Category Archives: journalism

Results of @statesman Twitter survey

Thanks to everyone who filled out my Twitter survey. I learned a lot in reading it, and I enjoyed every comment.

Here’s the report I sent my bosses:

I built and put out an unscientific survey of the followers of our Statesman Twitter account to get a feel for who they were and what they were thought of our account.
Most questions allowed them to write-in their answers, so they can’t be quantified in numbers, but they give me great feedback as I work.

Here are the results that did involve numbers or multiple-choice questions:

I received 138 total responses (all garnered through call out from Twitter Statesman account) out of 1,900+ possible responses (about 7 percent):

Before they followed us on Twitter:

43 said they never visited
52 visited a few times a month
24 visited a few times a week
18 Visited every day
1 didn’t answer

Visits to now that they follow us on Twitter:

1 Never visit now (person is in L.A.)
10 Visit a few times a month
75 Visit a few times a week
50 Visit every day
2 didn’t answer

Summary (of the 7 percent sampling of our followers):

Before following us on Twitter, 95 of 138 (68 percent) either never visited or came a few times a month).
Now that they’re following us on Twitter, 125 of 138 (90 percent) either visit a few times a week or every day.

Other findings:

85 respondents (62 percent) indicated that they follow more than one Statesman account (one of our other main feeds or a reporter).
52 respondents want more Tweets on nights and weekends
86 said they do not want more Tweets than what we’re doing now.

Print subscriptions:

Before they followed us on Twitter:

32 were subscribers to our print edition
* 22 were 7-day subscribers
* 10 subscribe only on weekends
37 said they read the print edition “sometimes.”
67 did not read our print edition
2 didn’t answer

Since they started following us on Twitter:

5 said “yes” when asked if they would consider subscribing now
30 said “maybe” when asked if they’d consider subscribing
13 didn’t answer or were already subscribers


1 Comment

Filed under journalism, Twitter

Hook’em on Twitter

Sports editor John Bridges has been Twittering for a few weeks no on @bevobeat using his own voice. We still feed the Longhorns-related blogs on there as well because we figure people who follow that account probably can’t get enough Longhorns coverage.

Bridges, also does an excellent post-game chat using CoverItLive.

To my surprise during Saturday’s big win over Oklahoma, I saw columnist Cedric Golden pop up on Twitter. We have a newsroom “mottos” file that keeps track of funny comments overheard in the newsroom. Cedric just a few weeks ago said he was “Too legit to Twit.” Haha. I then heard from Bridges that Kirk Bohls was also on Twitter. Suzanne Halliburton, our Longhorns beat writer, has been on Twitter for a while and has been using it successfully.

And Christian McDonald‘s team reworked our ACL aggregator to use it for the Longhorns. Check it out here. Anyone who followed @bevobeat and used the keyword #UT (or mentioned “Longhorns” or “Horns”) showed up on that page. Just as exciting, we were putting our staff’s latest Tweets right out on the Statesman home page (at the top of the page).

I’d say our paper has bought in. Next up: the election.

Leave a comment

Filed under journalism, Twitter

Word clouds made easy

Thanks to @ericasmith, I learned about, which creates word clouds in super-easy format. It takes all the words of any text you put into it and spits out something like what you see below. The bigger the font for a word, the more often it was mentioned in a text.

Once you create one, you can change the font, color, layout, and much more. Cool tool!

From FDR’s “Day of Infamy” speech:

And here’s John Lennon’s Imagine

1 Comment

Filed under journalism

Op-Ed: How the Statesman uses Twitter

Just hours after Hurricane Ike roared ashore over Galveston Island, American-Statesman journalists Tony Plohetski, Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon and Jay Janner sat in their rental car on the north side of the I-45 causeway looking at a scene they will likely never forget.

12 p.m. Sept. 13: We’re at the Causeway at Galveston Island. It’s a MESS. The southbound side is completely under water.

The short dispatch was from Plohetski, who was tapping away on his laptop keyboard. Thanks to a wireless signal, everything he typed was transmitted and published almost instantly onto Twitter, a funny-sounding Internet tool that has the power to change the way journalists — and everyone else — communicate.

Within minutes, Plohetski told me (and thousands of readers following us at that his crew was going to be allowed to cross the causeway to Galveston by following a convoy of law-enforcement vehicles.

12:07 p.m.: Highway littered with refrigerators, boats, jetskis, coolers, you name it.

12:10 p.m.: Smoke billowing from fires all over Galveston.

12:10 p.m.: The bay side of the island is completely under water. It looks like an absolute war zone.

Plohetski gave several other reports of what he was seeing. Then, he typed this:

12:18 p.m.: Hoping we don’t lose wireless connection. Causeway is just littered. We are literally driving around boats. Seriously.

Six minutes later, Plohetski typed:

We’re at Broadway at 55th Street. The smell of smoke is everywhere. Galveston is burning.

Notice how short the dispatches are. Twitter is a free Web-based service that allows anyone to type short comments (maximum 140 characters per “Tweet”). You broadcast these to anyone who chooses to follow you, and you follow anyone who you think is interesting. The service has caught fire among early adopters and is starting to hit the mainstream.

So, who was seeing what Plohetski was writing? The Twitter account I set up for Hurricane Ike coverage had 1,280 “followers” at the time. The majority of them were Houston-area residents. Many had told me in messages through the service that our dispatches, which are easily viewable on mobile phones as well as on computers, were the only way they were getting news once the power went out. Many of these people were “retweeting” his posts — copying Plohetski’s words and sending them out to their followers, allowing his reports to reach thousands more.

The New York Times was quoting Plohetski’s dispatches on its Web site. The Los Angeles Times was also linking to our Twitter dispatches.

However, the real power of Twitter is the interaction it allows. Readers asked questions and got answers. Readers told us of areas of destruction through Twitter, and our reporters checked out those areas. And when we saw a good dispatch from a non-journalist Twitter user, we retweeted their posts so our followers could get the most comprehensive news possible.

Plohetski wasn’t the only journalist with the Statesman using Twitter during Ike. Sanhueza-Lyon, Marty Toohey and Patrick George also posted their observations in near real-time from the field throughout the weekend. I ran ground support here in Austin. Before the hurricane hit, I posted updates every three hours as the National Hurricane Center updated. I also posted links to our journalists’ blogs, videos and photos and retweeted others’ interesting posts.

By newspaper Web site standards, this was a success. We received a little more than 300,000 page views over the weekend directly from Twitter. And we received nearly 60 positive feedback comments from our followers.

Twitter, which is popular in Austin partly because it was introduced during the 2007 South by Southwest Interactive Festival, is growing quickly. Nielsen Online says Twitter had 2.3 million unique users in August, a 422 percent growth rate over the previous August.

I started using Twitter in June to get the news out in a new way. Using an official Statesman account (, I send out a dozen or so daily dispatches, delivering the news with a personal voice. Our account has more than 1,400 followers, making it the fourth-most followed newspaper Twitter account in the nation. Our entertainment site also has an account ( that editor Gary Dinges uses. It has nearly 900 followers.

The Statesman Twitter account has been well-received by an audience made up of people who most likely would never have read the paper, online or in print.

This weekend, we’re going to attack the Austin City Limits Music Festival by Twittering from the festival (and listening to your Tweets and posting them on our Web sites) using Come join us!
Robert Quigley is Internet editor for and You can follow him on Twitter at and


Filed under journalism, Twitter

Evangelizing Twitter

Here are excerpts from an e-mail I wrote to another online editor last night who is going through a hard time convincing her staff to embrace Twitter (and the Web in general). I hope my advice works for her.


I’ve been reading your blog, so I know pretty much what you’ve been going through.

Here’s how it worked for me:
I was on Twitter with my own personal account for a little while, and I quickly got addicted (as everyone does who uses it for a while, haha). So one morning, I went in to work and told my boss I was going to Tweet the news from a Statesman account. We had reserved the “@statesman” name a
year earlier (one of our tech guys did, just in case), but we were doing nothing with it.

Before I started, I did one night of research. I found Erica Smith’s tally blog of Newspapers that Twitter. I noticed the odd “ColonelTribune” on there, listed separately from the Chicago Tribune’s main account. Reading his Tweets made perfect sense to me – we (newspapers) are using Twitter the WRONG way. We should not be using Twitter as an RSS feed (Twitterfeed). We should be personal with it. Personable. ColonelTribune (besides being a brilliant persona) was using Twitter the right way.

I told my boss that next morning that I was on Twitter and knew the software and that i just wanted to play around with it by sending out headlines using our account. He OK’d it (without knowing Twitter himself), and I started right out.

Check out what we do on there now ( I haven’t changed my formula much – I pick which headlines I think readers will want to see. I Tweet with a personal voice. I sometimes Tweet about things that aren’t even from our site – even pointing to the competition on occasion. And I respond to readers and ask them questions. The way I think about it is a morning news radio show. I say good morning, I say goodbye at the end of my shift. I thank them for contributions, etc.

So my suggestions for you:
1. Since you already have control of your Twitter account, turn off Twitterfeed. You might not have as much time as I do to Tweet, but every Tweet you send should be with personality. Quality over quantity.
2. Tell all your followers about the change.
3. Don’t worry about the reporters for now (as far as Twitter goes). It’s a hard sell until they see it really working.
4. Ask for story tips of your followers. Pass them to reporters. I’ve had many, many reporters say they can’t believe the tips they are getting.
5. Keep control over the account. Don’t turn the feed back on!
6. Ask me if you have any questions. I’d be glad to help!


Filed under journalism, Twitter

Databases don’t have to be boring

Let me start this by saying I don’t know how to build a database, but I’m the Statesman’s database guy.

Instead of building databases the old-fashioned way (with language I don’t understand and mind-bending logic questions that  hurt my head to think about), we use Caspio.

I learned it on the fly, with the help of my colleague Christian McDonald, who was Caspio-ing before me and with the help of Caspio’s helpful support.

Although there’s still a learning curve, anyone can do it if he or she has enough time to get familiar with the software. The trick is figuring out interesting things to build.

In the past 18 months or so, I’ve tried a lot of things, from a parks database to a spas database to one that shows how the City Council members spent their extra expense money.

Caspio has built-in Google (or Yahoo) map mashup capabilities. Well, it’s sort of built-in. I still struggle with that each time I build a database that has a map mashup.

So, what are the non-boring things you can do with this?

You can ask users to submit their salaries (anonymously) and then make that database searchable. I came up with that idea when Parade issued its annual “What we earn” issue. I figured people would share if they knew they were anonymous, and boy did they! We received nearly 12,000 entries. You could also search through the results by category or by business. This is voyeurism at its best. Everyone wants to know what their neighbors earn. Although there were some glitches, such as poeple accidentally saying they earned $5,000 (I regrettably made that the default, so you had to be careful), it went pretty well. Very few people seemed to mess with the database, either. Usually, people love messing up user-generated content with silly or obscene material. Didn’t get that much on this one.

Another thing you can try is to ask government agencies for large databases, or just look for large amounts of official data online, and then make it manageable and work the way you want it to. Before the primaries, I took the FEC data on campaign contributions and put it into database form. The fun with this one is not only seeing to whom your neighbors gave money, but also seeing what celebrities did. You can spend a lot of time playing around on this one.

Those databases took a while to build. But now that I’ve gotten used to the software, I can build simple databases quite a bit quicker. I built one before Hurricane Ike hit that allowed people to post their cancellations and volunteer/donation opportunities related to the storm. After the storm rolled through, I built one that allows people to give their own reports on what’s going on in Southeast Texas.

Although Caspio correctly bills itself as the “No More Programming” database solution, it does take a lot of patience and the willingness to get frustrated on occassion. But these databases do work, and they can be fun.

And if you care about page views, these things really can bring them in. The salaries database received 217,000+ page views. You’re all a bunch of voyeurs!

1 Comment

Filed under journalism

Tracking Ike on Twitter with @TrackingIke

It has been 48 hours since we made our first post on @TrackingIke. It feels like 48 days.

I’m working as mission control here in Austin for the Twitter count that I set up to serve as a vehicle for our Hurricane Ike coverage. I’m worn out; but I think it has all been worth it.

First off, our staff in the field — Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon, Tony Plohetski, Jay Janner, Marty Toohey, Laura Skelding and Patrick George — have been doing an excellent job reporting from the coast. They left Wednesday for Corpus Christi and Victoria (back when we thought it would hit that far south) and have found their way into downtown Houston.

Tony, Jorge and Jay spent a lot of time on Galveston Island, but with monster storm surge coming even early today, we pulled them back to downtown Houston. Along the way, this crew has run into some interesting characters, found some die-hards who ignore evacuation orders, attended a hurricane party, found some massive flooding in Surfside and even streamed video live from their car as they drove around Houston’s nearly empty streets.

But if you’ve been following @TrackingIke, you already know all of this. They’ve been doing a fantastic job keeping everyone updated Twitter and with their other “regular” duties – blogging, contributing to print stories, shooting pictures and great video.

I’ve been spending most of my time retweeting interesting posts, posting links for them (our own and links to other resources) and responding to readers.  As I said, I’m worn out. Who knew Twittering could be so tiring?

In many ways, it’s a scary and uncertain time in journalism. But when you have a group of journalists like this and an organization that’s willing to take some chances (did you see our Twitter link right at the top of, I feel pretty good. And when I get comments like this …

… it’s hard to not feel good.

I hope everyone in the storm’s way is safe. And I hope that our hard work helped some stay that way.

Leave a comment

Filed under journalism, Twitter