How Twitter is transforming journalists' working lives

A review of a lively breakfast discussion on how Twitter is becoming a vital tool for journalists.

Harry Wallop, feature writer, The Daily Telegraph

In all seriousness, I cannot do my job without Twitter for a variety of reasons. I use it as an alternative newswire, particularly when I am out of the office and don't have access to traditional newswires. And it is actually better than the newswires, which look very antiquated now. There are essentially six or seven national newswires and a handful of local ones regurgitating local news stories and a few breaking national ones. I follow a lot of trade magazines on Twitter, who do a brilliant job of breaking news. In the old days, I would have to go to their websites once a day to check or leaf through their magazines on a Friday [to see what stories they had] which might lead to a Sunday for Monday story because nobody else had spotted it. Now, the moment there is a fire at some hotel, the moment someone is sacked, the moment an annual report lands, it's there on Twitter. If you're writing news stories, it gives you a two-hour heads up. There are 101 other reasons, such as sourcing case studies, which is crucial for a features writer, or getting hold of people. It just saves time. And it also bypasses PR people, which can be helpful sometimes.
 
I recently had to write a story about what Britain would look like when King George is on the throne. I needed futurologists. Obviously I could Google 'futurologist' or ring up some universities; I tweeted. Within three minutes, I had a list of the best in the country and contact details. That is an afternoon's work done in five minutes.

For investigative journalism, I understand that Twitter has limited value although I have used it occasionally as a better version of Google when I'm trying to get hold of a piece of information that I can't find in the cuts and isn't on Google but I know that it exists.
 
There's a broadcast point about Twitter. If you've worked for weeks and weeks on an investigative piece, you don't want it to die in the pages of [the newspaper you work for]. You want to broadcast it to the world. There are a handful of journalists whose followers on Twitter actually outnumber their newspaper's readers. As newspapers die, and we go all online, we need to have an online audience. There are a lot of stories that I write that are read online, but, it's a tricky world, if you're not on the home page then it's lost. Journalists today have to become a certain type of brand, and if they want to flourish they need to have an audience. They have an audience that may be different from the newspapers they work for, or even the website, but they can drive traffic to them.
 
The Daily Telegraph is obsessed that we should not be Londoncentric, as so many of our readers live outside London, and that is difficult when we don't have a team of regional reporters and we're stuck in the office. I recently did a silly story about Oxted [in Surrey] being the housewife capital of Britain. I rang the Women's Institute and the tennis club to find people to chat to, but I thought I'm not just going to rock up in Oxted with a snapper, and ask people Are you a rich, bored housewife. Do you want to appear in the paper?. So I tweeted. It generated interest. Ooh my sister-in-law lives in Oxted, she says it's full of ... and the ball starts to roll.
 
We are at risk of thinking that Twitter represents our readers. It is a very skewed group. It is slightly younger and more media savvy. But it is helpful.
 
Kenny Campbell, editor, Metro
 
Twitter is very much about people shouting Look at me, I know stuff. I'm cool. But people still want to be involved. They still want to go to concerts or attend debates. Twitter doesn't change that. It just allows us to sit and squawk at each other.
 
It has changed my life. My office has been designed around Twitter. I have three television screens [tuned into news channels], two monitors for checking on pages or work that's coming in, and then, to my left, a standalone computer with Hootsuite, that I have been running for over a year with different Twitter streams. It gives me a huge advantage.

I follow motor racing on Twitter. Just under two years ago, we were just approaching off stone time (about 9.30pm) and a random tweet caught my eye. It was about a big accident at a race in America. But the tweet mentioned that a British driver or drivers were involved. First thing I did was go to the newsdesk and ask them to check it. Ten minutes later they came back and said It sounds like quite a big incident. By good fortune, the journalist who writes about Formula One for us was at the event. I was able to contact him via Twitter to say What's happening? He replied that he didn't know but it looked bad as he was being called into a press conference. On that basis, I went to the picture desk. Three pictures had come in; the first was of a fire ball coming down the track. I knew that was the British driver's car. It's a sad story, but there's the front page picture. I tore the front page up and we were able to get a story in the first edition, while we were trying to get a handle on what was happening. The amount of time that my team had to work on that story was huge at that time of night because Twitter had kept us ahead of the newswires. The second edition we turned around in 45 minutes; we had a completely new newspaper. The only reason we could do that was because of the speed of Twitter.
 
Twitter gave us the story before the main newswires picked it up. When the newswires get a story, they have to stand it up and fact check. They've got to start making phone calls. They've got to do all the things that we are already doing. And then they've got to write the story. Then they've got to transmit it. Then somebody at a newspaper has got to read it and say Ooh, I wonder if the editor is interested in that. The whole process is telescoped.
 
You would be mad [as a newspaper] to ignore the huge numbers on social media, because that's where the audience is. And if you don't go to where the audience is, then you don't have a business plan. That's not unique to newspapers, that's just business.
 
There are three sorts of people on Twitter: peacocks, crows and cockerels. The peacock Look at me, I'm cool and amusing and if you follow me, then you too can be amusing or informed. The crows make up the bulk of Twitter. It's that background noise, lots of squawking to no obvious end. And then there's the ones that we're all interested in - the cockerel, sitting in a field you didn't know existed, and there's a noise, an irritating noise, but it just makes us think There's something here, that we better check out. And that ability to filter is something that was initially missing from Twitter.
 
Filtering is something that newspapers have been very good at; filtering and presenting a digest of things that are important or that perhaps the reader did not know they were interested in. Twitter now self-filters. So many people are involved on Twitter that it essentially crowdsources its own veracity. 
 
Let's be clear [about checking rumours and stories on Twitter], we're not just talking about newspapers and broadcasts that take a long time to put together [and allow you to fact check], we're also running websites. The speed stuff is important. Somebody has already beaten you to it. It's out there on Twitter. If that story's not true, tough. But most of the time there's something in it. All you can be sure about when you see a 'cockerel story' on Twitter is that you're not first with that story. And in terms of dragging readers in, being first with the story is still very important. Twitter reminds us, day in, day out, that we are no longer capable of being first with the story almost all of the time.
 
Peter Hoskins, senior business producer, Sky News


You sit in front of the wires in the newsroom, but if it's just one source and it's really far out then it's What do I do? It's about getting that depth. Twitter gives you a deeper source to back it up. That's when your journalistic instinct starts kicking in. Once you've seen other sources saying the same thing then you can start to build it. Television is very different to print: it's instantaneous. It's more like Twitter. Once you hit that button, it's gone. It's out there.
 
Obviously you get to know the good sources on Twitter. There's one guy (I think it's a guy; he uses a picture of Brad Pitt in Fight Club as his profile picture) who gets stuff before the wires. It looks like wire copy (it's all in capital letters) and it's all there. I have no idea where this person is based or who they work for, but they are an amazing source for business and economics. But again, it is only one source, so you have to build it out.
 
You can build stories very quickly. You can stand stories up and go with them. Twitter is also a really good way to get a story out there. And if you tweet a good story, then other people retweet and add points. They copy your handle in as they send out their own insights and views, and you build a better story.
 
Simon Goodley, senior business reporter, The Guardian
 
Twitter has not changed my life. I know that Harry [Wallop] has something like 23,000 followers on Twitter; I counted up mine this morning and I'm trailing by 23,000. I don't get it, partly because I guess there are different sorts of journalists. I don't do much rolling or breaking news. My job description says I have to go out and find things that lots of people don't already know which, by definition, means they won't be on Twitter.
 
I guess I'm old fashioned. I speak to people. I go to meet people. I can see how Twitter benefits some journalists but for me it doesn't register. It is probably a bit too immediate for the sort of journalism that I do.