News Leadership 3.0

November 04, 2008

Twitter is my election ‘newspaper’

Surprise! The social networking tool turns out to be my primary campaign news source

I have an Election Day confession to make:

In the final weeks of the campaign, I got most of my election news from Twitter.

That’s right. Not the New York Times. Not CNN. Not the local newspaper to which I dutifully subscribe.

Instead, my Number 1 news source was Twitter, the online blogging service that allows people to send short messages to the people who follow them and receive messages in turn from those they follow.

I’ve written before about the potential of Twitter and other social networks as a tool for newsrooms—both to gather news and to distribute it. Now I feel like living proof of the distribution part of the equation.

It didn’t happen overnight. I typically follow cnn.com for headlines and nytimes.com for depth. As news coverage became increasingly formulaic and annoying (the hourly horse race gets old fast) in the last couple of months of the campaign, I found I was learning all that I needed by following links recommended by folks I follow on Twitter (I still glanced the headlines of major mainstream news sources just in case.)

Consider:

- I got links to campaign analysis, campaign events and speeches minus the CNN-hype, plus links to off-the-beaten-track reports like this. (thanks @sjcobrien)

- I got links to contrarian analysis of the financial bailout and questions about the candidate economic proposals that weren’t finding their way into mainstream media (thanks @howardowens)

- I got running commentary and links on how the press was dealing (or not) with campaign stonewalling (thanks @jayrosen_nyu and your #spinewatch)

- I was the first on my digital block to know about the election polling site FiveThirtyEight, 10 days before it showed up on Poynter Online (thanks @matthewburton)

- Politics aside, I first learned on Twitter that the Phillies had won the World Series (thanks @ckrewson)

All this—and a few other of my pet topics—from about 30 people I follow on Twitter. In many ways, it’s a reader’s dream. You chose your “editors”, people who recommend news and information they think their followers may want to see. Their Twitter comments tell you where they are coming from and if you decide you don’t like their recommendations, you can turn them off any time. You get bragging points: My non-Twitter friends are astounded at the constant supply of interesting links I e-mail to them.

I’m not alone in my increasing reliance on digital media for news. The Pew Research Center just reported that more and more people are hitting the internet for campaign news:  “Television remains the dominant source, but the percent who say they get most of their campaign news from the internet has tripled since October 2004 (from 10% then to 33% now). While use of the web has seen considerable growth, the percentage of Americans relying on TV and newspapers for campaign news has remained relatively flat since 2004. The internet now rivals newspapers as a main source for campaign news.” (By the way, I got that link in a tweet from @jayrosen_nyu.)

Of course, Twitter is just one tool, and not a widely used one at that. Twitter itself is hardly the future of news, especially the future of producing in depth public service journalism. But Twitter illustrates a larger point about consumption and delivery of news. People increasingly believe that news will be there for them on demand or find them when they aren’t even looking.  Twitter and other social media tools (Delicious, for example) enable consumers to get recommendations from people they trust.

Selecting important news used to be the role of the local newspaper. Now anyone can do it. That doesn’t necessarily push traditional newsrooms out of the game. Any newsroom can improve on becoming its users primary trusted online source of recommendations. It’s another example of how aggregating and linking to other sources adds value to the news report.

Is your newsroom taking on this role? Please share your ideas and experiences in comments.

If you want to check out get Twitter, this post from Amy Gahran is a good first stop.

One way to check out its news-gathering potential on Election Day is the Twitter Vote Report, people can report problems at polling places. Kristin Gorski describes the idea here on the Huffington Post. (Yes, I follow @kristingorski on Twitter as well and she posted the link there.) Poynter’s E-Media Tidbits explores the effort as well.

Comments

It’s amazing how powerful and addictive Twitter can be, whether it’s keeping up with the ever-changing political landscape or keeping track of what friends are up to on a Friday night.  Who ever would’ve guessed that a service named after the sound a bird might make would have such an impact on journalism and our lives?


Yeah, the Twitter Vote Report is a pretty cool way of aggregating the election day twitter data. I’ve been working on a similar election project that utilizes Twitter: Freshly Squeezed Tweets. It aggregates tweets like Twitter Vote Report, but it creates a more abstract visualization of the aggregate conversation on Twitter showing frequency and context of election-related words. The site will pull a continuous stream of tweets mentioning Obama and McCain, representing the most-used terms as a series of bubbles. The bigger the “bubble” the more frequently the term is being used. You can hover over each word to see a graphical breakdown of each word’s use.


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Exploring innovation, transformation and leadership in a new ecosystem of news, by journalist and change advocate Michele McLellan.

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