Wednesday, June 23, 2010

A case for Twitter

I wanted to offer an argument for Twitter as a valuable tool for journalists, as many today seemed unconvinced of its worth. As the Twouble with Twitter video said, there are clearly a lot of people tweeting about mundane details of their day: what they ate, how hot it is, blah blah blah. I was definitely unconvinced by Twitter at first as well. But as a tool to show students how many are paying attention to important events, I've been very surprised and have found ways for my journalists to use Twitter.

How this came about: I was multitasking while watching the most recent State of the Union, and with Twitter open, I noticed that the number of comments on the speech was out of control: over 300 comments were being posted (I suppose I should say “tweeted”) a minute. Three hundred comments a minute! By the end of the speech, there were hundreds of thousands of comments. Many were funny, some were unnecessary, but several were very insightful. A lot linked to reports or articles about events or data mentioned – stuff I would want to look up on my own – much like Jason Manning’s demonstration of the "one screen" News 21 Initiative news packages. Even some congressmen in attendance were tweeting (which raised controversy), and it was interesting to read their real-time reactions.

The next day at school, I asked my students if they had watched. At least ten of them said they did only because they started seeing everyone on Facebook and Twitter posting about it. A few didn’t even know it was on until checking Facebook; the others said they felt like they should turn on the tv since so many people were talking about it.

In short, checking Facebook led my students to watching the State of the Union. Not bad, I thought. This could be useful after all.

Now my students spend the first day of our production cycle coming up with story ideas. One resource they check is Twitter. Which hashtags are popular, and then local and interesting to us? What major events are people talking about?

Len Downie Jr. told us to “not condemn the silly things on Facebook. Use it for the important things.” The same goes for Twitter.

Right now I follow my favorite writers, professors, and political figures. I delete people who don't give me anything useful. You don’t need to post anything yourself if you don’t want—I definitely don’t try to add to the nonsense. But I check it frequently and encourage my students to as well.

Just don’t call me a tweep.

Kim Vinh
Sequoia High School
Redwood City, Calif.

Some more links:

A journalist’s guide to Twitter

Six ways to make Twitter useful

Twitter for journalism


  1. O.k., I'll stick to calling you Kim. Thank you for giving me a sample of ways Twitter has proven useful for you and your students too. I appreciate all the valuable resources you have included as well, a gold mine.

    I found Jason Manning's samples of student work powerful and will share some of these with my students who can probably relate to many of the situations covered.

    You mentioned your ability to multi-task, I am not good at that at all, so I'm wondering if that may be part of my lack of interest in thinks such as Twitter. Does anyone else have any thoughts on the topic?

    Jamalee Moret
    Alhambra High School

  2. I too follow twitter for the story ideas and the news orgs. They post as it happens, and with tweet deck it's much easier to handle. I recommend everyone sign up just to get the news updates.

    Meghan Brannon-Reese
    Houston, TX

  3. You're not a tweep, Kim...I appreciate your defense of Twitter--you're actually very logical and reasonable about it. But I'm with Jamalee on this, I think multi-tasking is for the birds (pun intended, Tweeple). Ms. Schwable pointed out that there have been several studies done showing that people doing two or three things at once really aren't doing any of them well. This may not be critical in a I'm-relaxing-who-cares setting, but personally I know I do better work when I focus on one thing at a time.

    So, I really do think Jamalee is right about people's views on Twitter probably being directly related to their views on multi-tasking. To me Twitter is just another time suck and distraction...and I'll even go one further and say I don't own a device capable of sending or receiving these mental droppings. I'm hardly the Zen master of anything myself, but to me people who are *really* good at what they do get that way because they can ignore all the daily static, discpline their minds and really focus.

    In my view (can I politely hijack this thread?) the signal-to-noise ratio on Twitter is just too high. For every plane crash in the Hudson story, how many thousand inane tweets would have to be waded through?

    As for Congressmen tweeting when they should be listening, well that's just plain rude, IMO. If people in your own party can't be bothered to sit still and just listen for an hour, to me that says they are undisciplined, disrespectful, and possibly unnecessary. Would it be OK if all the squirrelly little freshmen were tweeting about what they had for lunch, or even the fight outside the lunchroom--while they were supposed to be listening to Shakespeare? Or their math teacher? Or to their principal? Or to their class president's discussion of fundraising?

    To me Twitter is also a symptom of this weird modern disease that insists that everyone document the daylights out of their lives instead remembering to LIVE them.

    Zach Anderson
    Indian River HS - Philadelphia, NY

  4. I must admit I'm more Twitterpated than ever. Perhaps I'm a Twit when it comes to Twitter, but I have a hard time seeing it as an enduring form of social media. The statistics presented in class already show that among those who signed up to use the service, less than half use Twitter regularly. Perhaps that's because sorting through the drivel of thousands of Tweets to find the precious pearls of information and insight is overwhelming to those of us already feeling oversaturated by social media. I tend to agree with Zach - we need to really experience life and that can't be done in soundbites of 40 words or less. Apparently the Library of Congress disagrees, as they recently decided to catalogue all Tweets as public information. Twat's a lot of Tweets, folks!