Tips for journalists using Twitter

Updated and expanded Twitter tips for journalists

Someday Twitter tips will seem as unnecessary for most journalists as notebook tips. But in the past few weeks, Steve Buttry notes, “I have encountered several journalists who were not using Twitter yet. A couple just within the last week asked my advice, so I decided to update my tips for journalists using Twitter, originally published in July 2009.”

Here is a sampling: 

Breaking news is probably where Twitter shows its greatest value again and again. When news breaks in your community, you can connect with sources and gather information in a variety of ways:

  • If you’re following lots of people in your community, you may see tweets from some eyewitnesses or some people feeling the impact.
  • You can use Twitter’s Advanced Search to search for keywords that might be likely to pop up in tweets about the breaking story, such as “flood,” “tornado” or “crash.”
  • You can use Twitter Search to find hashtag discussions already forming around the event, again trying different keywords. You can save searches for a keyword or a hashtag as a column in TweetDeck or HootSuite or as a saved search in your Twitter account (searches are a column on the Twitter home page).
  • If you jump on a breaking story quickly, try to promote a hashtag that others will pick up. If the hashtag catches on, you will see tweets from people you aren’t following. promotes #okstorm during bad weather.
  • As you find tweets indicating that people have first-hand experience with the story you are covering, reply to them (or direct-message them, if you follow them), asking them to call you directly for an interview.
  • Search also for photos posted on services such as Twitpic or Instagram. Ask people for permission to publish their photos
  • Use NearbyTweets or advanced Twitter search to see what people near the news site are tweeting.
  • Feed a hashtag or some feeds of people witnessing the news into your blog or story, using CoverItLive, ScribbleLive or a Twitter widget that feeds them in automatically or using Storify to curate the best tweets or to group tweets by topic or weave them into a story.
  • Embed individual tweets or a group of tweets into a story using QuoteURL or Blackbird Pie.


COPY POINT: Nasty Overuse of the word “Nasty”

One of the goals of COPY POINT is to dispose of overused words and hyperbole.  I’ve just uncovered another one spreading faster than a pandemic. The word is nasty.  These are some of the many ways we have used it in the past 30 days:

Nasty storms
Nasty Flash Flooding
Nasty consequences (Debt Ceiling)
Nasty Spill (on shirt)
Nasty Surprise (lottery ticket)
Nasty Sore Throat
Nasty Spring(the entire season)
Nasty Road conditions
Nasty Start (holiday accidents)
Nasty Gashes

A good half of these don’t fit any dictionary definition of the word,


1. physically filthy; disgustingly unclean: a nasty pigsty of a room.
2. offensive to taste or smell; nauseating.
3. offensive; objectionable: a nasty habit.

OTNB IDEA: How about “storms packing 69 mph winds, a sore raspy sour throat, icy road conditions, unwelcome surprise..”.   

 Adjectives can add to understanding in a story, or clutter our copy. Let’s re-commit to precision of language and temporarily put “nasty” on hold.

COPY POINT – Perfect Present Tense

Who, What, _____, Where, Why… Wait a Minute!!

Anyone watching television these days must be asking what happened to WHEN. Somewhere along the line television headline writers forgot that we need to know when something happened.

You’ve heard it:

A Homeless man dies in a fire in Murray.”

“Golfers get Quite a Surprise when a plane lands on the ninth green”.

“An Earthquake Rocks the Philippines” we are told a full day after the event.

Now I know no one is deliberately trying to deceive the viewers, but we are creating more news-speak. Our attempts to improve our writing by making it more active and immediate are a great concept, but our results miss the mark.

Adding to the problem is that we then revert back and tell the rest of the story in past tense. If you watch FOX NEWS, they sometimes manage to get all three tenses of a verb of being in one sentence.

A long-time friend of mine Scott Libin at Poynter used to offer this suggestion for breaking the habit. Try talking that way to somebody in person and see what kind of funny look you get. “Come to think of it,” he says, “that’s probably the way a lot of people look at their televisions while the news is on.”

I Like “3 Creative Ways To Get Your Perfect Twitter Name”

Struggling with Twitter names and hashtags for one of my projects and came across this today.  I recommend it.

By Lauren Dugan at AllTwitter on June 20, 2011 11:15 AM

With well over 200 million accounts and growing by the day, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find the perfect username on Twitter. But there’s nothing wrong with getting a little creative! Here are three ways you can grab your ideal Twitter name, even if the one you want has been taken.

5 Reasons Why Twitter is Not a Fad

Over at they are singing the praises of Twitter.  And, you need to pay attention to what they are saying:

Even in 2011, there are many people who are hesitant or skeptical regarding the use and benefits of Twitter. I shake my head and “sigh” at these folks. Twitter, although simple to begin using (such as tweeting, retweeting, hashtags, etc), is not so simple to finesse and engage with. It takes time and effort to get the art and science balance of Twitter and its benefits. But when used correctly, brands (whether personal or companies) can truly increase their marketing efforts. Thus, it is not an app that is going to go away anytime soon…face it folks, Twitter is still here and you should take the time to embrace it. And here’s why…

1. Customer Service: Like the idea of instant customer service in real-time? Who doesn’t?

2. Targeted element: Rather than reaching out to the mass media and just Tweeting to no-man’s-land…Twitter helps people target who they’re talking to.

3. Open vs. closed: Certain platforms are good for some things and others are better for other things. But the way Twitter is set up, it’s very easy for businesses to have a conversation with customers but still drive traffic to their site and take the conversation and activity elsewhere.

4. Building Relationships: Unlike those who just Tweet stuff about themselves, Twitter can be a great vehicle to build relationships with both potential and current consumers.

5. All the cool kids are doing it: When a social media tool goes beyond brands and trendy people using it, that’s when it causes a real stir.

Eds. Note: Read the entire post here. This is not my work and all credit goes to:

Top 10 Twitter Trends This Week [CHART] – Last week, we predicted that the Royal Wedding would be the number one trending topic this time around. And we would have been right, if not for a bit of news that broke last Sunday.

The shots that took down Osama bin Laden were shots heard ’round the Twitterverse. A mind-boggling record of 12.4 million tweets per hour (5,106 tweets per second around the time of President Obama’s speech) helped to place all topics connected to the biggest news story of the year at number one this week.

Study Reveals Good News About State of Local TV

Study Reveals Good News About State of Local TV  

By Andrew Gauthier in MediaBistro on March 16, 2011 5:39 PM

The Project For Excellence in Journalism (PEJ) has released a thorough report on how local TV performed in 2010 and, for a change, it’s filled with plenty of good news. Revenue was up, audience declines slowed (chart above), and, according to the report, local stations “remain Americans’ No.1 television news choice.”

Here are some key findings:

  • Audience: While local TV viewership has declined in the past several years, the audience numbers remained nearly flat in 2010.
  • Revenue: Local TV stations saw a 17% increase in ad revenue.
  • Retrans: The fees brought in from carriage agreements is projected to have topped $1 billion.
  • News programming: The average number of hours of local news programming that stations provide continues to increase.
  • Independent stations: News viewership for non-affiliate stations was up 35%.

[Full report here]

TV Still Wins the Hyper-local Customer: Study Shows

Jason Klein in AdAge reports that many players in the content business are building new websites to provide “hyperlocal”

Despite all the furious activity in hyperlocal media, heavy consumers of local news still turn to local TV news most often, according to a new Nielsen study commissioned by the Newspaper National Network. Local community news sites like Patch, and are gaining ground.

They’re already used weekly by 38% of “localists,” which the study defined as people regularly consuming content in at least four areas of local news: community events, community news, local government, local business, shopping, finance, sports and real estate.

But 91% of localists watch local TV news at least once a week, the study found, followed by print newspapers, which get at least weekly perusal by 80% of 1,000 localists surveyed; local radio stations, which get 79%; local newspaper websites at 61%; and local TV station websites at 59%. 

Read Complete article at

COPY POINT – Blaze vs. Fire

Eds. Note: Broadcast writing is meant to be read aloud. So, this COPY POINT does not apply to web or newspaper writing.

One of the beautiful tools that writers of novels and other written forms of media employ is the use of “Elegant variation”.

Elegant variation is carefully crafted prose that avoids repetition of words that catch a reader’s attention. Unfortunately, grabbing the viewer’s attention is one of the goals of broadcast writing.  Many well meaning journos unnecessarily use a variety of synonyms for the word FIRE.  The result is turns out something like this:

The fireball flew across the room. Impervia dodged the blaze, but Myoko didn’t; flames washed across her face and her hair began to burn. She tried to put out the fire with her hands, but her coat-sleeves ignited with a burst of smoke and light…

Nothing wrong with any of those words, but they are so unnecessary, especially for folks who never talk like that in the newsroom.  

So, unless you are talking about blaze orange or blazing a trail, if it’s a FIRE you are talking about. Call it a FIRE.   Nothing wrong with a banner that reads BAD BLAZE, but let’s not force our anchors into synonym hell with blaze, conflagration, inferno, , incandescence, inferno, pyre, sea of flames, searing, sparks, tinder, or, up in smoke.