I must admit that when we were told to start using Twitter I wasn’t very excited.  I always felt that the concept was kind of silly.  To me, Twitter seemed like a simpler, knock-off version of Facebook.  Plus, none of my close friends use Twitter, so it seemed pretty useless for me to set up an account.  However, after using Twitter for a few months, I can see why journalists think it is a vital reporting tool.

There are several obvious uses of Twitter for journalists and news organizations.  For example, reporters and news organizations can use Twitter to get tips.  During my internship at seattlepi.com this quarter, Humberto Martinez, the former Hot Topics blogger saw a tweet that claimed rapper and TV personality Flavor Flav was at Westlake Mall, so he rushed down there to get the story.  Furthermore, I saw the P-I, and many other news organizations that I began following, use Twitter to promote their site.  When the P-I was one of the first Seattle news organizations to post that Ken Griffey Jr. was retiring from the Mariners, the staff immediately tweeted a link to its article.

Lastly, categorizing tweets by hashtags is extremely helpful.  Journalists can get ideas for articles by either seeing what’s trending, or they can find a lot of information about a topic by seeing what people have tweeted about it all over the world. Traditional journalists were able to get information about the war in Mumbai and write stories via Twitter hashtags.

A few cools tips that I learned through using Twitter and reading articles about Twitter is that it can be a good interviewing tool as well.  In the article “How We Use Twitter for Journalism” written by Marshall Kirkpatrick, he suggested sending sources direct messages via Twitter in order to get quotes.  Additionally, he said that Twitter is a great way to connect with readers.  For example, if a reporter is going to interview a well-known community leader or celebrity, he can ask the public to send in their ideas for interview questions via Twitter.  I think that is a wonderful idea.  It gets the public interested in stories and makes them feel like they are involved and have a voice.

Tweets suggesting questions for an interview with Sun Microsystem's Jonathan Schwartz.

I also discovered that using Twitter is an excellent way to network.  I set up my account and mentioned that I was a journalism student in my bio.  I began following different journalists and found that those people would often send me personalized direct messages asking me what my interests were post-graduation and if I were interested in their beats.  For example, after I added @hankschulman, the sports writer for the San Francisco Chronicle, he started talking to me about covering baseball.  Also, a few of the reporters I have met through my internship offered to tweet a link to my online resume to help me find a job after school.

I think the ability to follow people without having to friend them like on other social networking sites is a great feature.  I was able to find a lot of amazing people to follow by simply adding one reporter or editor from an organization and following the people they were following.  For example, I started following Michelle Nicolosi, the editor of the P-I, and Diane Sawyer of ABC World News and poached dozens of people from their lists.

As a citizen, I like using Twitter as a means to get all of the news from my favorite sites at once.  By following only certain people and organizations, I am able to customize my news feed and stay updated on all of my favorite topics without having to check multiple websites.  This saves me a lot of time.  I receive updates from The New York Times, the P-I and Seattle Metropolitan magazine without having to look through three separate sites.

I’m very glad I was given the opportunity to use Twitter this quarter.  I think it will be around for a while, and its uses and potential will only grow with time.

Photo credit (Fair use):http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/twitter_for_journalists.php