Twitter: Just start

Robert Niles in the Online Journalism Review adds his voice to the crew advocating Twitter for journalists.

His advice: Just start.

He’s right: There is huge skepticism in the craft of the value of a 140-character feed and what it can give and take.

Those of us on Twitter ( are hearing what all of us heard a decade or so ago when we began using the Web for journalism: Waste of time, too much blather, overwhelming to wade through, among other things.

I’ve been on Twitter for about nine months. What I’m finding after a more concerted four or five months is substantially the opposite of what the skeptics are suggesting.

1. I’m getting more information for this blog (and thus for my newsroom) from Twitter than from any single source, because the people I’m following are relevant to my work and interests. Their findings become my writings.

2. I’m learning more quickly about events from Twitter than from wires and sites. Paying attention to my Twitter feed guides a certain part of our news operation at times.

3. I’m finding colleagues and great strangers alike with interesting things to say and link to. One of Twitter’s beauties is its intercontinentalism: I have followers and I follow people in New Zealand, Australia, Africa, Europe, Asia and North America. No Antarctic residents yet and, strangely, no South Americans. But that’ll come, I guess.

4. I’m still modifying how many I feel I can properly follow. I am trying to keep a ratio of following-to-followers at about 1:2, but I’m not wedded to that. Mainly I just find it difficult to keep abreast of Tweets from more than 300 or so, and I don’t want to rely on feeds or filters, because I think that defeats the live purpose. I think of Twitter as an electronic scroll of the last number of hours, and it’s like playing a good drama in reverse. In short, I find what 300-350 people Tweet each day plenty to absorb.

5. My newsroom now has more than a dozen on Twitter, and I know we’re going to have to refine our approach, because it’s not working for everyone. Still, reporters are finding a new distribution channel for their content. They’re starting to get their followers to help them develop stories. Our editors are alerting people to stories we’re developing. All in all, it’s a more than acceptable use of our time.