Best practices — & an assignment — for tweets

9 Sep , 2015  

Most if not all of you probably have a Twitter account. We need to get your Twitter handle (mine is @jcsouth and Tim’s is @mediacabbage). So please provide that here. (I’ve got the handles for: Angela Judson, Audry Dubon, Benjamin Weiner, Niyah White, Rodrigo Arriaza, Samantha Federico and Travis Ellison.)

Before we examine how to use Twitter, let’s consider why journalists use Twitter. Here’s a PBS video that provides this context:

Journalists can use Twitter in a lot of ways:

¶ As a reporting tool (to find story ideas, sources or specific information, or to verify something they’ve heard)

¶ As a publishing tool (blasting out the news in real time)

¶ As a promotion and engagement tool (to tell people about your story, or to discuss a story you’ve published or are working on)

On its website, Twitter has posted strategies for journalists, newsrooms and TV stations and networks. Those strategies cover the range of ways journalists can use Twitter — from searching tweets to “find just what you’re looking for,” to interacting with users, to creating Twitter lists (a way of organizing the Twitter feeds you follow).

Similarly, the Poynter Institute has published “10 ways journalists can use Twitter before, during and after reporting a story.” That list also covers how to use Twitter for both research and publishing.

Twitter’s playbook for journalists discusses:

¶ the importance of using hashtags — so people looking for a particular topic will see your tweet. But you need the right hashtag. You should search Twitter and read a lot of tweets to determine which tags most people are using to discuss a certain topic. The hashtags associated with the bicycle race include: #Richmond2015, #TheWorldsAtVCU,  #vcubrb (for VCU Bike Race Book).

¶ and Twitter handles — the names of people or institutions using Twitter. That way, those Twitter users will be notified that you’ve tweeted about them. Your tweets might mention @richmond2015 (the organization hosting the 2015 UCI Road World Cycling Championships in Richmond), for example.

The Reynolds Journalism Institute at the Missouri School of Journalism has a list of “Best Twitter practices for journalists.” This tipsheet focuses on the publishing aspects of Twitter — how to write a good tweet.

What  makes a good tweet? You need content, of course — something interesting or important to say. Apply the news senses (what makes news?) discussed in the NewsU module you took. And you need to distill that information into 140 characters — in essence, a “lead” … a summary/focus sentence, with the most important of the 5 W’s + H (who, what, when, where, why and how).

Twitter has done research on what makes a good tweet. It found that photos, videos, hashtags and links are important. Tweets with those elements are more likely to be retweeted — to go viral:

Numbers apparently are enticing, too (as they are on, say, a magazine cover). So a tweet like “5 bars with the best burgers in Richmond” would have more appeal than “where to find a good burger in Richmond.”

Another source of inspiration is the Shorty Awards, the Pulitzer Prizes for tweeting. This year, Wesley Lowery of The Washington Post won a Shorty in the journalist category for tweets like this.

Tweets don’t have to follow AP style. You can use some shorthand and creative punctuation (but don’t be too cryptic, and make sure your grammar and spelling are solid).

For our class, here is your Twitter assignment for this week (meaning, you must complete it by Thursday, Sept. 17):

  • Write at least 10 tweets related to the bicycle race.
  • No more than three tweets on any one day (so space them out).
  • Every tweet must have the hashtag #TheWorldsAtVCU and at least one other hashtag (but don’t go hashtag-crazy, with every word a hashtag).
  • At least half of your tweets should have a link.
  • At least half of your tweets should have a photo.
  • At least three of your tweets should “mention” an individual or institution (like “@VCU will cancel classes for the #Richmond2015 international bike race the week of 9/21”)

If you’re going to have hashtags and a link, the content of your tweet will have to be a lot shorter than 140 characters. My recommendation is to draft your tweet in Microsoft Word, so you can run spell-check. Then paste it into the Twitter window to see how Twitter measures the character count.

Also, once we get everybody’s Twitter handles, we want you to follow other members of the class on Twitter. That way, we’ll each see everybody’s tweet.

Questions? Let me know.

— Jeff South


This just in, from the BBC:

Live-tweeting a breaking news story #PistoriusTrial

Some takeaways:

Set the scene

“I felt the only point in me being there was to offer my perspective on what it was like to be in that court-room. It wasn’t enough to just describe what I was seeing – I had to tell people what I thought.”

In court. #OscarPistorius just arrived. He’s looking, dare I say, more relaxed than usual.

Two paramedics just arrived in court. Official now talking to #OscarPistorius and his lawyer. Medics poised, presumably for faintings etc..

And after the verdict:

#OscarPistorius sits, rubs his face, and slumps forward briefly. Not much emotion in court. We knew this verdict was coming.

Relay the atmosphere

“I wanted to convey how people around me were clearly feeling – and indeed how I was feeling.”

So we’re close to the end. We could see #OscarPistorius being asked to stand for verdicts within minutes.

Judge moves onto 2 count having failed to spell out culp hom verdict, but clearly implied it. Tantalising suspense.

A short while later:

#OscarPistorius head bowed and shakes, neck muscles flex. Appears to be crying.

But that’s not the end of the matter says the judge, moving onto culpable homicide…total silence in court room.

And after Judge Masipa delivered her main verdict:

No one is infallible. Not even lawyers, quips Masipa to chuckles in court.

Use your experience to interpret, even predict

The pace of the trial picked up considerably in the final days as the judge disposed of a lot of prosecution evidence that would not have survived the reasonable doubt test under South African law. “Now it was easier to focus on what the narrative was likely to be. And the judge was very clear in her direction. After all those weeks, I had the confidence to anticipate occasionally.”

I may be getting ahead of myself but it looks like verdict of culpable homicide likely…#OscarPistorius

#OscarPistorius sobbing now, quietly, as chance of murder verdict appears (stress appears) to recede

When the big news breaks, tweet it fast, play it straight

“The news people are waiting for needs to speak for itself. Be brief, swift, unambiguous.”

#OscarPistorius still as a rock as he stands in the dock, listening to other verdicts on gun charges

Masipa – unanimous decision of court….Not guilty of murder. Guilty of culpable homicide.

Mr Pistorius please stand up….here we go.

Be concise, informal, conversational

“I enjoy conjuring a short phrase to keep people following, and a limit of 140 characters concentrates the mind under pressure.

“With the usual warnings of not going over the top, live-tweeting is a case of saying: ‘Here I am; here is what’s happening; here is my opinion of what’s really happening or likely to happen.’”

Brace yourselves, judge about to return…

Will she take tea break before asking #OscarPistorius to stand for final verdicts? Wouldn’t bet against it…

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