Twitter: A Goldmine for Journalists

, Posted on Jul 06

Stephen Clark, WXYZ Channel 7 news anchor, country singer/songwriter and champion for the use of social media in the journalism world, shares his thoughts about Twitter in this guest post. Be sure to follow Stephen on Twitter and check out his blog.

People have been yelling at me for years.

Of course I couldn’t hear them. I was on one side of the glass screen of their TV set; they were on the other. But that didn’t stop them from yelling.  Every time I delivered a story that they didn’t like. Every time I mentioned the name of the latest scandalized politician. Every time I talked about the Detroit Lions. They yelled.

Well…you can stop yelling. I hear you.

What suddenly opened up this new channel of communication? A rip in the space-time continuum? Some little-publicized sub channel at 7-point-4 on your new digital TV set?

No, what changed was Twitter. If you have something to say, “tweet” it. I hear you.

Of course there have been other attempts over the years to circumvent the glass wall between us.  But they have always—at least from my perspective—failed miserably. For instance, the fax machine. Can you imagine if Moses had come down from the mountain with a fax machine tucked under his arm? The world would be buried by now in flimsy curls of fuzzily printed paper.

And if God had emailed the Ten Commandments, Moses would still be on the line with IT trying to download the appropriate converter to open the c:extensioncommandment10.doc file.

No, he got it down to a Twitter-sized Ten Commandments on two tablets. And it’s worked out pretty well.

There is a lesson in that for all of us. Just because we can email “War and Peace” to someone doesn’t mean we should. Trust me on this. I’ve been on the receiving end of press releases that start with the beginning of time, end with the third act of Madame Butterfly and somewhere buried in the middle like Easter eggs are the salient points.

Twitter forces us to get to the point. And being a journalist in a fifteen second soundbite world, with the attention span of a goldfish … the point is a good place to get.

And that’s why Twitter has turned out to be a goldmine for journalists like me. No longer do you have to scream at me from a distance like the torch-waving mob outside Victor Frankenstein’s castle. At the risk of sounding like a Nicholas Sparks novel, we can have a relationship.

When an earthquake rattled much of the upper Midwest in late June Twitter told me what had just happened. And within minutes I knew the magnitude, the epicenter and the range of the quake. More importantly, as a reporter, Twitter gave me a long list of people more than willing to talk about it. No more standing on a street corner asking every passerby “did you feel it”. On that evening’s newscast, I had a Skype interview with Identity’s Nikki Stephan talking about Twitter’s role in rapidly spreading the news.

When volcanic ash choked European airspace and stranded thousands of American travelers I put out a Tweet for Skype-equipped Michiganders overseas and within minutes had half a dozen available for interviews. Try doing THAT with a fax machine!

Future Midwest, Detroit Startup Weekend, Detroit Chevy South by Southwest… all stories suggested by Twitter followers. And the list goes on.

And if you really want proof that I hear you, Tweet me during a live broadcast at 6, 7 or 11:00 most any weeknight. A comment, complaint or compliment…I hear you. Especially the compliment part. And, unless the wheels are falling off the newscast, I’ll tweet you back because I hear you.

You can stop yelling.