Twitter has changed the game. In 140 characters or less, virtually anybody can call themselves a journalist by breaking news on a social media platform. The citizen journalist has emerged as a real source for news. Beyond that, Twitter is not just a source for the “average Joe,” but a place for hard-hitting news journalists to break news, give updates, and bring stories to life. Look at the New York Times, the Washington Post or the Los Angeles Times, and the newspaper’s writers will be on Twitter. The same goes for entertainment and sports websites, newspapers, and magazines.
Whether there is a plane crash, murder, terrorist attack, snowstorm, or World Series won, the news will be broke on Twitter by multiple journalists and news outlets. Terror attacks such as the Aurora, Colorado movie theater shooting and the Boston bombings were huge indications of how Twitter can break news. The stories of the attacks literally unfolded in 140 characters or less. Hashtags of “Aurora,” “Colorado,” and “TheaterShooting” were trending minutes after shots were fired. According to a Twitter blog post by Simon Rogers, Boston dominated Twitter in April of 2013. On April 15, 2013, the Boston bombing occurred and Twitter was powered by Boston tweets. The blog post shows there were 6,151,203 tweets that contained the word “Boston” in it on the day of the bombing. There were also 1,217,853 tweets with the phrase, “Boston marathon.” The two most active hashtags for the day were #prayforboston and #bostonstrong. On the day, #prayforboston was tweeted 3,566,830 times, and #bostonstrong was tweeted 6,232 times.
One news outlet can break events on a historical level with events like the Boston bombing. The Boston Globe was that outlet when the tragic event occurred. In Rogers’ blog post, he points out that the newspaper usually tweets 40 times a day, but over the next couple hours after the bombing, the Boston Globe tweeted 150 times. The median retweet per tweet for the newspaper before the bombing was between three and five. After the bombing it jumped to 224.
Aside from just the big news outlets breaking news, anybody at the scene can now break news, which in return can be a big favor for news sites. This may look like just an average person is taking a news story from a big newspaper or website, but that average person is now a source and witness. The company can tweet this witness and use them as an eyewitness source to produce a better story. Finding sources can always be a struggle for reporters, but now they can just browse on Twitter and find a real source to write a story.
Twitter can also produce valid story ideas. Go on Twitter for an hour and numerous stories pop up. A single tweet or multiple tweets about a story gives a writer a heads-up that they should look into what is going on. Using a hashtag to dig deep can only expand the story as well. A problem with this tactic, is that it can be seen as lazy reporting. Sitting on Twitter is the opposite of past journalistic ways and can be a time waster. Though it can be a time waster, Twitter can also save reporters a lot of time, especially those with multiple beats.
The main idea of Twitter for journalists is to distribute content. Journalists can create this content through 140 characters or less, through pictures, through Vine (A Twitter-owned video app), or by linking tweets to articles online. Journalists wanted readership, and Twitter is where the young audience is and the older audience is making its way to the social platform as well. By distributing content via Twitter, journalists can continue their story through conversations with professionals, fans, or anybody else on Twitter. Here journalists can also create relationships with people that can be important for a story down the road or for just a good laugh here and there.
Twitter is one of the few platforms that can be light-hearted fun, yet professional. This plays out for journalists as well. Journalists can have fun conversations with fans to gain more readership, as well as break hard news stories. Positive opportunities have risen for journalists in just 140 characters through text and visually with pictures and videos.