Country Watch: How to Make a Great Twitter List & Turn it Into a Newsletter

Nuzzel is a website that connects with Twitter and allow you to create a newsletter out of your timeline, or any public Twitter list you may have created. It was created to “solve the problems of social overload”, and it does that pretty well: links most shared by your Twitter friends are grouped up in a neat newsletter, sent every day or whenever a particular link is shared more than a set number of times. You can also go on the website at any time and see which links are shared the most among in your timeline.

It’s cool. But as a journalist, if you use it to follow your core interests, you will have already seen the articles several times on the web and social media by the time Nuzzel sends the newsletter. It can still be useful, to make sure you did not miss any crucial piece of news, but more as a backup than anything else.

However, I’ve found that, combined with Twitter lists, Nuzzel can be a great way of following news focused on a specific country.

Set Up Your List

China is a fascinating country. I think so, at least, despite the fact that I never write about China as a journalist. But thanks to Nuzzel, I can easily keep track of China-related news.

The first and most important step is to create a Twitter list. Now, when it comes to following news about a country, I believe you should limit yourself to two types of Twitter accounts: experts, and journalists working in the country. The goal is to limit as much as possible the newsletter from being “polluted” by other topics, which will inevitably happen if you include accounts of English-language media that talk about all kind of news (even if they are based in the country you’re interested in).

@ChinaRealTime

In my case, I make exceptions for media accounts that talk exclusively about China, such as FT China or Reuters China. In fact, if the country you’re targeting is big enough that press agencies have a dedicated account, you should start with those. They are the easiest to find.

Next up are accounts belonging to journalists and local correspondents. This is also fairly easy. Fire up Followerwonk, a Twitter analysis service that comes with a free tool for searching Twitter bios, and type keywords that foreign correspondents will typically use in their bios.

Here are some examples (to be changed depending on the country you’re looking at, of course):

“correspondent/journalist/reporter/editor based China”; (the keyword “based” is a good way to limit yourself to journalists who are actually in the country. If you don’t care, remove it); “China correspondent”; “China bureau”; “Beijing/Hong Kong bureau”.

Finally, you can check lists set up by press agencies: the AFP has lists of journalists based in various regions (including Asia).

Results on Followerwonk for the search “China bureau chief”

Once you have added journalists to your list, you can start looking for experts. Searching for relevant journalists first is important because you may not know who the experts in the field are, but these journalists will. Of course, you could look for specialists by searching Twitter bios, just like we did for journalists, but it will be much more difficult to know whether these experts are reliable or not.

A much safer –though slightly longer– way is to take a couple of journalists that we selected earlier, and dive in the list of people they follow. You should quickly find researchers, historians, political scientists and other kind of experts. And every time you find someone interesting, you can go deeper: go through his list of followers, find interesting people, rinse, repeat. Soon, you should have a decently-sized list of knowledgeable people (Here, by the way, is my Twitter list for China).

Putting Nuzzel to Work

Now, it’s time to set up your newsletter. To make Nuzzel truly useful, your Twitter list should have at least 50 members, though a hundred or more works best: below that, links will only rarely be shared by several people, which kind of defeat the purpose of the service (knowing which links are the most relevant).

Setting up the actual newsletter is simple: go to the Nuzzel website, connect your Twitter account, set your feed to “public”, select the appropriate list and click “subscribe”.

In the settings panel, you can select at what time you will receive your daily newsletter (Nuzzel claims on his blog that the newsletter can be made weekly, but I cannot find the option anywhere). And you’re done: every day, you will receive a brief of the most popular links shared by members of your list. Most recently, Nuzzel highlighted for me this great piece in the London Review of Books about Chinese intellectual and writer Wang Xiaobo, an article I would have very likely missed if I had simply taken a look at the Twitter list from time to time.

There is one issue though: to set up the newsletter, you have to make your Nuzzel profile public (this will show links shared on your timeline), as well as any lists to which you want to subscribe. It’s not really a problem in the case described above, but could be in other situations: if you want to follow a group of extremists (for example), you may not want this to be public. In that case, you can simply check the list on Nuzzel: you won’t be able to subscribe to the newsletter, but will still be able to see on the website which links have been shared the most.

One last thing: if you already know a perfect Twitter list created by someone else, you can make it yours using this tool, before adding it to Nuzzel.