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Five tips for reporting with Twitter

Real-time communication over the web through Twitter has had an enormous impact on journalism. Twitter is becoming an increasingly valuable tool for reporting. It started out as a simple alarm bell. One tweet about an accident was a wake-up call for journalists to follow-up on the topic and/or get in touch with tweeps on location. Think, for example, about the plane crash on the Hudson River, or the tweets from Cairo’s Tahrir Square.

Journalists now have more and better tools to monitor and check tweets. But how do you use these tools for good reporting with Twitter?

Search
Using tweets in journalism is like drinking from a fire hose. Don’t get yourself wet or choked. Twitter networks generally have a short distance. A tweet about an accident, for instance, will reach a journalist on Twitter fast. Instead of passively waiting, the journalist can actively follow the trending topics on Twitter. Or search Twitter by a keyword or hash tag. The search engine Topsy is great for conducting a variety of Twitter related searches.

Taking #Cairo as an example, because of the political unrest related to the Coptic demonstrations, searching for Cairo gives a whole list of tweets. With another click I get the related pictures or videos. If you want to check an image use Tineye. Upload the picture or give the url and Tineye will try to establish the source of the picture. Of course you can always use Mobypicture and Twitpic for finding pictures from Twitter. Finally, if I want to have an idea about the credibility of the sources, just click in the Topsy menu bar on experts. Topsy would be my first choice when it comes to crowdsourcing real-time information.

Location
Let’s take another example: A dramatic car accident or plane crash. Can I find a citizen reporter when there is no journalist around? This means searching tweets by geographic location. Seek a Tweet and Nearby Tweets are two interesting search engines for finding persons on the spot of the car accident or plane crash.

Nearby Tweets gives an overview of tweets from a certain position. With Seek a Tweet, you can zoom in to a certain location and find an overview of the tweets. If you use Layer, the augmented reality viewer, in combination with Tweeps Around, you can actually find the people tweeting in that area.

Credibility
One of the biggest problems for an editor when it comes to looking at a source on Twitter, is the question: Is this true, is it checked and credible information? If you are not around yourself, a solution is to derive to credibility from the person who is sending the tweet. Is he or she a reliable source on Twitter? Kloutscore measures the influence of a person sending tweets based on followers, retweets and the influence of the followers. Mentionapp shows the most important contact lines of a person. Both indices can help to determine the credibility of a person. Once we have some background, we can also use LinkedIn or Facebook to find out more about the person and the credibility.

Translation
Tweets are not always in English, so you have to translate from time to time. For a single tweet Google translate will help, but what if you’re faced with a series of tweets in different languages? Yahoo pipes is an interesting tool that aims to solve precisely this problem. You filter the input of tweets by language and topic, feed them into Google translator and then use the output, or feed them again using location of the tweep to put them on a map.

There are times when you might just be interested in the tweets between two people. For instances like this Yahoo pipes created a really interesting filter, called the “Twitter Conversation Tracker”. If you use another pipe you can turn this data into an RSS feed.

Publish tweets
When you have done the research and sipped carefully from the hose, you might find that you don’t have time to write and publish a complete story. In this case, the answer is relatively simple: Turn Twitter into a newspaper. You can publish all the tweets and add comments using Storify, for instance.

The list of interesting tools and application for Twitter is growing by the day. SimpleZesty published this most comprehensive Twitter app list. Twitter is real-time network based communication and all the tweeps are connected by a social network.

Analysing these networks creates a cornucopia of data and indices which are useful for reporting. That is exactly what all these apps are doing. In the newsroom there is hardly any tradition about handling these new tools for reporting. Reuters gives some guidelines on the use of social media in its Handbook of Journalism. As for the rest, you have to find out yourself…on Twitter.

Author | Peter Verweij

Peter Verweij
After 30 years of lecturing and training at the School of Journalism at Utrecht in journalism, politics and new media, Peter Verweij, started in 2005 his own company D3-Media, which focuses on the following areas: Production of journalistic content for multimedia media and blogs; Research in the area... More