Newsroom experts

A Twitter talk with GateHouse Media’s top tweeters

From breaking developing news stories to finding sources and engaging with readers, Twitter can be a powerful communication tool for journalists.

We reached out to two of GateHouse Media’s top tweeters, Shelly Conlon of the Waxahachie Daily Light and James Haynes of The Times-Reporter, to try and gain insight into their Twitter success and why it is such a useful social media platform for reporters.

Conlon and Haynes recently were each named Tweeter of the Year for their newspapers’ divisions in GateHouse Media’s annual Best of GateHouse contest, which highlights and rewards extraordinary journalism from across GateHouse Media newsrooms.


GateHouse Newsroom: What sort of advantages for journalists do you think Twitter has over other social media platforms?

Shelly Twitter
Shelly Conlon, @ShellyConlonWDL

Shelly Conlon: Twitter is just another tool at a journalist’s fingertips to not only mine for stories, but disperse information in a way with which readers who want immediate news can interact. While Facebook’s audience reaction is more about conversation and can sometimes take a while to build, a simple tweet is like dropping a pebble in a pond and seeing an immediate ripple effect. Because of that, you’re able to immediately begin measuring the analytics of what news does well, what news has legs for days and what might not be worth dedicating all of your resources to following. Then you can redirect them back to your media outlet for the full story. That’s now become the standard at the Waxahachie Daily Light, allowing us to even compete with major metropolitan broadcast stations, and uniting us as a team when it comes to breaking news.

James Haynes: I would have to say the uniqueness of the 140 character limit. I know users want more, but to me, the character limit is what sets Twitter apart. Short, concise thoughts and opinions makes the user be more creative to catch others’ attentions. Catchy headlines to links that will grab your followers’ attentions. We live in an attention span deprived world nowadays, so in many cases, less is more.

GHN: What types of tweets get you the most engagement from your followers?

James Twitter
James Haynes, @TRJames_Haynes

JH: I’ve discovered that tweets with pictures, videos, and polls do extremely well. We live in a visual society and are naturally drawn to images. In addition, I do a lot of “shoutouts” to my followers, recognizing their accomplishments, birthdays, etc. Also, a big pet-peeve of mine as a sports writer, is those who tell their followers they will be tweeting updates from a certain game and they only send out a few tweets. I’ve had tons of success at gaining followers because they love that I tweet the “action”. I don’t leave them hanging with just a score update.

SC: Of course, breaking news always has an impact, but attach a photo to your tweet or video and you’re almost guaranteed a 50 percent increase in engagement.

GHN: What advice do you have for journalists who are looking to grow their success with Twitter?

SC: Be active, but remain professional. For example, covering a school board meeting can be dreadfully boring sometimes, but if you’re the only one showing up, live tweet it and be consistent about it. People will begin to pay attention.

Follow local public figures or businesses, and residents will begin seeing your name. Don’t just follow one politician for the election you’re covering, follow all to remain unbiased – plus it’s an easy way to keep track of what they’re doing.

Follow residents. Twitter has a great way of allowing you to geographically search tweets or users in your area.

Don’t be afraid to show a little of your personality. Twitter is an excellent branding tool, so use that to your advantage because it allows readers to directly connect with the person behind they byline they read every day.

And most importantly, remain polite. Thank your followers for following you in return. Answer questions quickly and don’t be afraid to acknowledge what you don’t know and when you make a mistake.

Side note. Developing topical hashtags for news you’re covering also allows readers to follow what you’re doing beginning to end, especially during live coverage.

JH: I view my Twitter account like a real estate agent views his territories. Know your demographic, know what’s going on around the area and in the Twitterlives of your followers. Interaction is huge to building a great network of followers. Don’t just be a “robot” behind your phone and never respond to those who are trying to communicate with you. Be real and be available. I realize that sometimes it’s impossible to respond to everyone, but do your best to interact with as many as you can. Also, don’t just be a profile pic that people see. Do videos of yourself at a game, at a news event, etc. People want to see you in action doing your job. Finally, be relatable. Share some of your personal life outside of work, your interests, your family, etc. The more “in-touch” we are with our followers, the more credibility we have as journalists.

GHN: What is one thing you would change about Twitter that you think would make it a more useful tool for journalists?

JH: I personally like Twitter the way it is currently. I’m not sure Twitter necessarily needs to change anything to make it more useful. I think it comes down to the user to be creative and find more ways to interact with their followers.

SC: If there was one thing I could change, it would be how quickly the Twitter verification process happens. For smaller publications, that verification is essential to drawing more eyes to your work and provides a sense of credibility and trust in the digital realm, especially in a rural area where reaching and working for your audience can be much harder some days versus others. Small newsrooms are adapting to the digital age as much as ever and a simple “this is a real person” acknowledgement goes a long way when you’re trying to build an audience. At the end of the day, a journalist’s credibility and trust is often all she or he has for readers and that’s something that can’t be forgotten, so acknowledging the authentic account of a byline your readers see every day is just another part of understanding we’re out in the public eye as well and everything we do reflects (in some form or fashion) our publication’s products.

GHN: Are you more of a gif-er or an emoji-er?

JH: I’m more of an emoji person. I like the different expressions, symbols, etc. With that said, I have recently started dabbling more into Gif-ing and am becoming more comfortable using them.

SC: I like both. I think there’s a time and place for both as well. When you can, be fun and show a little sass and personality. But don’t be flippant on serious matters. Remember that, and you’re golden!

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