Perhaps it comes as no surprise to hear that Twitter has had recent issues attracting new users in the face of social media behemoth Facebook, issues that are being reflected where it perhaps hurts most — at the bank. With the price of shares dwindling, Twitter has tried to adapt, hoping to appeal to a wider audience, though like with many social media platforms, users have bemoaned changes.

In a Washington Post story, reporter Hayley Tsukayama notes the not uncommon Catch-22 of Twitter receiving criticism for both trying to change, but also not changing fast enough.

While GateHouse papers use a wide range of social media for not only reporting, but also to better engage with readers, I asked several editors to specifically rate Twitter as a tool for their newsrooms and then how their reporters use the app. Ratings varied newsroom to newsroom, though we did find almost universal commonalities in answers for the ways which Twitter can be most useful for newsrooms.

Breaking news to targeted audiences

While no editors disputed the power of the almighty Facebook within their communities, many pointed out the usefulness of Screen Shot 2016-03-25 at 4.18.41 PMTwitter when it came to engaging with a more targeted audience.

“Our traffic from Facebook is about 1 million page views per month, compared to less than 100,000 from Twitter. Facebook also provides a discussion in the comments section that Twitter doesn’t provide,” said Dennis Anderson, editor of the Journal Star in Peoria, Illinois.

“However, Twitter is more targeted to certain types of news, such as sports, crime and breaking news, and that’s its key value to our newsroom.”

The emphasis on Twitter as a tool for providing breaking news and sports coverage was almost universally echoed throughout everyone we spoke to.

Screen Shot 2016-03-25 at 4.22.03 PM“We have really embraced Twitter as a way to get immediate results up on our website fast.” Said Lynne Sullivan, editor in chief of The Herald News in Fall River, Massachusetts, and the Taunton Daily Gazette. “We will create a shell story and then embed a reporter’s Twitter feed and that way, the ‘story’ is constantly updated, in real time, and readers coming to our website can keep up even if they are not on Twitter.”

“The greatest response [on Twitter] has been for breaking news and for sports scores on Friday nights,” said Keith Magill, executive editor of The Courier and Daily Comet. “Our sports reporters, particularly Chris Singleton, have built a decent following among younger people who are involved with local sports and their parents and followers.”

Reader engagement

Audience connection, especially with younger readers, was another benefit of Twitter mentioned almost across the board.Screen Shot 2016-03-25 at 4.24.55 PM

Jason Hunsicker, managing editor of the Kirksville Daily Express and regional editor of GateHouse Northern Missouri, views Twitter as “a critical and emerging tool for newsrooms.”

“It gives us direct access to the community and a kind of immediacy our industry is not typically known for.”

“It hasn’t quite caught on with the older crowd,” he admits. “However, those younger people will soon be the older crowd, so we feel strongly that our Twitter presence helps us connect to a younger audience that our industry has missed in the past.”

“Sports is very involved with Twitter. Our sports reporters get the most out of Twitter, providing in-game updates and having real-time conversations with some fans,” Anderson said of the Peoria newsroom.

Newsgathering tool

Screen Shot 2016-03-25 at 4.26.33 PMFor reporters, not only can Twitter be a way to promote stories to drive audience, Mark Baldwin, executive editor of the Rockford Register Star and Journal-Standard, calls it “a premier information-gathering tool.”

By following local accounts, putting out calls for information from followers or even trying to reach out directly to sources, Twitter can be a powerful tool for reporters gathering information for stories.

“Reporters definitely Tweet out links to their stories, but I would say the most Twitter benefits them is as a tool for finding sources or tips,” Sullivan said. “So because we are all news junkies, we are, of course, following all sorts of people. Even if we don’t have that many readers reaching us on Twitter, we as journalists are getting information for ourselves that is valuable.”  

Best Twitter advice

When asked for their best advice for Twitter success, it boiled down to two things — stay organized and keep at it.

“Twitter, like all social media, is about engagement. Be social, respond to those who reach out to you, ask questions and let people know what you are working on.” Said Anderson.Screen Shot 2016-03-25 at 4.28.08 PM

“We also try to retweet our own reporters often off the SJR main account so that we can get them more visibility, or tweet that they’ll be covering something or following breaking news, to get them more followers,” said Angie Muhs, executive editor of the State Journal-Register.

Most also acknowledged the importance of using platforms like HootSuite or Tweetdeck to keep track of multiple feeds in real time.

Sullivan concluded, “just keep trying — I would say, like with anything, the amount of effort you put in correlates to the amount of success you will get out of it.”

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