Journalists: How to get started with Twitter

If you haven’t yet found any value in using Twitter, here’s what you should consider.

On the topic of WHY to get started, John Robinson (the editor of the News & Record, in Greensboro, North Carolina) wrote a very good piece for ASNE this week.

If you’re not on Twitter, you’re making your job more difficult. It’s a place where people are talking about things that matter to them.

John listed five key benefits for journalists who use Twitter:

  • Breaking news — I saw that Anthony Weiner was about to start his news conference from Twitter, prompting me to tune in. Shaq announced his retirement on Twitter, and Newt Gingrich declared his presidential candidacy there.
  • Networks — I hired two summer news interns when I tweeted that we were hiring. I also asked Twitter what I should tell you in this column. I got plenty of responses and provide a few links below that I was sent.
  • Interesting conversation — Everyone I mention below is interesting and will engage with you. Once you follow people in your community, it gets even better because they speak specifically about your journalism and what interests them. (That sentence is 140 characters.)
  • Interesting links about journalism — Twitter is where you’ll find the latest news and analysis of journalism issues. The links people have tweeted have led me to innovative ideas.
  • Story ideas — They’re all over Twitter if you look for them. And don’t get me started on the opportunity of crowdsourcing.

The above is quoted directly from John’s essay. I agree absolutely with his reasoning.

What John did not cover is the ways we are able to monitor and use Twitter.

Choose a Good Client App

If you just go to the website ( and use Twitter from there, it’s not very useful (you do need to go there to register initially). To maximize the benefits of using Twitter, you need to download a client. There are various clients (free and paid) for iPhone, Android, desktops (both Mac and Windows), and more.

I use TweetDeck on all my computers and on my iPhone (also available for Android, Chrome and iPad). It’s free. I like the way it lets me manage multiple columns so I can follow specific hashtags when news is breaking or a conference is under way.

An article at Tripwire magazine explains why many people like HootSuite.

In a recent post, Marty McPadden explains the strong points of 12 different Twitter apps, including those best for sharing photos or music.

The People You Follow

As John pointed out in his essay, the value in Twitter really is in whom you choose to follow. He provided a list of good people for journalists to follow, but I thought his list was too long for a newbie to appreciate.

If you still think Twitter is a waste of time, try this:

  1. Unfollow everyone you currently follow.
  2. Follow five or so headline sources you like (e.g., Al Jazeera English, BBC Breaking News, CNN Breaking News, The New York Times, NPR NewsESPN).
  3. Check in a few times a day using your mobile phone.

I think this simple exercise will demonstrate pretty well why Twitter has value to journalists. It addresses only the first one of John’s five benefits — explore the other four on your own!