confused looks.

An opportunity for smaller news organizations to show digital leadership

When I had an internship at The Wichita (Kan.) Eagle, my life was turned upside down: Jeopardy was on at 6:00 p.m., and Wheel of Fortune was on at 6:30 p.m. Back home in Pennsylvania it was the other way around: Wheel of Fortune was on first, then Jeopardy.

They were the same two episodes countrywide, just presented in a different order. This presented a rare opportunity for my friend back home: I could tell her the answers before they aired in her time zone, and she’d look much smarter to her roommates.

I know you want to call it cheating, but I’m going to go ahead and call it resourcefulness.

AND NOW, THE AWFUL ANALOGY

I picture a similar scene when I look at what’s happening to journalism in cities bigger than mine.

I see people – they were formerly called an audience – who are so fractured that their thousands of niches will almost certainly never again be assembled into one. I see mobile news as the lifeline in commuter cultures. I see tech-savvy crowds feeling empowered by tools like Ning, WordPress and their own start-up sites.

Then I look back at Harrisburg, my own city. We have comparatively lower broadband penetration and a smaller population, so print still unites us all. Few people use public transportation, a big reason why mobile news isn’t in high demand. We have a spattering of bloggers and phpBB message boards, but you can’t find many active communities built around them.

The temptation is to look at those facts and decide our market has different demands than the bigger cities. But I think they’re just showing Jeopardy a half-hour earlier in the bigger cities – and it’s about to come on here.

We’d be foolish if we didn’t listen to the answers ahead of time.

OUR LUCKY PREVIEW

Outside of the bigger cities, we’ve been handed an opportunity they never had.

We’re seeing exactly what’s coming our way. We’re getting a step-by-step guide to what will happen should we choose a path of inaction. First, your audience will fragment. Second, they will expand their demands for news delivery. Third, they will take it upon themselves to meet those demands. This is already happening, but not to the extent we’ve seen elsewhere.

It need not be that way. And though the purely grassroots model has its virtues, I’m a believer that the community is best off if an organization of talented professionals is at the center of the local news ecosystem, and I say that not just as the employee of one of those organizations. The expanding and necessary role of bloggers and independent organizations can continue, but they’d prefer to work in tandem with a resource-heavy news organization that excels at its investigative role. Few readers or non-readers actually wish for our destruction; everyone applauds when we do our job right, and everyone in the community is better served when that happens.

I don’t think it’s too late for a nimble news organization in a small- to mid-sized city to place itself at the center of that ecosystem. Don’t let the audience fragment itself away from you – become the platform where their niche exists. As rail, buses and carpooling find more riders – and there’s a lot of evidence that says it will – have a scannable, feature-rich mobile site already running.

When readers realize their news demand is changing, they shouldn’t have reason to create the solution themselves. We can have it ready for them.

SHOWING DIGITAL LEADERSHIP

Digital leadership is about getting ahead of future demand, and it’s not something news organizations have been known for. That can change now.

My favorite compliment as a journalist came when Josh Karns, a local blogger, traced to me the initial tipping point in local Twitter use. He argued it was my use of it, and my blogging that followed, that gained the attention of others in the area and prompted a wave of sign-ups.

So if a single journalist with a sparsely-read blog can launch a small-scale movement, what could a large news organization with tens of thousands of readers accomplish? I think it could change the news consumption habits of an entire region. I think it could shape those habits in a way that encourages productive participation, involves every reader in the news process and ensures that those readers still value the professional product.

But that’s only if they get out ahead, using the lessons of the bigger cities. If they lag, the same story will play out over and over again.

Why journalists need to stop playing catch-up, start focusing on the next news model

News organizations won’t stay afloat and continue to provide an essential service to democracy because the public suddenly values what they’ve been selling.

They’ll stay afloat because forward-thinking leaders will make sure the news organizations are damn good at the next news model, and the next one after that. Someone is going to figure out every new model for news distribution, whether it’s tomorrow’s model or 2050’s model.

Who will figure it out? I’d much prefer it be the the journalists who have the ethical standards and story-telling skills that have long thrived. I’d much prefer it be the organizations that can maintain journalism as a decently-paid profession, attracting intelligent people to the career.

But that’s not a given, and that’s not such a bad thing. It’s not a bad thing for the public that Twitter is better for breaking news than a newspaper; it’s just a bad thing for journalists that they didn’t create Twitter first.

So journalists: Let’s stop complaining about the fact that we’re getting our asses whooped at today’s news model.

Let’s just get on top of the next one.

I’ve come to see that catch-up is a silly game to play. I’m tired of reading blogs that don’t engage the readers in conversation, of breaking news that isn’t really breaking, of static storytelling when two-way storytelling is desperately needed. These are all concepts that the Internet public has mastered without the help of news organizations.

This round is over. Journalists lost.

But lucky for journalists, there are plenty more rounds to come. Time to invest our money and expertise into focusing on the next ones.

You know, while we still have some money and expertise left.

This is far from an anti-blogger screed, or any indication of journalistic arrogance. The next news model will utilize what the bloggers have done well (immediacy, diversity, voice) and lend to it what the institution of journalism has historically done well (accuracy, authority, ethics). Then we’ll add some new virtues into the fold (aggregation, curation, community-building).

What that next news model will be is a question for people far smarter than I, but I personally believe the prize will go to whoever can master those new virtues. And there’s no reason why news organizations, with their deep pockets, highly skilled journalists and histories in their communities, can’t lead the way.

Here’s the good news: This doesn’t require massive firings that suck the life out of the print product, and it doesn’t even require you to sell your entire newsroom on these new models. Those who have been carelessly labeled as “curmudgeons” can keep their opinions of the Web as long as they keep doing what they do best: Supporting the print product that still pays everyone else’s salary.

This works as long as you have others at the newspaper who are focused on innovation. Those people ought to be identified (or hired), given the space and time they need, then set loose to experiment.

The focus on today’s news model — and quite often yesterday’s — can at best slow the decline of news organizations. It’s not even doing that particularly well. When every newspaper of every size places innovation at a higher priority, even if it slightly dents the print product, we’ll have a collection of minds that’d have to be considered the favorite to find the next model.

Easy, immediate, responsible deployments of crowdsourcing

(This is Part 2 on my series about crowdsourcing. Part 1 argued the crowd can help ease the pain of a shrinking staff, and Part 3 defended the underlying principles of crowdsourcing.)

I understand that crowdsourcing is a scary word to a lot of journalists. So I thought it would help to offer some specific examples of how it could be utilized.

When you read this, keep in mind: Staff resources are very limited, and becoming more limited by the day. We’re searching for newsroom inefficiencies, old practices we can cut or change that will open up time for the core enterprise that will keep news organizations relevant.

Something’s gotta give, and I’ve targeted these traditional story genres as areas that can be overhauled by utilizing the crowd:

Traffic: When big traffic events happen, the local Twitter community goes into action without anyone commanding it to.

About a month ago, the search for bank robbers shut down a major interstate, and the local Twitter users were sharing back-road detours. I told Twitter when I was on a jammed-up North Front Street, and one of the users said she took a different route because of it.

This is an outfit of several dozen. Now imagine if an army of the entire community could contribute to something like this, even if they’re not on Twitter. Imagine if any Pennlive reader stuck in a traffic jam could send a single text message, and alert everyone in the community to stay away from I-81 northbound.

You’d get immediate updates from every corner of the region, and you wouldn’t need to invest staff resources into calling busy police dispatchers who are just as far away from the scene and often have old information.

It could be presented in its own area, with the standard disclaimers that it’s provided by the community and not verified by The Patriot-News. And no one would care about that disclaimer, and they’d probably check it often before driving home for the day.

The risk of vandalism is minimal, you’re saving staff time, and producing a much more comprehensive product than the staff can anyway.

Gas prices: The argument I hear often is that station owners would provide false information on competitors.

But taking that scenario just a few minutes or hours down the road shows the wonderful self-policing nature of crowdsourcing. That competitor would see the false price, then offer the real price. He’d then keep an eye on the price of his station. The site could ban the fraudulent user.

I tend to think that kind of vandalism would be far more rare than the skeptics fear. But regardless of the outcome of that scenario, you’d have to consider it an outlier. Sites like GasBuddy have thrived on this model.

And as we’re searching for our own inefficiencies as staffs get smaller, the more important question to ask is: Does the slight risk of vandalism outweigh what would be a more comprehensive product for the readers, and the elimination of a time-consuming task for reporters? It’s a minimal price I’m willing to pay as we’re forced to make tough decisions.

Man on the Street: Reporters complain about these stories more than any others. And with good reason. You can’t get a mathematically representative sample and it often takes a lot of interviews to get valuable insight.

That’s a lot of staff time spent on stories that don’t add much more than the comment thread below a story on Pennlive. There’s a lot of static in those comment threads, but you’ll also occasionally find some valuable insight.

No, you don’t know the identity of hbgmom233. But when you want opinions on how Penn State will fare in the Rose Bowl, no one cares who she is except maybe journalists.

Indeed, surrounding her comments with background on her PSU fandom and follow-up questions is better than just reprinting her comments. But again, the real question is: Does that extra context outweigh a greater quantity of opinions and a considerable expenditure of time by a reporter?

Notice that this list doesn’t include council meetings. I’m a crowdsourcing centrist — I’m not sold on a responsible way to crowdsource those without making too many journalistic compromises.

We may get to that point, but I list these three now as immediate examples of ways the crowd can be responsibly deployed. These are very minimal compromises, and it just takes a cost/benefit analysis to start saving reporters’ time and producing a better product.

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.

American Journalism Review writes about reporters on Twitter

Here’s a nice story by Laurie White for the American journalism Review: All the News That’s Fit to Tweet. Scroll down about halfway and you’ll see me quoted in this story about reporters who use Twitter.

Daniel Victor (@bydanielvictor), a reporter at the Harrisburg Patriot-News, says he was originally a Twitter skeptic, but is now a major fan. One of the more prolific tweeters at the ONA conference, he says he uses the service routinely to find stories.

“I use a combination of TwitterLocal and Tweetscan to find people from Harrisburg/Hershey,” he says, referring to third-party applications that allow searches of Twitter by topic and geographic location.

Victor never asks Twitter users he finds through these applications for story ideas. Instead, he finds them in their “normal conversation.”

“The key is, I don’t treat my Twitter account like I’m a reporter-bot,” he says. “I’m a full member of the community who goes to bars and tweets about the Eagles’ game just like them.”

She did a nice job with it, so there’s not too much to add. In case anyone doubts it, yes, I was very much a Twitter skeptic at first.

And though I certainly Tweeted a lot during ONA, everyone there knows Greg Linch was by far the most prolific. He easily wins the crown.

Laurie asked me if anyone has ever felt uneasy knowing they’re being followed by a reporter. I told her it’s only happened once (that I know of), and I offered to unfollow him.

I could be wrong, but I suspect no one feels uncomfortable with my presence because: A) They’re not going to Tweet about anything too scandalous anyway, and B) I’ve made clear that I’m a full participant instead of just some guy mining for stories. That’s why I made the reporter-bot comment…I am indeed a real person enjoying the community there as much as anyone else.

And these aren’t elected officials and campaigners hanging out on Twitter, these are everyday people who will occasionally lead me to interesting features. Or, for one or two of them, they’ve enjoyed having access to a reporter so they can send in a meatier story tip.

Even outside of the local users, I often find my ideas sharper once I bounce them around the global network of journalists I’ve built.

It’s great having that out-of-the-building network, both locally and globally. And for some of us, it’s even pretty fun.

Hopefully you’ll follow me if you’re not already.

Thursday at the Online News Association conference: “I think I’m following you”

(For more on ONA08 as it’s happening, check for Tweets here. And I’ll be updating Twitter myself throughout the day. This is a quick, non-exhaustive recap as I don’t have much time before I need to catch my metro.)

Among the bloggers/Twitter users I’ve long talked to or read online and finally got to meet in person Thursday: Erica Smith, Elaine Helm, Patrick Thornton, Greg Linch, Kevin Koehler, Jay Rosen, Jim Ogle, Patrick O’Brien, Patrick Beeson, Josh Korr, and Chrys Wu. I’ve spotted a few more, and hope to track down others in the next few days. Always great to place a face, handshake, and some semblance of their off-line personality to a Twitter account.

The main highlight of Thursday — aside from meeting those folks — was the job fair. (Don’t worry, current employers, it was mostly out of curiosity and to see the state of the industry. I told everyone I like my current job.)

It really was an interesting glimpse.

The big newspaper Web sites — washingtonpost.com and nytimes.com — weren’t really seeking reporters with Web skills. They sought either a reporter OR a web person. As a reporter who has spent a long time developing my Web skills, that was disappointing to hear.

It was an enlightening conversation with Nancy Sharkey, the the senior editor of recruiting at the New York Times who also recruits print journalists. She said the Times hires most of its reporters as twenty-somethings, enabling them to grow up in the New York City pressure and the Times pressure, instead of subjecting them to it late in their career. She also offered this three-part checklist for any reporter who dreams of making it to the Times, saying that your clips should display:

  1. Strong analytical skills.
  2. Reliable breaking news skills.
  3. A unique, personal voice.

Other events of the day:

— One of the more interesting conversations came over lunch with Jim Ogle, who I’ve long followed on Twitter. As the general manager of , he’s found that using social media has really launched the participation on his site past the bigger stations in his chain. It was fascinating to hear what he’s done, and if I have time I might try to get him on camera to talk about it.

— Greg Linch delivered the line of the day when he spotted someone sit near us in a session. “I think I follow you” was his greeting. Greg effectively Twittered most of that newspaper-based session if you’re interested.

— I love the awkwardness of introducing yourself to someone who you follow, but the other person doesn’t follow you back. There’s just a quick head nod and an “Ah…” that’s priceless.

–At night, I walked over to a reception at the Newseum with Linch, Koehler and Thornton. It was a bit swankier than this small-to-mid-sized-town boy was used to. I’ve never walked in to an event through a tunnel of at least a dozen waiters staring at me and offering trays of wine.

But despite the fact that the money spent on the reception likely could have paid my salary for a year, it was great having a social opportunity with all the aforementioned bloggers and meeting a few more.

Five months later, reflections on Ning

At the end of the final June meeting of the Derry Twp. school board, I told a parent that I’d see her at the next meeting.

But until then, I enthusiastically said to the Hershey Home member, she should participate a lot on the Ning network!

“Ehh…” she said, shrugging her shoulders.

I half-smiled in acknowledgment, because it was hard for me to argue she should have a different reaction. Truth is, the online network I set up for parents and residents as part of the beatblogging.org project in February just hasn’t caught on with them.

Some raw numbers:

  • Of the 36 members, only 15 have written something in the discussion forum.
  • Of the 15 members who have posted, two of them wrote 35 messages apiece. The other 13 combined for 36 messages.
  • Of those 15, eight of them responded to just one or two topics.
  • Only five members started their own discussion topic.
  • About half have taken the time to fill out minimal profiles.
  • Just six have uploaded photos of themselves for an avatar.

There are six of what I’d call the “highly committed” members. These are people who have really bought into the idea in one form or another, either uploading their own photography, inviting friends to participate, contacting each other through the site, contributing to the discussion, etc.

But even among those six, only one or two of them are really into social media. One has her own blog and Twitter account (and I recently recruited another Twitter user who hasn’t yet participated in the site).

I had very high hopes coming into the beatblogging project, and in some ways I still do. This kind of network has exciting potential as a small-town community organizer, and I don’t intend to give up on the idea.

But the failure to launch of the Hershey Home has necessitated a new strategy that involves shifting my time and effort toward a new blog — and details will be provided in an upcoming post. But for now, a brief retrospective from my beatblogging experience so far.

WHAT WORKED WELL:

  • Though the network didn’t bear much fruit in terms of immediate translation to the print product, it did help create offline relationships that were very important. Contacting these people, either by phone or by e-mail or by messaging new members, meant I was able to make personal contact with 36 potential sources I might not have otherwise. A lot of public and private messages on the forum led to productive phone calls.
  • As I detailed in an earlier post, the site’s mere presence was an advertisement for my willingness and desire to hear from residents. I called it an “Open for Business” sign.
  • Due to my insistence that members use their full, real names, the quality of conversation was usually higher than some of the noxious forums that are used otherwise. The members often expressed appreciation for that.

WHAT DIDN’T WORK WELL:

  • It hasn’t been the “Set it and forget it” reporting solution I hoped it might be. One time a big story broke, and I only had about two hours to gather community reaction. I took 20 very precious minutes to pull into the Panera Bread parking lot to use the wifi and solicit reaction on the site. I e-mailed all the members to let them know of my desire to hear from them. When I came back two hours later to see the mountain of riches that had come in, there wasn’t a single message in response. I ended up just calling one of the members.
  • In a community with very little activity on social networking sites, it was difficult to find a full buy-in to the concept.
  • The site did nothing to overcome what residents have repeatedly called a “culture of fear” when it comes to criticizing local officials. So in some of the most contentious and important issues, the ability to be anonymous elsewhere redirected traffic to those other forums.

Since this is getting a little long, I’ll split this up. Coming soon: Where the beatblogging project goes from here, and lessons to be learned for small-town journalism and networking.

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.

More Twitter: The news organization’s presence

A local blogger, proving that he doesn’t just throw hand grenades at our newspaper’s Web site, offers this piece of friendly advice in his blog today:

Here’s my good deed of the day:

Whoever is in charge of your self-promotion, go over to http://twitter.com and register “pennlive” for an account.

We’d hate to see you not get the domain name which would be the most effective to keeping your Website in the sight lines of the 18-34 demo.

(For clarification, I work at The Patriot-News, and the PennLive Web site that publishes our work online is owned separately by Advance Internet. Which means I couldn’t personally register that name on Twitter, and I wouldn’t have the ability to suggest it more than any other blogger. )

(For further clarification, 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.)

Anyway, I mostly agree with the blogger. It makes more sense to have a presence on Twitter than not to, even if it is as rudimentary as using TwitterFeed to display an RSS feed of recent headlines. Take 20 minutes to set that up once, let people follow you if they want to, and at least you’ll make it available if people seek you out.

That said, using Twitter as a link dump is a big missed opportunity. It’s better used by individual reporters to discuss the stories they’re working on, inviting commentary or criticism, then linking to those stories afterward to drive traffic. It doesn’t feel like a link dump when you’re actually talking to people.

It shouldn’t just be one more example of something old awkwardly being forced into something new.

@whptv is a good example of a local TV station that’s better off being there than not being there. But it has 26 followers in the area, and isn’t bothering to follow anyone back. It clearly says they’re not interested in hearing from you on Twitter, they just want to send more eyeballs to their Web site. It’s not the spirit of the site — Twitter is not the place for I-talk-you-listen.

For now, news organizations ought to set up an account and get those stories pumped through the site, because it takes no maintenance and a very small time commitment to set up.

But if they do that, they ought to also consider a long-term strategy that involves using the site the way it was meant to be used.

UPDATE (3:30 p.m.): John Hassell checks in at his Exploding Newsroom blog with details of a New Jersey network of Twitter users.

Same thing exists in Michigan. Both are on newspaper Web sites.

If the newspaper site doesn’t aggregate local users, chances are someone will. In my town, someone else just did.

ANOTHER UPDATE (7:25 p.m.): I was pleased to see an e-mail come across my in-box at 7:10 p.m. to notify me that “pennlive” is now following me on Twitter. The first two updates are links to a story on the site, and a conversation in the forums.

The first few people that “pennlive” is following are all local bloggers, so kudos to the site for being responsive to the local blogosphere.