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Using Twitter for story ideas and leads

October 12, 2018

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Twitter is a great tool for freelancers to generate ideas, begin cultivating sources and stay up-to-date on the business beat. (Photo by Pixabay user LoboStudioHamburg)

Generating ideas is one of the more difficult challenges for many freelance reporters. Independent journalism requires not only sending out pitches but also doing so in near-isolation, without a lot of feedback or individuals to bounce ideas off of.

Seasoned business journalists are quick to discuss why they prefer knocking on doors to relying on tweets and other social media. It’s difficult to overestimate the importance of on-the-ground reporting.

That said, Twitter can be a great place to generate ideas, get story leads, and interact with people who may develop into sources. It’s also a good place to stay up-to-date on industry news both locally and globally.

Getting the most out of Twitter without letting it consume all of your time or leading you down rabbit holes is a learned skill.

Twitter lists

Creating a list of people discussing specific topics in your beat can help save time down the road. You can also follow or subscribe to Twitter lists curated by leaders in your industry or in the topics you are covering or want to learn more about.

Twitter lists can also be used to improve diversity of sources and to expand the range of perspectives you come across. For example, Chicago Tribune marketplace editor Andrea Hanis has a Twitter list of Chicago women in business journalism. Lists can be event-specific as well, such as Bloomberg’s list of reporters that covered the World Economic Forum at Davos in 2015.

It’s also possible to make your own list of people featured in a “Twitter accounts to follow” article, of which there are many. This can be specific to an industry as well—lists abound for everything from supply chain and procurement to industrial organizational psychology.

One thing to note about Twitter lists is that they do age quickly, so be aware that some of the people you want to reach out to may have inactive accounts.

Twitter’s advanced search feature is a good starting point to look for potential sources or experts discussing local issues, or discussing the effect of national issues on their region. You can search for your topic, the location you’d like to be near, and how many miles it should be within.

Of course, not everyone on Twitter reveals their location, but advanced search can be a good starting point. Make sure to use different word combinations, spellings, and abbreviations.

You can also search specific URLs to see if there has been local reaction to them. This should be considered a starting point for reporting. Since anyone can start a Twitter account, it’s crucial to verify people’s identities.

It’s also easy to take tweets out of context or misunderstand someone’s comments that fit into 280 characters, and not all private individuals would necessarily want their tweets amplified or included in an article, so reaching out to them is important.


Sometimes monitoring Twitter can seem like a full-time job that research and reporting can cut into. Nuzzel is a research and monitoring tool that can show you what links the people you follow on Twitter (or other social media) are sharing with their followers—without having to be on the site 24/7.

You can also broaden this to friends of friends and look at trending stories. Nuzzel has featured feeds anyone can subscribe to, and many users have made their feeds public. You, too, can create your own email newsletter featuring the stories on your radar—and your stories, too.


  • Yael Grauer

    Yael is an investigative tech reporter covering privacy and security, digital freedom, hacking, and mass surveillance. Yael currently works at Consumer Reports as a tech journalist and the content lead of CR Security Planner. She has freelanced for m...

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