Wednesday, March 11, 2009

To tweet or not to tweet?

That is truly the question in the world of journalism these days. The popularity of the social media tool is spreading like wild fire. I've read article after article about the popularity.

In case you're not familiar this is what twitter is directly from the site.

"Twitter is a service for friends, family, and co–workers to communicate and stay connected through the exchange of quick, frequent answers to one simple question: What are you doing?"

You must answer that question in 140 characters or less.

In recent months, some of the first reports from the India hotel bombing were on twitter from people inside the hotel. The flight 1549 crash had witnesses putting up tweets almost immediately.

It's an incredible resource, but as journalists it creates an interesting qeustion as well. How do you confirm the person tweeting really saw or experienced what they are claiming they saw? How do you know it's really the person they say they are on the website?

These questions can be answered much like phone call tips. Confirm your source information with another source which is always a good idea on any story.

What's interesting about it from my point of view is the fact it offers several benefits. It allows me to keep tabs in a different way with sources, organizations, etc. by following their twitter accounts.

It allows me, at times, to have direct contact with viewers and build viewership for the station. I've received contact from several viewers who love feeling "connected" to myself and our meteorologists they watch on television. I don't let it get too personal, but it allows me to give some behind the scenes information and a little personal touch as well.

The final part is perhaps the most important. It allows me to solicit questions and feedback from viewers. The best example comes from this past Monday. Gov. Bev Perdue gave her state of the state address. We had live coverage on tv with our experts before and after the address. During the speech we encouraged viewers to give us their feedback and questions via Twitter. After the address ended, we began our live analysis and coverage and I read many of the comments which lead to questions for my guests. Some even sent questions that I asked our guest within minutes. Just a moment later that viewer thanked me for asking the question. So, in a matter of minutes during live coverage, the viewer asked a question, I asked it, and got an answer, and the viewer thanked me.

The lesson here is a lot of our viewers are not doing just one thing at a time. They are watching tv and surfing the internet. If we can engage them on live tv like that, I think they are more likely to take part. It's incredible to think people can instantly take part in our coverage.

I'm not a trailblazer here looking for attention. Rick Sanchez is doing it daily on his CNN show. But it's catching fire with other national folks as well. David Gregory from Meet the Press, Anderson Cooper, Ellen Degeneres, and many more are using it for a number of reasons.

Are there dangers? Perhaps. Is it an evolving process? Of course. Is it important? Absolutely. Those of us who don't embrace technology and try to find a way to make it work will be tasting the dust of those who survive the crisis in journalism that exists today.

Let me know what you think!

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