(Editor’s note: Providence Journal reporter Lynn Arditi recently attended the Education Writers Association National Seminar in Boston and authored this post for GateHouseNewsroom.com.)

By Lynn Arditi

If you’re like a lot of reporters in my newsroom, your social media skills amount to scanning Twitter and Facebook.

Lynn Arditi of the Providence Journal
Lynn Arditi of the Providence Journal

But there is so much more to mining social media — and you don’t need programming skills to do it.

Maggie Mulvilhill, a former investigative reporter and editor at the Boston Herald who co-founded the New England Center for Investigative Reporting, is living proof. She and her data journalism students at Boston University have used social media and other data mining tools to help them win 10 regional or national journalism awards since 2011.

Here are some tips from her presentation, “Mining Social Media for Reporting,” at the Education Writers Association National Seminar in Boston, May 1st to 3rd:

• Google Alerts are a great way to keep track of issues you care about. You can set up as many alerts as you have topics. If you worry you’ll flood your inbox, set up a separate (free) Gmail account and use that for your alerts.

• There are a ton of FREE social media tools you can register for. Social Mention. KLEAR. Reddit. Subreddits … Often they will try to steer you to their paid versions but that doesn’t mean you need to buy them. If they start charging there’s always another one that will offer a similar service for free.

• Covering a rally or shooting and want to see every time someone Tweets about it without staring at Twitter? Learn to create a “recipe” for your searches with a free tool called “If This Then That” (IFFT). The tool grabs digital content from over 100 platforms and connects it with other applications. You can set it up to dump the data searches directly into a google spreadsheet with the weblinks, dates and times. No programming skills required!

• Mobile apps such as Banjo let you to search in real time social media posts such as Tweets by location.

• Craigslist isn’t good just for finding used furniture. You can also create a “trigger” to see which school districts have job postings.

• Expand your education sources by searching respected education publications, grab their photos and them on Twitter.

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