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13. Case Study: Journalists

Look, we are going down, brace for impact!

Passenger Jeff Kolodjay sat near the engines of the Airbus A320 bound to Charlotte, N.C. from New York, when a loud bang and the smell of smoke filled the cabin on January 15, 2009. He said his prayers when the captain announced the plane would hit the frigid Hudson River. All passengers survived.

Janis Krums was on a nearby passenger ferry when he saw the plane crash into the Hudson. He called 911, then took a snapshot of the floating plane with his cellphone. The picture made him famous, appearing in several news papers the following day.

Thus the first image of the “Miracle on the Hudson” was not taken by a journalist but by an amateur who happened to be on the scene. The incident was an example of citizen journalism and fed an ongoing conversation about the death of traditional journalism and news media.

Easy access to reporting technology, blogs and social media sites like Twitter has indeed created a possibility for citizens to participate in the reporting of news. But does that mean that traditional journalism is dead? Is Twitter killing mainstream news?

The simple answer is no. There is a place for traditional news media within the new platforms of communication. There is still a demand for basic journalistic principles beyond breaking news. Credibility, depth and quality will become more important in journalism than they have been in the past.

However, there are new demands to journalism online. Many news networks have not yet been able to adopt new technologies or accept structural changes. This chapter will show how journalists of both large and smaller news organizations are using Twitter to their advantage – and to the advantage of their audience.


There are strong commonalities in the communication of news networks on Twitter. Through four case studies in regional as well as national news organizations, this chapter explores how journalists are using Twitter as a real-time web tool. These news providers employ Twitter for promotion as well as resourcing; they also use Twitter to create reader communities. Their practices can serve as a model for other news organizations.

As we will see, news networks often employ Twitter for several purposes. Indeed on well-handled profiles these practices are interwoven and work to improve the image of the news brand. Of course, to ensure credibility, Twitter demands journalistic standards of reliability and quality.

As exemplary news media profiles I have chosen the following:

  • John A. Byrne, Excecutive Director at Business Week (@johnabyrne)
  • Rick Sanchez, News Anchor at CNN (@Ricksanchezcnn)
  • King 5 News of Seattle (@King5Seattle) and
  • Rhein Zeitung, a regional German newspaper (@RheinZeitung).

These four are exemplary because they provide a high level of transparency, demonstrate interesting and innovative ways of publishing and resourcing on Twitter, and create an online community or platform for interested users. Subsequently, I will explain the methodology I used to find these and other profiles on Twitter.

Twitter: Tool box for Journalists and Readers

“Stop the Presses? Nevermind, it’s already on Twitter!”

You were the last of your friends to find out that Michael Jackson died? You didn’t know Iran had an election until you saw videos of street violence on TV? You open the Sunday paper and find that the “news” is already old?

Journalists on Twitter are working to solve your problems! Rather than a deadline, online Journalism runs on a “24-hour news cycle” (Kovach and Rosenstiehl, 2007, p.86). Twitter is one of many tools that allow instant publishing and it is gaining a leading role in the race to break the story even with mainstream media.

A high-level source with the Minnesota Vikings tells WCCO’s Mark Rosen that QB Brett Favre is expected to sign with the team Tuesday.

This tweet increased website traffic for WCCO by over 230% in the first hour to more than 100.000 views. Instead of waiting for a story to be written out first, WCCO secured its role in leading the story by breaking the news on Twitter.

Many news networks already distribute their headlines on Twitter, but with the growing trend for recognition, real time tools like Twitter are likely to become more important in breaking news for news networks.

Another way journalists use Twitter to publish rather than breaking news is by providing links to their own stories or Blog posts online or even to stories from other networks. Twitter has thus become part of a change in Journalism that breaks up old structures and enables collaboration.

“Twitter has changed the way papers and broadcast media operate. They used to more or less ignore each other, but now they work more closely together, retweet and credit each other. News has become more collaborative” explains Evonne Benedict from King 5 Seattle in an interview.

Publishing is fairly easy to measure in terms of Return on Investment (ROI). Via URL shorteners or other analytic tools, the publisher can monitor how busy his tweeted links were and thus get an idea of how a story was received.

Whether journalists bring out their own stories or those of others onto Twitter, this use of the tool is fairly one-directional, just as traditional broadcasting. Twitter, however, allows readers to participate in the process of a developing news story.

How do you read 170,000 documents in 80 hours? Outsourcing or, rather, crowdsourcing. In uncovering a series of scandals about the expenses of British Members of Parliament, The Guardian sent more than 20,000 volunteers into virtual archives to investigate original documents. None were paid.

This extreme experiment illustrates how the willingness of users online to participate not only in the production of their own news through Citizen Journalism, but also to assist mainstream media in their work. This includes payment!

But over at (, $20, $50 or in special cases even XXX dollars is what users online are willing to pay to help fund a news story. Start-up founder and Journalist David Cohn (@DigiDave) convinces people to pay – or rather sponsor – news if they find the story worth investigating. His start-up ( uses Twitter to promote the pitches and provide status updates of currently investigated stories.

On a smaller scale, journalists can profit from social media in connecting to sources they might not otherwise have accessed. Some have specialized in connecting journalists to potential sources, such as @Reporterssource ,@HARO (Help A Reporter Out) and @Bridge2Science.

Twitter also allows writing professionals to receive instant feedback on their work:

I’m glad fellow journo’s appreciate the blog post I did comparing them to musicians:

Crowdsourcing requires a fairly small amount of time and effort and if played correctly can yield great benefits. However, if a journalist uses Twitter solely for this purpose, the users will grow tired fast, because the relationship is one-sided.

Community efforts separate the decent multi-directional Twitterers from the real top shots. It can be time consuming and requires a conscious effort to build a community on or through Twitter.

Journalists like John A Byrne use Twitter to keep in touch with professional connections in the industry. For example, Byrne follows journalism professor Jeff Jarvis, “a pioneer in thinking about where journalism has to go” and they occasionally interact with one another’s Twitter stream. For young journalists growing into the field, Twitter provides a chance to make new professional connections.

Probably the more challenging is to create relations with the reader community. One of the strategies is reader engagement in the news process. Crowdsourcing can help to build a community. Involving readers in a news story not only integrates them in the reporting process. It also creates a personal relation to the story and thus the network.

Another strategy to build an active reader community is to provide a platform for conversation. This conversation can either happen on Twitter itself or be redirected from there.

King 5 News enables readers of the Twitter stream to talk to one another by asking questions, but also by retweeting comments and questions about reported topics to which others will respond.

Major news organizations have a little more difficulty managing a conversation on their Twitter stream. Instead, many of them try to redirect readers to their blogs. John A Byrne’s bio link sends people directly to a reader suggestions page. Sometimes, tweets with a call for action on the Blog will appear in the stream:

So would you drive a Chevy Volt? Take our poll:

The German newspaper Rhein Zeitung has not only taken the conversation off Twitter but has also brought it into “real” life. Once a month, Rhein Zeitung opens its doors to their facilities. Active Twitter followers meet the editor-in-chief and tour editing and printing facilities during the printing of next day’s paper. “Most followers look for the paper’s Tweet of the Day first, but the heavy metal printing machinery also still impresses and awes the ‘Digital Natives’”, says Lars Wienand, Editor at Rhein Zeitung.

Best Practices in Global
The most significant difference in small and large news organizations is the size of the audience. While smaller networks manage to operate a single voice profile for the whole network by humans, larger networks usually rely on automation for the brand profile.

For larger networks a look at key figures thus proves more valuable than evaluating the corporate account, which is most likely a RSS-robot.

Case Study 1 : John A Byrne
You want to see tomorrow’s news, today? John A Byrne is the Excecutive Editor of Business Week and an outspoken fan of Twitter. In a video on the Business Week website, he talks about the people he follows as well as his own use of Twitter.

The most important thing we are trying to do here is to deeply engage with our readers. And to learn from our readers. And part of that process is to bring the newsroom outside and part of that is bringing the outside into the newsroom. (from video)

This video is what alerted me to his Twitter profile.  Byrne is a journalist who gives readers a real inside scoop: he shares what will be Business Week’s news tomorrow (or at least the headline):

A behind-the-scenes peek at BusinessWeek’s cover shoot with President Obama –

Frequently, the excecutive editor of Business Week tweets the results of the news meetings that determine the lead story of the following day.

News meeting: We’ll lead in the a.m. with “Target vs. Wal-Mart: The Next Phase”

Thus, he opens the newsroom to the online world, providing interested businesses and individuals with a preview of what will influence the next day’s conversation.

This strategy gives readers a feeling of involvement and at the same time functions as a teaser. Readers will wonder about the details of the story. Unfortunately, there are no data available on how many of those reading the hook actually come back the next day to get the story.

About 90 percent Byrne’s average 16.5 tweets per day are mission-oriented and most of them promote the most popular stories on the website.
Resourcing – What Is Your Story Idea?
“What’s Your Story Idea?” is the question Twitterers see when they click Byrne’s bio link. He encourages readers to become participants in the news process and has found a way to do so that allows him to keep his Twitter stream clean and neat, at the expense of more personal information about Byrne.

Byrne also incorporates reader feedback into his publishing, since most of his story promotional links are either most read or most discussed on a particular day. He makes a point to recognize significant reader contributions and he regularly asks for reader’s opinions on songs for his weekly podcast.

Community – The Song Competition
The practice of reader participation in the song choice for Byrne’s weekly podcast has become fairly institutionalized. By sharing the results, shoutouts for contributors and sometimes giving readers a little insight on his take on a song, Byrne keeps up the interest in this practice. Without making it an official competition, users develop an eagerness for recognition by John Byrne.

Byrne has thus managed to create a community around his brand  that will allow him with a valuable resource in the future if he continues to maintain it.

Transparency – A One Man Show
The bio gives all relevant information; Byrne does not assume that people know what he does or who he works for, and he shares his personal agenda: digital journalism. A short, but good, bio that suggests the tweets will have a narrow, business focus. The surprise may be that John is transparent about what happens backstage at Business Week. The bio implies — and we believe — that Bryne tweets alone.

Byrne provides the Twitter community a peek inside the newsroom, and he opens a virtual door that allows readers to step in and give their suggestions. With a ratio of about 90/10 on Business Week content vs. personal messages, Bryne’s tweets are consistent with the image he has created in his bio. Moreover, his personal tweets are generally job related.  He does not show a strong interaction in certain topics or ongoing conversations on Twitter, although he makes a start at this. However, I would be surprised to find him tapping into other conversations or pointing towards them if they don’t benefit him directly.

Case Study 2: @RickSanchezCNN
The “The Magic Wall” and live holograms attest to CNN’s willingness to experiment with uncommon technologies. The first 24×7 cable news station, CNN claims to be one of the most influential providers of online news. With millions of followers, CNN is clearly influential, but the giant uses Twitter as primarily as a promotional channel, ignoring its potential for conversation.

Dear CNN, Please Check Twitter for News about Iran” Marshall Kirkpatrick of the ReadWriteWeb pleaded on June 13, 2009, referencing mass protests in response to the Iran elections. Twitter users criticized the network for its lack of reporting on the Iran protests; the hashtag #cnnfail quickly rose as a trending topic, which means it was among the top 10 topics on the service.

After the criticism hit CNN, Rick Sanchez talked about CNN’s coverage of the #iranelection. Sanchez is the most noticeable non-robotic CNN News provider tweeting, the flagship digital journalist for CNN. In the industry, he is well known for his activities on his CNN blog as well as Twitter and Facebook. Unlike Byrne, Sanchez provides personal information and tweets with humor.

hey if anybody out there wants my pic, so you can draw a moustache or dart thing, just go to my blog. click “photo request” near my pic

Also unlike Bryne, Sanchez “shares” his Twitter account with his producer, who will tweet when he  is unavailable or on air.

His tweets are generally conversational and “human” and sometimes in Spanish. Sanchez frequently tweets about his family and friends, without getting too personal.  Listeners trying to glean insights in the backside of the newsroom will have to filter some tweets about poker nights and holidays. However, as a news broadcaster, Sanchez keeps the  focus on the show.

Resourcing – Asking Too Much?
Sanchez will sometimes link to his CNN blog to continue a conversation or he will ask direct questions. When Sanchez is on the air (3pm Eastern), his producer tries to get viewers to contribute to his stories. This part of the stream hardly may be perceived by some Twitter followers as spam-like or asking for too much of their time. CNN’s ireport, a viewer-driven reporting system, is not part of his Twitter agenda.

Community – Me Myself and I
The lack of hashtags or retweets indicates that Sanchez is not helping his audience learn from others on Twitter nor is he sharing his audience with others. He only replies to those who come to him. The profile thus reflects the mainly one-directional broadcasting character of a television personality.

Transparency – What The FPR?
Based upon the information in the profile bio, it appears that only Sanchez is posting from this account. However, his producer posts fairly regularly and are are tagged *FRP* = “From Rick’s Producer” in a small nod to transparency.  There is no additional information given on the profile or biolink.

Bottom Line:
Sanchez uses Twitter as a promotional tool and a way to chat with followers. He has a conversational style, which is attractive. The shared voice with the producer can be jarring and confusing to the new or casual follower.

Best Practices in Local
Case Study 3: RheinZeitung

Rhein Zeitung is a German regional newspaper that uses Twitter as part of their image strategy. Twitter is a “catalyst” for them “to speed up the process of changing our image from a classical newspaper to a news media provider,” according to Lars Wienand, a RheinZeitung representative. In an email exchange, Wienand said, “Twitter is already the driving force of our Web2.0 development. We will continue to invest more energy and resources there.”

Publishing –Chatter Behind the Scenes
“If you just want news, you might be better off somewhere else, we are not in competition with @cnnbreak!” (RheinZeitung)

For anyone interested only in regional news, RheinZeitung has set up several subject-related RSS Twitter accounts; however, @RheinZeitung is different. The account is deliberately not an RSS feed; most tweets are entertaining regional news and funny news stories from around the world. Even if they are tweeting their own stories, the tweets contain RheinZeitung’s own particular sense of humor:

Schädelwochen bei McArchäologie: Nach Fund von Stirnbein des Ur-Holländers gestern ist heute Fund von Saurierkopf Thema:
Translation: Skull weeks at MCArchaelogy: After discovery of prehistoric Dutchman’s coronal bone yesterday, today discovery of a dinosaur’s head.

The account also regularly features image riddles or trivia. The riddles are hooks that keep users on the stream and interested in the paper’s conversations.

Interessiert uns jetzt auch RT @herkenroth: Kennt jemand diese Pflanze? Blütezeit August.
Translation: “Now we are curious, too: RT@herkenroth: Does anyone know this plant? Blooms in August”

With about 20% of their tweets unrelated to news events or the network, the self-promotional aspect of Twitter appears negligible to Rhein Zeitung. And they have received feedback indicating that a user unfollowed, because the account was too “chatty.” With 32.1 average tweets per day, this is not utterly surprising!

Resourcing – Anyone Seen My Pen?
Rhein Zeitung does not currently use its Twitter stream to actively crowd source stories or ideas, although they have the capabilities to do so. Occasionally incoming news tips will be acknowledged, but they are not actively encouraged and @RheinZeitung does not usually ask its readers for feedback. In an interview, Wienand mentioned that an online survey was once mentioned in the Twitter stream, but this one-off does not approach the level of resourcing of other news network.

This regional stream is designed to be beneficient and entertaining for followers. Tweets about an editor’s funny quest to rediscover utensils are more like then requests for help. However, the paper might be missing out on a great opportunity to improve its reporting.

Community – I Like Your Tweets, Wanna Go To My Place Later?
The most remarkable community effort are the “follower nights,” developed in a combined effort of followers and staff. Through these events, the newspaper brings together higher management, editors and users/readers and creates an inclusive network.When RheinZeitung opens its gates to active followers, not only do they get to witness the printing of the following day’s paper, but they meet with the editor-in-chief to talk – among other things – about the paper’s web2.0 philosophy.

The paper deliberately keeps its self-promotion low and instead tap into conversations and engage with their readers. The editors search Twitter and answer people’s questions or give comments and feedback on other profiles. Helping others begets new followers (it’s called generosity). And the non-motivational tweeting seems to attract the audience. Wienand reports “viral feeling”, since many new followers come from already existing follower recommendations.

Transparency – The Mysterious “Staff”
Transparency is one of the prime features of Rhein Zeitung’s new media image that the editor-in-chief @rzchefredakteur praises. However, concerning the Twitter stream, @RheinZeitung’s transparency is poor. There is no way to tell who is tweeting, although the “staff” is mentioned frequently. Two main tweeters are responsible for the stream. When I initially profiled the network and criticized this point, they responded, agreeing on the lack of transparency. The editors are currently evaluating the benefits of reavealing the Tweeter’s identities.

Even without revealing identities, the transparency level could be raised by providing a table of company-related twitter accounts (which already exists on This could also be beneficial to further strengthen the community and reader relation with the news provider.

Bottom Line:
RheinZeitung is using Twitter successfully to change its image from a newspaper to a media organization. As Wienand states, most interactions have been with “young people” who are not traditionally newspaper subscribers.

With its Twitter account, RheinZeitung’s editorial office shows a more human (and surprisingly humorous and random) face, engaging with its audience regularly on an equal level. Additionally, they manage to connect their readers and engage in conversations around reported or seemingly unrelated topics. With their follower events, they have established a forum to increase reader engagement and grow a community around the brand in its new form. In a next step, Rhein Zeitung could use the connections that have grown to its advantage beyond the gimmick of the “Tweet of the Day” by allowing readers to contribute actively to news stories via story suggestions, polls or other contributions.

Case Study 4: King5 Seattle
King5Seattle is an NBC-affiliated broadcasting Station in Seattle, Washington. But instead of broadcasting a simple newsfeed, their stream is a flow of conversations with relevance to their audience. King5Seattle – has what most national broadcasters don’t have, yet – personality!

90% of U.S. bills contain traces of cocaine:

@King5Seattle focuses on providing mainly regional or local news and adds national news if they have a high entertainment value. With 86% links to news stories and images (out of which 61% link back to the King homepage) and an average of 31.6 tweets per day, this account gets closer to an RSS-feed than any other human-operated news network account I have seen.

However, the human element is what makes King5Seattle stand out! Most of the links and story retweets receive comments from others on Twitter. Thus, by including additional information or a humorous side note, King5 adds value and contributes to an already existing conversation.

Only in the NW! RT @HerbGuy How to Cook a Slug: the whole gastropodal adventure in pics>

“News has become more collaborative,” explains Evonne Benedict, about their practice of retweeting and crediting news stories from other networks.

Resourcing – How Is The Weather Next Door?
Crowd sourcing is a part of the King5Seattle’s Twitter agenda. Frequently, they send out requests, mostly for pictures, weather or traffic updates. Since the requests are small and often lead to user pictures used on the local TV station, the community is eager to contribute.

Do you have severe weather pictures? If so, please email them to

On the Twitter account background image, King5Seattle includes contact information for news tips encouraging users to contribute at all times. Although this information is only accessible to sighted followers, it is one way to provide additional resource information beyond the character-limited bio.

Community – The Local Megaphone
Benedict believes that Twitter can help the station regain relevance: “Twitter is great, because it enables us to get back to the ways Journalism used to be: Closely connected to the local community.” And Twitter provides a mechanism for King5 to feature community events that might not seem newsworthy enough for time-constrained news casts:

Roll up your sleeve, save a life! Special blood drive today at Seattle hotel: (@bloodcenter)

What sounds like clever marketing lingo at first (“Twitter is not really about us, it is about you!”) becomes meaningful with shout outs for events like this. And @King5Seattle does not restrict its megaphone to organizations. Often the network’s tweeters will retweet follower questions, asking the community to help or join the conversation. However, the network could improve its community effort by institutionalizing input from their followers or encouraging meet up events among their Twitter community.

Transparency – One Voice! One Unidentified Voice!
Turning to transparency, this is an area where King5 could improve. It is not clear from the profile or from tweets who is actively tweeting for the profile. According to Benedict, several people are trying to tweet on the account under “one voice.” Seattle is known as the Emerald City; King5 is playing the wizard, tweeting as the “man (woman) behind the curtain.”

Bottom Line:
King5Seattle does a great job providing relevant and interesting tweets to their regional community in a personal voice. They entertain, inform and help to form opinion through their tweets. The profile’s followers become part of the stream whenever King5Seattle uses reader suggestions. King5Seattle reaches out, participating in existing conversations and encouraging conversations initiated by their audience. As a result, King5Seattle manages what journalists on a national level do not seem willing or able to do: they create a sense of community among news consumers in which the station itself is on eye-level with the others on Twitter.

Lessons Learned
In larger news organizations, promotional tweets seem to dominate the Twitter streams. Moreover, major networks are using Twitter as a one-way tool instead of embracing its two-way conversation potential. More significant progress in resourcing and community efforts can be seen in regional news. While publishing is part of smaller networks’ agenda, the readership concerns and needs have a higher priority.

Twitter thus echoes a general development in digital journalism: the growth and importance of hyperlocal reporting. Although theoretically the internet allows people all over the world to communicate with each other, often the most valuable interactions occur within a limited geographic range. This is the space where school boards and city council meetings happen, where everyday life occurs. We feel strongly about what happens in our neighborhoods because it directly affects us.

However, Twitter does not benefit only local news organizations. Major networks have found creative ways to use the tool. Although it is easier for a small network to build a close community, larger organizations might also benefit from experiments that encourage a closer relationship to the news brand.

Methodology – Feel Alone in the Twitterverse?
I have several different ways to find people on Twitter. Here is a short list. Some of them are more and others less helpful.

(1) Structured Approaches – Search
The most simple and logical thing to do is to search for people on Twitter you already know. These do not have to be friends or business contacts. Search for people you hear about in the media who you find interesting. Lists and directories can also help you to identify users to follow. For example, I find WeFollow useful because it allows for a search within a category. Twibes is another way to find people; people are ordered by subjects or interests and assigned 1-3 key terms or hashtags.

(2) Structured Approaches – Thought Leaders
Thought leaders can be helpful in identifying new connections and interesting users. Most thought leaders will follow a small amount of active users that inspire them, mostly in the same field. Use the snow ball system. Identify thought leaders and check out who your grand figures are following. Trouble identifiying thought leaders? Hint: If you search a key term and find a series of RTs of the same person, you might be on the right track!

(3) Random Approaches: Flip the Channel
TwitZapping (term coined by @pcbritz) is one way to find people on Twitter “guerilla style.” The process: <fix>

TwitZapping might not be as effective as a structured approach, but it can introduce you to profiles you would not have seen otherwise. It also gives you a feeling for the Twitterverse at large – beyond your usual buddies. Basically, it’s the luck of the draw, but sometimes you DO get lucky. It is how I found Rain N Wilson.

Thought Leaders in Journalism on Twitter
To get a start in the Twitter Journalism community, follow these profiles:
@digidave and @spotus for Crowdfunded Journalism
@demotix for Citizen Photojournalism
@reporterssource, @bridge2science and @profnet for connections between Journalists and sources
@jayrosen_nyu @jeffjarvis @kegill @thenewschick @NiemanLab and @ICFJ for a critical view on the future of Journalism
@mashable For hints on best practices and tools for Journalists and others
@thomsonreuters For a newsfeed that includes interesting RTs
@GroundReport for global news through the “hyperlocal perspective”
@knightfdn for funding of “transformational journalism”

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