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!