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The Twitter-ization of the newsroom … Can we make it happen?

March 12, 2007

OK, I admit it. I’m hooked on the new hot thing called “Twitter.” Yeah, it sounds dirtier than it really is.

Twitter is the new social text messaging site/service from Obvious, the makers of the Odeo podcasting site. Account users can “microblog” posts of up to 140 characters to the site on the website, via instant message (most services are compatible) or via cell phone SMS.

Twitter logoThe posts are all supposed to answer the question “What are YOU doing?” But as new users pile onto this service pre- and post-SXSW (South by Southwest festival, in Austin, Texas — the Twitter coming-of-age event from this past weekend currently ongoing), the messages are a mix of the following:

  • “Hey, read what I just wrote on my blog!” with an accompanying TinyURL, to fit in the message size constraints.
  • “Check out the mundane thing I’m doing (drinking coffee, just woke up, going to bed, etc.), but posting about.” (Isn’t this what most blogs are about anyway?)
  • Someone somewhere just bashed Twitter users … let’s stone them!

When they post, the short message gets relayed to all of their “friends” on the site that choose to view them. And vice versa, the account user sees all of their friends’ posts, sent to their phone, IM client or web page as they come in.

Never heard of Twitter before? If you’re interested in the latest technology or trends, hop over to (nicknamed “Twitterati” by Scoble today) and read about 20 or so blogosphere views on the service.

And more keep rolling in. Some of the posts include:

  • Humor about how Twitter’s staff won the SXSW Web Award, then everyone “Twittered” that Twitter had won, causing SMS text message traffic to spike.
  • Questions about whether Twitter distracts users from other work (like “real” blog posting).
  • Questions about whether Twitter is just for people who love “popularity contests and small talk.” And whether there’s a “geek-wide conspiracy to make us like this stupid, timewasting, useless black hole of an application whether we want to or not,” Karoli opines.
  • Robert Scoble thinks Twitter hate is “the new black.” And I wore black today … irony!
  • How blogging has evolved through the years to become Twitter. Pete Cashmore illustrates the timeline by showing how to blog about one’s cat using Blogger, Flickr, YouTube and now Twitter.
    Cat history (John Cashmore)

My wife introduced me to this new social text messaging site/service a few days ago. She’s been using the Mac app Twitterific and a new Twitter device from Second Life.After a weekend of playing around with its capabilities, I think it’s ready for an interesting next step.

I think it’s time to try Twitter out in the newsroom at the Lancaster New Era and Lancaster Newspapers.

More about how we’ll get there after the jump…

Reading Chris Brogan’s Lifehack post about Twitter uses made me think. Here’s the applications he suggests in his “5 ways to use Twitter for good”:

  • Quick Human Answers– Ask folks on your friend’s list which digital camera to buy for under $300 US, and you’ll get back a stream of responses.
  • Conference / News Briefings– The last several major tech events were covered by Twitter. I heard about the Apple iPhone faster through Twitter than I would via blog surfing. Similarly, I’ve watched people in San Francisco report earthquakes that took news sources hours to confirm.
  • Friendsourcing– Last Tuesday, I asked about a web designer for a project. I got back 14 emails in 10 minutes from different sources on Twitter. It’s a great place to find folks to help with things. We once helped a friend out of a bind when he got stuck at an airport, strictly by Twitter. (I write about friendsourcing on my blog).
  • Micro-Attention-Sharing– Lots of us use Twitter to direct folks to blog posts we’ve written, news we find needs sharing, or entertaining things we’ve found on the web (Twitter has a built in function to use to shrink URLs to keep it under 140 characters). It’s *like* using to share, but it’s instant, and you wouldn’t drop 100 links on someone in Twitter in a given day.
  • Direct People to Good Causes– I’ve seen plenty of posts of someone doing a walk for hunger or a collection for diabetes. Twitter allows people to use their friend lists to propagate that information faster, and try to draw more direct help down to a problem.

Let’s focus on Brogan’s second point … news briefings.

One of the biggest complaints I hear from editors in our newsroom is that they can’t find people when they need to. They frequently remind reporters to check in now and then so staff know where they are and what stories they are working on.

As our newsroom slowly becomes more and more mobile and photographers and reporters work from remote locations instead of a newsroom desk, a system will be needed for the writers to check in more often.

Twitter could be perfect for this use.

Twitter pageSetting up a “Lancaster Newspapers” group on Twitter would allow reporters and photographers to “tweet” to Twitter their locations and what they are doing. That feed could be viewed by editors to keep tabs on their staff on duty. It could even be a basic timeclock program, if you wanted it to measure time on and off duty.

Also, the feed could be open to the public (maybe on our future blog site in-development), so they can see “inside” the newsroom process, giving them a better idea of where we are and how we decide what we cover. This is already happening in other ways as newsrooms broadcast their editorial board meetings and morning staff meetings via webcast.

Also, just think of the breaking news applications this has for our readers. Sports reporters can fire off a quick “tweet” with up-to-the-minute sports scores and updates. Breaking news would be instant to the web from the location as reporters use text messages to update Twitter. The possibilities are endless.

So, once I get the OK today from the boss (coming this afternoon, I hope), I’ll send out about 20 or so invites to newsroom staff at my paper, the New Era, and some staff at the Intelligencer-Journal and Sunday News to join in a trial of the Twitter group.

I’ll report back on the progress, and we’ll see how well this is adopted by staffers that are new to the blog lifestyle. I’m curious how many will make allusions to the “Big Brother”-ness of letting someone (ie. Twitter, the web) know where you are and what you’re doing all day long.

Personally, I have no problem with it. So, is now posting on Twitter.

Twitter logo

Just click on the Twitter link/icon in the sidebar to add me to your “social”. I’ll try to post several times per day. I hope you enjoy and e-mail/Twitter me with your comments.

  1. March 16, 2007 1:13 am

    I especially like the idea on micro-blogging-newscasting. At the end of the day bloggers are basically newsfindings so if twitter gives us the chance to report that quicker then great stuff. 🙂


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