When Twitter beats local news outlets

By Steve Outing

There are a few things that local newspapers and other news outlets (TV, radio) don’t do well, and I’m always on the lookout for solutions. Here’s one that’s come up for me many times over the years:

Something happens locally, like, say, a fire; there’s a lot of smoke in the distance, and I want to know what’s going on. But I visit my local newspaper’s website, and there’s nothing. Ditto for other local news outlets’ websites. Eventually (but not always), a reporter will get around to writing up something and it’ll be posted online.

It’s especially vexing when there’s never any report. Maybe the fire is not big enough to warrant coverage by the newspaper. But I’m still curious what happened. Where do I turn?

Now we have the solution: Twitter.

This has been staring me in the face for a while now, but it just hit me. Twitter solves this problem, because often when something happens the local “Twittersphere” will be abuzz about it, before a reporter has had a chance to write it up and publish something (or even knows about it).

To monitor this, lately I’ve been using Twinkle on the iPhone, an application that works with Twitter. A Twinkle feature is to identify where I am using the iPhone location (GPS) feature, and show me Twitter posts (tweets) from within a specified radius.

So, next time I see a big smoke cloud in the distance, I’ll launch Twinkle and check out tweets from Twitter users in Boulder. Odds are that folks will be talking about it, and someone near the blaze will have posted something more than conjecture.

Applications like Twinkle are also great journalistic tools, of course. In the old days, newspaper reporters had the TV on in the background, in case TV news had something that they should know about. Today, someone in the newsroom should be monitoring local tweets; it’s the new early warning system for news, with an army of witnesses feeding you information.

Author: Steve Outing Steve Outing is a Boulder, Colorado-based media futurist, digital-news innovator, consultant, journalist, and educator. ... Need assistance with media-company future strategy? Get in touch with Steve!

12 Responses to "When Twitter beats local news outlets"

  1. […] Random Feed wrote an interesting post today onHere’s a quick excerptThere are a few things that local newspapers and other news outlets (TV, radio) don’t do well, and I’m always on the lookout for solutions. Here’s one that’s come up for me many times over the years: Something happens locally, like, say, a fire; there’s a lot of smoke in the distance, and I want to know what’s going on. But I visit my local newspaper’s website, and there’s nothing. Ditto for other local news outlets’ websites. Eventually (but not always), a reporter will get around to writing […]

  2. […] Read the whole thing. […]

  3. Ben
    Ben 8 years ago .Reply

    Will you check local papers today to find out more about the fire? Tweets might come in with more details such as how it started, but I bet unless those twitter-ers are adventurous to go and ask questions they’ll be getting the details from a newspaper.

  4. Steve Outing
    Steve Outing 8 years ago .Reply

    Ben: Sure, I’d of course look for a professional journalist’s story (newspaper, TV, or maybe radio website). Where Twitter is nice is in getting first alerts of something big happening, and unvetted first details. Obviously, you have to take what you see in the local Twittersphere for what it’s worth, which may not be much. But for speed, local media outlets seldom can keep up with the witness reports from the crowd.

  5. […] again, Steve Outing had a thought provoking article about local news. Pretty much the same idea has been lingering in my mind for a while, not least […]

  6. John Newsom
    John Newsom 8 years ago .Reply

    Steve: Could you give an example of a breaking news story *you* have gotten from Twitter? From my Twitter feeds here in Greensboro, N.C., I’ve gotten exactly no news flashes today except that local folks are tired, hungry, undercaffeinated and looking forward to the weekend. Meanwhile, I’ve used traditional sources (AP and MCT wire and press releases) to post 6 local and state stories that folks here might not have known about otherwise.

    Don’t get me wrong — there’s a lot to Twitter, especially in the social media/community building sphere. But I haven’t yet gotten any breaking news from Twitter in the past several months I’ve used it. What am I missing?

  7. Steve Outing
    Steve Outing 8 years ago .Reply

    John: Last night I noticed in the Boulder-area Twitter feed someone post a note about hearing an “explosion on Broadway,” and asking what it was. (That tweet has scrolled off and I can’t find it anymore; perhaps the guy killed it.) I watched for any follow-up tweets from others but saw nothing. … But it would have been a good example if it had turned out to be actual news! 8^)

    It may not be worth a reporter’s time to spend too much time trolling the local Twittersphere; with so much noise, it could be a real time-waster. Then again if there’s a clerk or intern with not enough to do, maybe worthwhile?

    Where this can really come in handy for a reporter or editor is monitoring local tweets during the early stages of a breaking news event. Y’know, a big multi-car accident just happened and folks are sitting in the resulting traffic jam. Some may tweet from their phones, and a reporter monitoring local tweets might gain some insight. Hell, in that example you could ask a witness a question via Twitter (using @name or direct message) while he’s still in his car at the scene.

    It’s still a bit early on this, but Twitter is growing quickly and I think it will become more and more useful in these ways in time. With the growth of smartphones, this army of eyewitnesses with the tools to share their experiences immediately is an insanely useful thing for local reporters. It’s now easy to be driving by our hypothetical accident, snap a photo with your iPhone, and tweet it.

    Here’s a post from Amy Gahran a few months ago on this topic:
    http://www.poynter.org/column.asp?id=31&aid=143981

    I simply see a lot of potential here for harnessing the “power of the crowd.” The combination of Twitter and smartphones like the iPhone that I see as profound.

  8. […] When Twitter beats local news outlets: SteveOuting.com Something happens locally, like, say, a fire; there’s a lot of smoke in the distance, and I want to know what’s going on. But I visit my local newspaper’s website, and there’s nothing. Ditto for other local news outlets’ websites. Eventually (but not always), a reporter will get around to writing up something and it’ll be posted online. (tags: twitter journalism) […]

  9. […] something, and more on leveraging the social networks where people already are posting news. My previous post about Twitter touches on this; that micro-blogging service contains (amid all the personal fluff) real news that […]

  10. […] ready or not, Twitter is creating a whole new outlet for those of you citizen-journalists out there. Batter […]

  11. […] explained by Steve Outing in his post: When Twitter beats local news outlets  Something happens locally, like, say, a fire; there’s a lot of smoke in the distance, and […]

  12. […] explained by Steve Outing in his post: When Twitter beats local news outlets Something happens locally, like, say, a fire; there’s a lot of smoke in the distance, and I want […]

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