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Why Twitter matters.

It seems like for the last few weeks, I’ve had to explain why I’m such a Twitter fanatic. While at the state legislature, a fellow reporter asked me to explain why Twitter was awesome to the president of the Nevada Press Association. At a SuperBowl party, I got into a debate with a fellow journalism student who thinks the application is useless and doesn’t understand why the fad is popular. One of my best friends (and yes, another journalism major) thinks that all the time I spend on Twitter is pointless.

What was the breaking point? I was reading a column from Time yesterday, and it irked it me when the writer said, “I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I’ve finally found something more stupid than Twitter.”

So I’ve finally decided to defend it on my blog.

A little back story before I start:  I can’t remember when I signed up for my account. I think it was sometime in 2007, when the Sagebrush’s Web editor was explaining to me what it was. I didn’t start regularly using it until spring break 2008, and I became hooked after I helped tweet the entire Sagebrush editor selection meeting in April 2008.

I once thought Twitter was quite useless too. I thought it was nothing more than updating your Facebook status a lot.

Sure, that’s part of its appeal. You can say what you’re doing at any particular moment of the day, and unlike on Facebook, it’s OK if you update frequently because no one will judge you. That’s what it was designed for.

But as I’ve “gotten to know Twitter,” I’ve realized a few things:

1) My networking has gone through the roof. Prior to September 2008, I mostly just followed people I knew. But then I started finding others who were interested in journalism, simply by glancing at who others followed. I now talk to other professional and college journalists regularly about my ideas. Even if it’s limited to 140 characters, it’s a conversation that I’ve been unable to have up until now, even with social networking giants MySpace and Facebook (which are designed so you friend people you know anyway). It’s been much more helpful than LinkedIn in putting me in contact with people I want to talk to about issues, ranging from if I should bother with grad school to where journalism’s future is heading. And the beauty is, it’s not limited to the people I’m friends with, because the rest of the Twitterverse can see my tweets and respond.

2) I can talk to anyone about anything. This didn’t hit me until the first debate between presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain. I randomly clicked on something about the election, which brought me to pages where people were openly discussing and debating what the candidates were saying. It happens with any topic nowadays, thanks to search.twitter.com and hashtags, which allows me to find someone who’s thinking about the same things I am.

3) It gives me a better perspective. Maybe the way to say it is that it gives me more perspectives. Building off of the last one, I can see what people are thinking about on any subject. And that allows me to at least think about their ideas, whether I agree with them or not. Also, I read dozens of stories that I found through Twitter because people love to post links. Most of them are stories I wouldn’t have found otherwise, had they not been posted or retweeted by my fellow Twitter-ers. It’s just a new way for me to absorb more information, since I am a new junkie.

The three of those things, in turn, make me a better journalist. How? Think about it – journalism is (or at least, it should be) a conversation between the journalist and the community, and Twitter is all about conversation. I like to think of it as a massive text message that you send out to the Twitterverse (or at least your friends, if you make your tweets private). It’s a message that can be anything – a story, a photo, a quote, a thought.

And once you put it out there, it’s up for grabs. People can digest what you’re saying and respond to you or repost what you’ve shared. Isn’t that what journalists want?

It’s not limited to only that. Story ideas are abundant if you just pay attention to what people are tweeting about, because they tweet about things they are personally interested in. If a journalist notices a number of tweets complaining about a traffic jam on the freeway, then that could be a story.

Twitter can also be used to break news. The first photo from the emergency plane landing in the Hudson River was taken by someone who immediately posted it to Twitter. When the earthquake in LA occurred, people were tweeting about it while the mainstream media rushed to put something together. For immediacy, if not edited, purposes, it’s a useful tool because as soon as you hit “enter” from any computer or mobile device, it’s done.

I’ve joined the team at www.breakingtweets.com. It’s a few journalists who take a look at the news stories people are paying attention to, and show what people are saying about these stories through Twitter. Created by DePaul journalism grad student Craig Kanalley, I think it’s a brilliant idea and I’m excited to see what we can do.

So yes, my name is Jessica and I’m a Twitter advocate and journalist. You don’t have to listen to me if you don’t want to. But at least get an account and try it before you knock it.

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2 thoughts on “Why Twitter matters.

  1. Couldn’t agree more! The networking is the biggest plus I’ve seen. Have increased my network hugely and have gotten amazing opportunities I would have never had a chance at before. Example, the Chicago Sun-Times contacted our student newspaper Twitter account (which I operate) and before you knew it, they were asking me and a few other DePaul students to do a live blog for them in D.C. for Barack Obama’s Inauguration (http://blogs.suntimes.com/inauguration).

    Stuff like that, just awesome. It’s also what has me optimistic about where Breaking Tweets can go. So glad you’ve joined the staff 🙂 I’m in touch with a few more people interested in joining, so we may be growing further in a few days!

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