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Archive for June 15th, 2008

Lessons from the “Twitter Trial”

Sunday, June 15th, 2008

Ron Sylvester recently covered a murder trial in 140 character bursts for Kansas.com. His experience provides lessons for other mainstream media outlets hoping to leverage this utility.

From his post when he just started what he dubbed the “Twitter trial”:

Yes, it’s the same as Intro to Journalism. Know your audience; get it right. But in this delivery system it’s live, and it’s fast. I keep reminding myself, I can’t cut corners. Good journalism should shoot for high standars, even in bits of 140 characters at a time.

And at a limit of 140-character, Twitter forces you to write tight.

The audience comments (and interview for the American Bar Association!) show how this was received: Well.

Sylvester has posted some great advice, which anyone considering twitter for live coverage should read.

Among his points:

  • The feedback from the “audience” was great. They were refreshing throughout the day, even those who couldn’t be there or follow the events in the paper.

  • It was a learning process and not without some screw ups. But he corrected them mid-stream and nobody complained about the typos.
  • Twitter isn’t fail-safe. Some of the most dramatic parts of the trial happened during twitter down times.
  • His twitter stream became his notebook. People will read 80 inches worth of 140-character paragraphs in this form, BUT the next day’s story had to be tightened. Writing the next-day story was easier when he already had it outlined.
  • Other technology was also in play — photos & audio were edited on the fly on the laptop to be posted.

I had a few chances to use twitter on a trial run myself this winter/spring for campaign events. Nothing officially sanctioned, as his was, but more a test for myself. I wrote about it and posted some of those updates in my post about live-blogging Bill Clinton’s visit. I used it more as an aside to my real reporting, because I wasn’t just microblogging, I was live-blogging for our Web site. But I know I was getting referrals from followers to other followers during it, and I gained a half dozen or more people with each twitter live event.

I wrote a column last month actually about my personal use of Twitter. (We have a rotating View From Here column for newsroom staffers.) Then, at the next school board meeting, the new school board member — whom I’d only previously spoken to on the phone — came up and introduced himself. Then he asked me if I was “going to twitter this meeting?”

For the record, I’ve yet to twitter a school board meeting — except during some excruciatingly long ones or particularly interesting tid-bits that pop-up. I’m not sure a school board has the same type of high-interest as the Bill Clinton visit or a capital murder trial.

I continue to think Twitter is a great platform for exactly what Sylvester was doing. I like the idea of embedding widgets into the main site rather than forcing users to understand Twitter and how to sign up, follow, etc.

For more interesting things MSM outlets are using Twitter for, check out my discussion at Wired Journalists: How is your news org using twitter?.