Recently, I was able to speak with USA TODAY’s Natalie DiBlasio about how journalists work with twitter. She works in a newsroom where she has to be able to write for print and digital publishing, produce video content and proficiently handle twitter. Before reaching USA TODAY, DiBlasio worked as the Editor-in-Chief of the Vermont Cynic, a student-run newspaper, while she was in school. I transcribed the conversation as a Q&A below.
How do you use twitter as a journalist?
I use twitter in a few different ways. And I think a lot of journalists in the newsroom use twitter in a variety of ways, as well. To find sources, to find stories, and then to promote stories and you know, help make sure that our stories are reaching out to people that share certain interests. Twitter is a really good tool to be able to monitor what people are saying about a certain topic. So I think that those are the major ways that we use it.
How do you use twitter while working on a story?
If I’m working on a story that I’m looking for some feedback from a large group of people or someone that might fit into a big demographic, I’ll tweet a question. But when you do that, you have to realize that you’re only reaching out to a group of people that are on twitter, and are checking twitter and that really changes the demographic you’re reaching out to. So you can’t really use it exclusively that way, but it is helpful. So that’s one way. I think probably more commonly, when news is breaking, I will search terms that people probably are tweeting.
Also while we’re at the scene of a breaking news story or we’re watching a press conference, USA Today encourages journalists to live-tweet what’s happening. It helps our followers see the news in another way, it’s not just going to the website to read stories. People are getting their news on twitter and they’re finding links on twitter, but they’re also just getting news from tweets themselves, so we’re starting to do that a lot more, too.
What do you think is the most difficult thing about live tweeting?
For me, when I’m live tweeting, one thing it’s very important to make sure that everything is accurate and that your quotes are correct and that if you’re tweeting photos you’re properly identifying people. A lot of times when I’m live tweeting, especially if it’s a high energy event, people that are following me will ask questions about what I’m tweeting, they’ll ask the follow up questions. It’s really important, because then you get an idea of what people are curious about. You might think something is interesting, but all of a sudden, you know, if you’re not checking your notifications, you don’t realize that 20 people have asked a similar question about a detail that you’ve left out. So I think the hardest part is trying to get the news out as fast as you can of everything that you think is important, but also balancing what the feedback is that you’re getting from your audience that’s following along live.
How do you balance accuracy with the desire to “break” news while using twitter?
It’s just so much more important to be accurate. I mean, for me and the way that we’re taught in this newsroom, there’s never a time when we’re talking in a meeting and we’re saying, “we’re not really sure but we should send it anyway.” There’s so much emphasis on accuracy. A lot of times when you’re live tweeting though, you’ll be somewhere and you’re just reporting what’s going on. You’re just tweeting a direct quote that someone’s saying and a photo and seen information. But I never think that it’s important to be the first to tweet some kind of news, when we’re not first it’s accurate.
How do you balance your professional use of twitter with your personal use?
Well my twitter has a lot of information about breaking news events that are happening, particularly ones that I’m covering, but I’m also training for a marathon and I tweet a ton about that as well. So I think that my standard is that I wouldn’t ever tweet something that would make someone question if I am going to cover something accurately and be unbiased. So before I send something, I think, ‘if USA Today were to retweet this, would I be embarrassed? And would I be worried for my job, and would I be worried about anything?’ And if the answer is yes, then I don’t tweet it. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t tweet silly things sometimes, it’s just that that’s an accurate representation of who I am. So it’s never going to be okay to send something that makes me look less professional or qualified, but it is okay to make me seem like a human.
How much time do you think you spend on twitter each day?
I don’t even know how to answer that. I am on it all the time. I check it probably once every 20 minutes, unless I’m on a call. I probably tweet like 10-15 times a day unless I’m at a breaking news event and then it’s a little more. But more than I am tweeting, I’m retweeting what other people are posting on twitter, and every time I’m reporting something I’m always monitoring twitter to see what kind of information is out there. So I would say all the time, I’m on twitter.
What do you think the biggest changes that social media and twitter have brought to journalism are?
Two things. One I think it’s even more immediate than web news. I mean, we don’t need to have full stories published to have enough information to send a 140-character tweet. So I think it’s made the on-demand news cycle even more on demand, or even more urgent. I also think that it’s connected reporters with their audience a bit more. I mean, I hear from readers every day about something that I’ve written, whereas before they might have to have called into the newsroom or found my email, but on social media they can just hit reply, or Google me and my twitter comes up, so I’m hearing both positive and negative feedback. So I think that it’s made reporters more accessible, but it’s also kind of increased our duty to make sure that we’re getting news out on another platform that in reality demands more immediate coverage.
Do you think there are more changes coming?
Oh yeah, I think that there are tons of changes coming, and I have no idea what they are, or when they’re going to come. I’m excited for them, whatever they’ll end up being. But I don’t think that we’re even nearing a stagnant point.