Live-tweeting: The new reporter’s notebook?

Though I’m writing all about Twitter and journalism for this blog, I confess I had never live-tweeted an event before last week.

On Thursday, I covered a community meeting about the next Institutional Master Plan of Northeastern University. A little background on the IMP: it’s the guiding document regarding development and direction for the university in the next decade. The meeting included a few Northeastern administrators and residents of surrounding neighborhoods, some assembled by the Boston Redevelopment Authority in a community task force.

My assignment was to live-tweet an event of any kind for my Reinventing the News class.

Before I left for the meeting, I sent an initial tweet from my Twitter account, alerting followers that I would be live-tweeting the meeting. I planned to send out several tweets, and I thought I might lose a few followers who would grow tired of my messages filling their feeds in the process. This was not the case.

While at the meeting, I tweeted using the hashtag #NUimp. To my surprise, a few other people began using that hashtag too. Some responded to my tweets, and I gained about 10 followers in just a couple of hours, putting me over the 100-follower threshold for the first time in my two years on Twitter. One person absent from the meeting even thanked me via Twitter for my coverage.

For these and other reasons, my first experience with live-tweeting was mostly positive. I was amazed at how much I could do with my iPhone: I took photos, tweeted, and recorded audio of the meeting all at the same time.

I tried to send updates through Twitter at least every ten minutes and posted many times. I was concerned that my tweets would come across as choppy and lack context, but I found that the posts worked sequentially according to the chronology of the event.

Writing in 140-character blasts proved to be less difficult than I anticipated, and the limits actually forced me to focus only on important information.

Before this assignment, I had heard multiple times that the series of tweets from an event could serve almost like notes for a story. Though I could see this happening, I’m not sure I could use tweets exclusively to write an article.

I jotted down notes in a pad during the meeting, separate from my tweets. With live-tweeting, I was fairly timid and only once used a direct quote. Because there are no outside editors or external fact-checking methods, I think it could be easy to tweet misinformation in the rush of covering a meeting or event.

Consequently, I avoided tweeting anything I was not absolutely sure reflected what was said at the meeting. I even wrote, then scrapped a few tweets in the process.

Live-tweeting definitely introduced me to a new storytelling method. But I do not think I could use it exclusively in event coverage, and would need to pair it with other traditional reporting methods.

Still, more than ever, Twitter became a tool for conversation when I covered this meeting, and I’m glad the assignment forced me to give live-tweeting a try.

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