Twitter lesson with @fieldproducer

As a journo at University of Sheffield, I had the great pleasure to meet Neal Mann aka fieldproducer today, on a Twitter workshop. He describes himself as a “Freelance Journalist & social media junkie working for the likes of Sky News.” Basically, he has been breaking news on Twitter since 2009 for Sky News. Neal was a former broadcast MA student at the Uni. And he came to teach us some in-depth about this weird, yet fabulous micro-blogging platform. I admit I’m not such a big fan of tweeting, but I guess that’s because I’m more of a Facebook person.

However, there’s another story with Mark Zuckerberg’s billion wonder – it’s more friend like than newswise. There are many tips about Twitter on hundreds or thousands of blogs, yet not many people use Twitter as a tool for news gathering. Most of the print and web journalists, especially in my country, Romania, tweet only for promoting their articles, editorials etc. And that’s just fine, but there is more than selling your news on Twitter. There are stories hiding behind those 140 character messages, stories which can reach you faster and stronger even than media agencies such as AP or Reuters.

I remember, when I worked for, that some of the very first pictures I’ve seen with the bomb attacks on Moscow metro last year came from Twitter. And so did the pictures of the airplane landing safely on Hudson river or the pictures of the train crash in Belgium in Feb. 2010. There are numerous examples of the “hand” that Twitter gives to journalists and I think that those who grab this hand can score some white-pinkish points in their news rooms.

Obviously, you have to know who to follow and who are the three (or several) reliable sources you need as a journalist to put together a story. Breaking news is not simple in an era of global, digital journalism in which there are so many people who have access to a diversity of sources, from bloggers to common citizens. That’s when a good twitter account makes the difference!

Neal advised us to use Twitter for making lists of people according to our and their interests (i.e. police, military, council lists). It’s not easy to gain important, influential people as your followers, but building a brand of yourself for the virtual world triggers confidence and privacy. And then people will feel safe and confident enough to talk to you first before going to other journalists. So, Twitter helps us gain the trust of thousands of people that we have not even met before in the flesh. For a conservative, traditional journalist this sounds as an absolute madness, however famous media trusts base some of their most valuable news stories on such investigation.

It takes time, a smart phone and a good wi-fi connection to be on Twitter all day long, seven days a week, and sometimes it might be boring, but I strongly believe it can easily become an addiction. Oh, and one more thing I was told today: don’t broadcast your hangover, the colour of your piss or the smell of your morning coffee…nobody cares about it, unless you’re famous, of course! 🙂

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