Live tweeting: how to do it and do it properly.
Live tweeting an event such as a press conference, sporting match or convention is a relatively new skill for journalists. With the advent of the 24-hour news cycle, live tweeting allows a journalist to report in real time to their followers without the need to file a traditional report. Using Twitter, the journalist is speaking directly to their audience and this brings with it the need for caution. Below is a protocol that should be adhered to at all times to both maximise effectiveness and keep out of trouble.
1. Use the right hasthtag or create a good one and stick to it. A hashtag is a collection of all tweets relevant to a topic. The current Labor leadership tussle between Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd is a good example. The primary hashtag used for relevant tweets is #respill. The Oscars, for example, is #oscars. Current One Day Internationals between Australia and India are #ausvind. Adding a hashtag to your tweet ensures your tweets becomes part of the discussion of the topic. If there isn’t a hashtag for your event, create one but make sure it seems obvious to others who may wish to follow the conversation. Always be professional and avoid being twee or glib. Generally speaking, put the hashtag at the end. If you are uncertain what a hashtag means use TagDef.
2. Use your news judgment. Only tweet the newsworthy topics discussed and don’t tweet simply because you think you need to.
3. It pays to always remember that you are a reporter: you’re there to report the event. Listen carefully to what’s being said. Watch for emotion. Look for what’s happening behind the scenes. Don’t just tweet the obvious, that’s what everyone does. Tweet the colour and the mood.
4. Remember: Journalists deal with facts. If you’re not certain about something, don’t tweet. Tweeting is publishing and the responsibility that that bears.
5. Remain professional at all times and ensure your tweets reflect the mood of the occasion. The style of tweeting you may employ for the Oscars Red Carpet is vastly different to that of a ministerial press conference.
6. Always use attribution, just as you would in a news story. Where known, and appropriate, use the source’s Twitter handle. This will alert them to the fact that you have been tweeting about them (it also makes sure you’re attributing correctly).
7. Don’t just send text tweets. Where possible use a pic, video or audio grab but only if it’s offering something new and interesting (and never tweet video or audio if you work for a television or radio news outlet, save it for your package).
8. Use links to give your followers the chance to investigate something more deeply. Always use shortened links (for example, use Bitly).
9. Always keep an eye on the hashtag and follow people who may be of interest to your followers. You can follow whomever you want, for as long as you want, that’s the beauty of Twitter.
10. Think of your followers as your readers. They are possibly your first audience as a journalist, treat them with respect and they may not only stay with you throughout your career, they may become some of your greatest supporters retweeting your tweets and your stories to their followers which may, in turn, lead to you capturing an even bigger audience.
11. Follow back other people at the event that are also live tweeting, they may pick up something you’ve missed. Additionally, it may lead to meeting someone who may prove to be an invaluable source or potential contact for work.
12. Where possible, archive the hashtag to save for later use. If you’re using HootSuite or some other social media client (one that lets you look at Twitter, Facebook etc. simultaneously) this function is normally incorporated.
13. As always, use correct spelling and grammar in your tweets. Every single time.
14. Always be aware of limitations around what you can and can’t report. You are a journalist first and foremost so never tweet from a court room at the early stages of your career. Ever. Never tweet an off the record information or background material that may reveal your source. Here’s an article about live tweeting from court.
15.Where possible, have backup. Today’s journalist knows how to record audio and it’s a good idea to always do so. Not only will it provide another dimension to your story, it can also be absolute proof that someone said something which you attributed to them. If ever there was a case of the perils of live tweeting, it’s that of University of Canberra academic, Julie Posetti, and The Australian‘s Chris Mitchell. You can read more about it here first and then here.
Real time reporting is a skill that is even acknowledged by the Pulitzer Prize board in their Breaking News category so learn to do it and do it well, your audience expects it from you.