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A Very Simple Way To Use Twitter To Produce A News Story

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Time Cover Story: How Twitter Will Change The Way We Live (in 140 characters of less)

Source: SteveGarfield's Flickr page

 

There was a big fire in Seattle’s SoDo district several weeks back and one of the stories we at KIRO 7 Eyewitness News (sorry, that’s the full brand name) pulled out of it was generated almost entirely from Twitter. It wasn’t anything revolutionary or complicated and since it’d be really easy to duplicate, I wanted to share what we did.

As the resident social media guy (I don’t really have an official title for those duties), the first thing I did when news of the fire came over the scanner was open up a few searches on Twitter. I do this every time news breaks and I try to think of what people who know about the news event would be Tweeting; in this case:

  • Seattle fire
  • SoDo fire
  • etc.

I find Twitter search operators—particularly the location operator—particularly useful:

  • fire near:seattle
  • smoke near:seattle within:10mi
  • etc.

I do a bunch of searches because the one bit of news that ends up being hugely useful could be typed in an obscure way that not a lot of people would think of.

Anyway, after a few minutes, I started getting Tweets from people who were near the scene. How did I know? They either said it (re: Tweeted it) or they posted photos that suggested they were in the immediate area.

From there, it was just a matter of asking a reporter, “Hey, do we want to try to contact someone who’s at the scene?” to which I got a “Uh, yeah” (or something) and @ replied with a few Twitter users.

Once I got someone who was willing to speak with us, we followed each other and exchanged phone information via direct message. I passed the person off to one of our reporters and the result, a few hours later, was this story in one of our evening newscasts about how smoke from the fire had cleared out nearby office buildings.

Again, this wasn’t anything particularly revolutionary. We just used the tools we had to track down a source. Could we have just sent Graham Johnson down there to wander around and look for people to interview? Yeah, but this saved a lot of time and generated a story idea before he even left the building.

Old school methods will always be useful, but a reporter isn’t adding any weight to his or her utility belt by picking up a few new school tricks, too.

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