How Twitter reports news in 140 characters or less

You will be hard to find someone who hasn’t heard of Twitter. Millions of users worldwide tweet, retweet, quote tweet and sometimes even indirect tweet. But where does the microblogging site slot into the wide world of journalism?

Twitter was launched back in 2006 and is described in its mission: “To give everyone the power to create and share ideas and information instantly, without barriers.” (Twitter).

With approximately 313 million monthly active users, Twitter is up there with the Facebooks and the Instagrams as one of today’s most popular social media sites. The microblogging platform has started to play a huge role in reporting the news for a number of reasons…

Live Tweeting

Live tweeting is something usually undertaken at big events, or press conferences. However, in today’s modern age, more and more live tweets are being sent out covering a wide range of events and subjects. At a football match, watching Big Brother, watching a couple on the bus. These are all things that are live tweeted everyday.

What’s the appeal? Well by live tweeting you are actively engaging in the subject in one way or another. If you are updating your followers on an argument you are witnessing in a restaurant, you are live tweeting. The key word here is “live”. You must be tweeting while the event is going on… in 140 characters or less.

There are plenty of tips and tricks to live tweet, but I like this 5 Things You Need to Know to Successfully Live-Tweet an Event page on Hootsuite (check it out).

Live tweeting can also be useful for reporting the news. Journalists use Twitter to break news, and with so many users of the site, it is not surprising that lots of people get their news from Twitter. Publications have their own Twitter pages which often live tweet as major events are happening.

Papers on Twitter

As mentioned just now, national papers like The Telegraph, The Times and The Guardian all have twitter accounts. Here, they can use Twitter to break news, react to events, look back on major events or start discussions on stories.

At the time of writing, on Twitter, The Telegraph has 1.93 million followers, The Guardian’s twitter page has 6.18 million followers and BBC Breaking News has a staggering 28.1 million followers.

My post on news apps outlined why people like reading news stories on the go, and Twitter is another example of this. Not only can you receive stories fast, but with only 140 characters to play with, followers can enjoy a summary of the key events which seem to work well with the busy city lives many individuals lead.

Direct tweets to editors

Twitter seems to have taken the Letters to Editors’ place in the complaints department. Many papers’ editors have their own pages, and their handles can be found easily, meaning if you are unhappy with something written in a newspaper or online, you could just drop a quick tweet to the editor of said publication.

I suppose if you want to praise the editor, this is good press for the paper. However, if complaining, not only will the editor get a notification, but your own followers might get an insight into the issue too. This is not so good for the editor, or the paper, and something news companies must really think about now with regards to public opinion.

Citizen Journalism

Citizen journalism is a huge topic, with whole blogs and studies devoted to the subject. However, I will attempt to condense it down here in relation to Twitter.

“[mass noun] The collection, dissemination, and analysis of news and information by the general public, especially by means of the Internet.”
— Oxford Dictionaries (Online)

In terms of Twitter, citizen journalism is used mostly at big events. It allows members of the public to take on the role of the journalist by reporting what they can see. Videos of natural disasters, accounts from the scenes of terrorist attacks or photos taken at political rallies can all be classed as citizen journalism.

More often than not it is the power of film from a smart phone that is used by news platforms. While programmes like BBC News or ITV News can report events after they have happened, there will probably not be anyone from the station there at the time of the event. So civilians there at the time can take the place of the paid cameramen to capture the footage.

“You can make the most amazing films using content from social networks, sometimes with the permission and sometimes without the permission of the people who shot them.”
- Chris Shaw, editorial director ITN Productions

It is clear to see how important Twitter is to the changing face of journalism today. In 140 characters or less, we can consume the news, contact the news, critique the news, break the news and make the news.

My experiences micro-blogging on Twitter

I have been using Twitter to accompany this blog to further my understanding of how journalism is changing, and to also promote posts here with followers.

On the whole, I do like Twitter. It allows you to tell stories with limited space, often meaning people get to the point quickly. This is something I like when accessing the Twitter app on the go — depending on who you follow you can get a real feel for what is going on in the world just by scrolling through.

However, this does depend on who you follow. There are a lot of people on Twitter, who in my opinion use the micro-blogging site as a diary. This is fine, but perhaps some information is best kept to yourself. If you promote yourself as someone who is passionate about politics, what you are having for lunch is probably not that interesting to your followers.

But then again that depends on followers. If your followers want to learn what you had for lunch, proven through responses, retweets and likes, then carry on if that’s what you want. The good thing about Twitter in this sense is you can easily unfollow or mute (even better) accounts. I have to admit, I have muted a few people I follow. It’s ok, they don’t know.

Hashtags are great because you can hone in on certain areas through the search bar alone. This was useful when I was searching for tweets and accounts to use as research, and also to find relevant topics to retweet. The hashtag function is also useful when live tweeting. I chose to live tweet a Zoella video, and by using the #zoella, I could see other people tweeting about her channel. There were lots and lots and lots of tweets about her, as I am sure you can imagine.

I also liked the list function, which is not something I have used before. The lists allow you to collate accounts into categories, in my case I collected different journalists into a list aptly named: Journa-List.

Overall I would say Twitter is great if you are interested in a particular topic and can find other accounts also interested in it. That way, tweets largely remain focused on the subject in hand, and you can connect with and react to similar accounts. The hashtag function is useful and the 140 characters mean stories are usually concise. However with so many different accounts, feeds can become hard to get through, and ultimately, no one really cares how good your sandwich was, do they?