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How to make your journalistic Twitter network rock: A case study

Twitter is as essential a tool for journalism these days as a pen and notepad once were. One tweet can be can be as valuable as afternoon spent buying drinks for a source. It’s also a great way of spreading your own content and building your name as a journalist. The same rules that apply to big brands when it comes to Twitter, apply to you as a journalist. It’s not just about using Twitter, it’s about how you use it and how you measure up to your competitors.

There are a number of tools that let you do this. I decided to use a couple of them in a case study showing how one South African news organisation is coming up trumps on Twitter.

Analysing a Twitter network of 500 journalists from South Africa shows that those working for national weekly the Mail & Guardian (M&G) are building particularly effective networks. Using the Twitter names on Hacks List, downloading their relations, and analysing them in Gephi and NodeXL creates the following graph:

In order to make this hairball a bit more attractive, I have set size to authority and gave different groups a colour. This network consists of 506 people sharing 2503 relations, which gives a density of nine percent.

For detailed analysis we have to dig deeper than this graph. Here is a graph of the top 20 most authoritative journalists on Twitter:

The M&G has three people in this list and thus scores high on authority, meaning it is a respected source on Twitter.

If we compare the number of journalists for each organisation, we see just how big a lead the Mail & Guardian has in the Twittersphere:

The M&G has the highest number of journalists on Twitter, making up four percent of the 500 in the list.

The journalists from the M&G are not a closed elite on Twitter (only listening to and following each other). Creating groups of people who are closer connected and share more relations in the Twitter network paints an interesting picture.

In the Twitter network the following six groups can be constructed:

The biggest and therefore most important are: group 0 (colour green and 28% of the Twitter users) dedicated to news and opinion and group 4 (colour purple and 33% of the Twitter users) dedicated to hard news. How is M&G related to these groups?

Mail & Guardian editor Nic Dawes Nic Dawes leads in group 0, which concerns news and opinion. Deputy editor Vernashi Pillay plays a similar role in group 3 where Media24 plays an important role.

The 20 journalists at the M&G are divided over the groups as follows:

M&G tweeters per group:

The division over different subgroups in the network is interesting. Six M&G journalists are connected to the news and opinion subgroup, where freelance journalists are in the majority. Nine of them are connected to the hard news subgroup were other leading media are represented.

The mutual relations network shows that the people at the Mail & Guardian watch each closely, which is not uncommon among journalists, as is shown by an analysis of UK journalists in the Guardian.

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
  • I really like the use of data and social network analysis in this post. Top job done here.

  • Why does your article omit any mention of City Press, which also has 3 journalists in the top 20? As far as I can rank it, based purely on editors, Nick Dawes sits at least 11,000 followers behind Ferial. So why no mention of SA’s twitter queen? Inaccurate article. Pretty pictures though.