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Twitter Case Study: Connecting with New Sources

By Sree Sreenivasan | October 26, 2010 11:37am
Arizona Republic reporter Amy Wang uses Twitter to reach out to a potential new source.
Arizona Republic reporter Amy Wang uses Twitter to reach out to a potential new source.
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By Sree Sreenivasan

DNAinfo Contributing Editor

In my columns, I like to provide some big-picture perspectives on the changing media landscape, trying to explain trends. But this week, I want to do something more practical: dissect an example of how a journalist can use Twitter to connect with new sources.

Last week, on Tuesday, Oct. 19, at 3:36 pm, I posted a tweet for an occasional series about new books I come across:

@sreenet: #NEWBOOKONMYDESK: "Brazil on the Rise" by NYT bureau chief Larry Rohter: http://www.brazilontherise.com - timely book!

Among the folks who responded was someone I hadn't corresponded with before. George Haines, tweeting as Oline73, asked about the term "BRIC," which refers to Brazil, Russia, India and China:

@oline73: @sreenet Is BRIC still an operative term or are they no longer lumped together? (in your circles)

I regularly monitor those "@mentions" (as all journalists on Twitter should) to see messages that include public replies to me or retweets of my posts. I clicked on oline73's profile to see more about him. I learned he is, according to his Twitter profile, a "technology teacher on the elementary level," and glanced at his website, TeacherHaines.com.

Just as I was clicking away from his site, I got a phone call from Amy Wang, a former Columbia student who's now a reporter in Arizona, asking to interview me about a new trend in schools there: teachers encouraging students to use cell phones in class for "research." I told her I was not an expert on how pre-college students use technology, but I did tell her that it sounded like a recipe for disaster. I told her about Haines and suggested she contact him on Twitter.

She did just that, tweeting: 

@oline73: @sreenet said I should talk to you for a story. If you're open to that, could you pls DM or email me your number? Thanks!

Soon she was able to talk to him and get quotes for her story. These tweets went out from both of them:

@oline73: @amybwang And thanks for the conversation too- hope I was able to give you something of value!

@amybwang: @oline73 No, thank you! Great to hear the things you're doing. And thanks to @sreenet for putting us in touch in record time.

This would not have been possible if Wang wasn't on Twitter and knew how to use it properly. It also worked only because Wang includes her e-mail address in her public Twitter profile, which is a good way to get sources to respond to you, especially those who aren't comfortable tweeting at you in public (it also avoids the issue of DMs or private direct messages, which only allow you to write to those who follow you on Twitter). 

Of course, it's important for journalists to verify the authenticity of Twitter feeds and the credentials of anyone they quote. In this case, Haines's website was enough to tell us more about him.

Later in the week, Wang's story ran in the Arizona Republic: "Schools starting to allow use of digital devices" (complete with quotes from Haines and me). Incidentally, it's a tech trends story worth reading just to get a sense of what some educators are thinking about mobile devices - and it's plenty scary.

Along these lines, you may also want to read about a Forbes writer who used tweets instead of traditional quotes in a recent blogpost.

What do you think? Post your comments below or on Twitter @sreenet.

Every week, DNAinfo contributing editor Sree Sreenivasan, a Columbia journalism professor, shares his observations about the changing media landscape.