How I learned to stop worrying and love Twitter

by January 22, 2014

In the past, I’ve mostly used Twitter for two things: To promote my columns and blog posts, and to create a Twitter feed on subjects such as economics that was high quality to as to attract followers.

Now I am comfortable using it as another platform, beyond dead trees and the newspaper Web site, to actually deliver the news. Of course I had live-tweeted meetings or speeches, but the results disappointed; the tweets were dull and writing them distracted from taking notes. Business journalists don’t have many opportunities to do the same at violent or historic moments (think Boston Marathon bombing). Still, I finally found some niches.

I slid into this during the 2012 presidential campaign, live-tweeting commentary during the debates. I focused on fact-checking or illuminating issues the candidates either weren’t discussing or that required greater depth or context. It proved to be very popular.

Jon Talton Tweet My next breakthrough came recently during the vote by the International Association of Machinists on whether to accept a contract extension and modification by Boeing, thus ensuring that the new 777X would be built in Washington.

I had already written several columns on the issue. And Seattle Times reporters, including the capable Dominic Gates, would be covering the vote. There wasn’t much for me to do except watch or take the night off.

Instead, I turned to Twitter and began tweeting commentary, analysis and context in real time as the news unfolded. I also directed tweeps to Seattle Times stories as they were updated (the union narrowly approved the contract). It was wildly popular. I ended up as the most trending thing on Twitter in Seattle that night.

My next move came last week. I had been briefed in advance that the Port of Seattle was going to enter into an agreement with its longtime rival, the Port of Tacoma, to share information on the way to increasing overall market share, rather than fighting with each other.

It was to be announced Friday, but I received a call late Thursday afternoon that the Tacoma News Tribune had been given a tip and was preparing a story now.

I am still a competitive mad dog. So even though I was waiting for a bus, I wasn’t going to be scooped.

The Port of Seattle emailed me the news release on the agreement between the two ports. I tweeted:

 

People immediately began retweeting me. So did the Seattle Times. I followed with tweets outlining the agreement, and then my analysis, including that it would not lead to a merger between the two ports.

Take that, TNT.


Later that night, both papers had up full stories. The Times linked to a previous column I had done on the historic rivalry between the two ports. But thanks to Twitter, I was able to break the news.

You can try this at home, kids. Of course you need to be sure that the news is real and meets the sniff test you would apply to a story on any other platform. Nothing dicey. Nothing libelous. Make sure it fits with your news organization’s overall strategy. For example, you wouldn’t want to “break” an enterprise story on Twitter, unless you were linking to the whole thing.

But for certain situations, such as those listed above, Twitter can be a valuable way to get the news out the door fast and remain relevant.