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Last night, the presidential debate was the hot topic among TV pundits. It also was the talk on Twitter. Before, during and after the candidates’ second primetime test, people were commenting and sharing opinions on Twitter, a free-to-use microblogging service.
Using our newspaper account, @statesman, I asked Twitter users after the debate who they thought had won. I received several responses, and most had thought that Sen. Barack Obama had won the debate. Obama has a longstanding presence on Twitter — as of this morning, his official Twitter account has more than 94,000 followers. That’s how many people have signed up to read short (140 characters-or-less) dispatches from the candidate’s campaign. Obama’s campaign has had a presence on Twitter since the early days of his campaign and has sent out 221 updates through the service. Sen. John McCain’s official account has only 2,500 followers, though his campaign didn’t get on Twitter until a few weeks ago and has only sent 12 updates through Twitter.
The responses I received immediately after last night’s debate included nine people who thought Obama had won, two who thought McCain had won, and six people who thought neither candidate had won.
Be aware that this is very, very unofficial and just meant to be a look at responses to me (from among hundreds or perhaps thousands just in the Austin area) who were Twittering about the debate.
Twitter user @RichardAZ said, “Obama just comes across as a lot more ‘together,’ score one for calm and statesman-like.”
@jmerriman said, “‘That one’ won the debate”, a reference to a moment in the debate when McCain called Obama “that one.”
Here are the other responses from those who liked Obama:
@mike_miley Obama won. He sounded like the Coach where McCain sounded like a lineman
@captspastic Obama, easily. McCain sounded either nervous, or sick through the first 3rd of the debate.
@twirm I think Obama won because he addressed more questions with answers from his campaign, McCain seemed to just bash and tell stories
@andreslucero Obama criticized mccain’s views w/o going off the hook, while mccain lashed out in his usual cranky way (i.e. “that one”).
@pambaggett Buy up bad mortgages? How much would *that* cost. No holocaust, but Rwanda’s OK? Healthcare is a responsibility, not a right?
@dangdaniel What is a tiller and why does it need a cool hand?
@shaktiboy Obama won because of healthcare. They both lost at foreign policy: where will the money come from to implement their hawkishness?
Responses from those who thought McCain had won:
@travisfell McCain won b/c he rightly associated Obama with the subprime mess and continued his foreign policy mastery
@RobbieCooperATX McCain won because he stood on his record and was clear on the way ahead. Obama has/did neither.
And those who didn’t see a clear winner:
@tlpayne A tie
@abelcruiz No candidate proved to “win” the debate. If I had to pick a winner, Tom Browkaw. He seemed to keep them in check all night.
@junewild I am completely dissatisfied with the debate and remain undecided. Nothing’s compelling. Flip a coin? What use is my education?
@clarkdebonair I have no idea who won the debate. What is an undecided person to do?
@lua21 No one won the debate, we all lost
@inbodyd It is irrelevant. Data shows that few are swayed by debates. The issue is whether voters will turnout not who they vote for.
Thanks to all who responded!
We’ve now used Twitter to extensively cover two hurricanes and one Austin City Limits Music Festival. The Next Big Thing is the election. Twitter has done a good job with its Election page, and CNN and NYT will certainly do a great job covering the election.
So, the question is: what can a small metro paper do (or a smaller one)?
I know we live in gloomy times in journalism, but I prefer to think of them as innovative times. There are tools we can use in an election that a newspaper journalist could only dream of having just a few years ago. And we’re frankly being forced to innovate.
Here are some of my favorite tools for covering events like an election:
1. Blogs – I know that it’s sooooo 2005 to even mention a blog, but a good blog done well can go a long way, even for a smaller paper. People think blogs are just opinions – and many of them are. But the best blogs are authoritative works by journalists who put in the reporting work.
2. Live blogs – A step farther is the live blog. We’ve been using CoverItLive for a while now to make our blogs more real-time (and encourage more user participation). CoverItLive embeds right in any blogging software and looks professional. It’s easy to use – and it’s FREE (though maybe not for much longer). Take advantage of this software. Check out something cool we did with it – we hosted a joint live chat. Our Longhorns beat writer and the Sooners beat writer for the Daily Oklahoman chatted in the same session. Each paper hosted that live chat. So Sooners fans and Longhorns fans were together for an hour.
3. Twitter – I know I sound like a broken record here, but Twitter really can be a good reporting tool. I think we have proven that with our coverage of Hurricane Ike. The next step is to really find a good way to harness what the community is saying as well (the way Twitter itself is doing with its election coverage). But beyond aggregating the community’s Tweets in one place, I think a newspaper has to find a way to steer the conversation. I’m going to try some of that this November (by asking people to report on their polling places, etc.).
4. Video – I’m not necessarily a huge fan of video on newspaper Web sites. To be frank, I think most people are not looking for video when they’re sitting in their cubicles at work … and most people are reading newspaper sites during their work shifts. That being said, I think video done right adds a lot to a report. Ideally, we’ll find a way to get honest, raw opinions from voters as they head to the polls or as soon as they come out.
5. UGC (user-generated content). Outside of Twitter, it would be nice to find a way to get the community more involved. In a Democracy, nothing is more community-oriented than gathering in November to vote. Newspapers should be open to leading their Web sites with a reader-submitted photo. They should be willing to play up a user-submitted video. They need to make both easy to upload to their site – and they need to encourage it. UGC isn’t going to bring more page views necessarily, but it puts the newspaper in the position of being THE place for the community to go. And that’s where we need to be.
In the next few weeks, you’ll see me attempt to do all of the above. What more should we (as newspapers) be doing? What tools are we missing out on? We want your help!
As a newspaper, we started Twittering in earnest in June. Since then, we have expanded a little.
Here’s my unofficial tally (I could be probably am missing some):
@statesman – Official Twitter of statesman.com. I post on this feed mainly, with help from statesman.com staff when I’m out.
@austin360 – Official Twitter of Austin360.com. Gary Dinges, the site’s entertainment editor, leads the charge.
@bevobeat – Longhorn news. This is an RSS feed with occasional human posts.
@omarg – Our tech culture reporter. Has been Twittering longest in the newsroom. If you don’t follow him, what are you waiting for?
@broylesa – Addie Broyles, our food writer. She hosts Tweetups once a month to talk food. Mixes personal Tweets with beat-related material.
@taratrower – Mama Drama’s top blogger.
@davedoo – Williamson County bureau chief – mostly Tweets about Willco news.
@melaniespencer – design and style guru.
@lillyrockwell – business reporter who blogs about Whole Foods
@isadoravail – Williamson County reporter – mix of personal/business Tweets
@outandabout – Michael Barnes’ society Twitter.
@tplohetski – Our ace crime reporter
@sarahlindner – Features editor with a great Twitter touch.
@jvic – Morning crime reporter.
@suzhalliburton – Longhorns football beat writer.
@andreeball – Andrea Ball, who covers local charities.
@expat_aggie – Sue Whaley, Aggie extraordinaire who is also a copy editor.
@kdrobbins – Our golf writer
@crit – Our web developer.
@robquig – My personal Twitter
@robv – Our interactive graphic designer
@djroe – Features design guru.
@scottmladd – Lead news designer chiefly responsible for the cool print redesign we did a while back.
@archana – A-List photographer
And coming soon (you can start following now)
@360acl – Our ACL Fest Twitter account
@aaspreps – High school football Twitter.
Not many corporations or public officials have figured Twitter out yet. It’s probably too early for it to be too late, but it does make me wonder: Who do I wish would get addicted to Twitter? And I mean full-out, real-person, unable-to-do-their-regular-job because-they’re-tweeting-Twittering. I don’t mind the idea of Twitter filling up with corporations. Why? Because it’s easy to ignore them if you are not interested. It’s a different media that way. Spammers don’t even bother me because I don’t have to follow them.
Anyway, I compiled two lists here. Tell me your lists.
Who I think is doing it well – outside of local media, of course 🙂
@popeyeschicken (done with great humor, too)
@zappos (though this is more like CEO soap opera than a corporate Twitter)
@delloutlet (and all of its sister Tweets and humans who are on Twitter to help out)
@johnculberson (U.S. House member who really spends a lot of time on Twitter.)
That’s not a very long list. And they’re mostly related to food. Who am I missing?
Here’s who I wish was Twittering:
* Apple (Customer service, new products, downloads, etc.)
* ESPN (I know, they have a feed, but I wish it were a human. Maybe one of their personalities?)
* One major sports personality (Tiger, you have time now!)
* One major movie star. Any major movie star. Wouldn’t that be a coup by their publicist and the movie studio to have someone Twittering from the set or from Hollywood parties? You listening, Angelina Jolie? 🙂
* Our local politicians, especially City Council members and the mayor, but also statewide officials. And it should be somewhat personal. I know @BarackObama has a lot of followers, but that isn’t the most exciting feed in the world. John Culberson’s feed is much more interesting.
* Rudy’s barbecue (just so they can offer me discounts on their extra moist chopped beef).
So, who would be on your list?
When I started Twittering as @statesman, I immediately looked around to see how this is being done. Surely, I wasn’t reinventing the wheel, right?
After a quick Google search, I found this blog by Erica Smith that keeps track of newspapers that Twitter. I was surprised to see that many newspapers had a Twitter account. What I didn’t realize right away was how many of them were doing it wrong. And, trust me, there is a wrong way.
I had been on Twitter for a few weeks before coming up with the idea of Twittering the news. I was just doing what nearly everyone else does on Twitter – chatting with a few friends using a personal account. Like most who use it, I became addicted. I enjoyed those tidbits from people’s lives. And I especially enjoyed the personal interaction that comes so naturally on Twitter.
So, I was amazed at how many newspapers were using Twitter as an RSS dump. They were — and are — taking all of their headlines and just dropping them onto a soul-less Twitter account. They don’t follow anyone — and they don’t get many followers, either. How boring is that? Who would follow a news site that just force-feeds all of its headlines onto Twitter en masse? Isn’t that missing the whole “social” part of social media? For example, the Minneapolis Star Tribune feeds apparently all of its headlines onto its Twitter account. It has posted more than 34,000 updates. Not to be too hard on the Star Tribune, but this has resulted in only a little over 130 followers (most of those must be bots and spammers, right?)
Instead, I aimed to be personal and friendly. The journalists at our paper do care about this community, and I wanted our readers to know that. I wanted readers to think of us as not only a news provider, but as a neighbor (which we are). I start every morning with a Tweet saying “Good morning” and I end every work day saying “cheers.” I respond to people when they ask me a question. I listen to feedback and adjust what I’m doing. Basically, I just act like myself. And it’s working.
In just a few months, we have gained more than 1,000 followers. Check out this positive feedback. These are not the type of comments we in the media are used to hearing these days.
I’m still learning. There are times when I think I overdo something (and I hear about it from my followers). The good thing is, there are some friends out there who are willing to offer advice. That brings me to one of my new friends …
Introducing Colonel Tribune
A few days into the @statesman Twittering, I checked back on Erica’s list of Twittering newspapers to see if there were any others out there that were doing it the way I was doing it. One stuck out – @coloneltribune. The Chicago Tribune has a main Twitter account that pushes it’s headlines out there using Twitterfeed. But it also has Colonel Tribune. I noticed that Colonel Tribune uses Twitter the right way — he’s personal and responsive (and he happens to have a bigger following than the main Tribune feed). The Colonel hand-picks stories that he thinks his readers will find interesting, and he is very conversational. The Colonel uses Twitter the right way.
The Colonel’s “good friend,” a Tribune employee named Daniel Honigman, recently wrote this guest column for Poynter about using Twitter for breaking news in Chicago. That’s great stuff that really shows the power of the medium.
I’ve also seen that power. My readers trust me and know I’m not some automated machine spitting out headlines. Therefore, they send me news. They let me know when it’s raining (big news here in Austin these days). They tell me when there’s a wreck. They even send me photos and videos from news events.
Established media no longer are the faceless corporations that tell you what is going on without listening. We can now hear your voices, too. This is the way citizen journalism is supposed to work. I can guarantee you that the next time big news happens in Central Texas, I’ll get a lot of help from my followers.
Despite the bad economic news in journalism, this is exciting. Social media is the life raft; we just have to grab it and hold on.
The Colonel has agreed to be a member of our panel at SXSW Interactive (if it is chosen) on Twittering the news. I’ve also invited Erica Smith. I’ve already mentioned Erica in two blog entries, so you can see why I think she’d be a great speaker. A few of us Statesman folks will also be there, including @broylesa (food writer Addie Broyles) and @omarg (tech writer Omar Gallaga).
The deadline to vote on our panel proposal is Aug. 29.
If you’re following us on Twitter, thank you! Come on by and say “hi!”