The News Biz Meets the Twitterverse

Article and photo by @nccfan
April 15, 2014

Sara Satullo (left) and Sarah Wojcik Sara Satullo graduated from the University of Delaware the year Twitter was launched.  She didn't start tweeting until several years later.  She did have a flip phone.  "It was exciting because it lit up," she recalls with a chuckle.

Eight years later the education reporter for The Express-Times and her colleague Sarah Wojcik who covers the police beat use their smart phones and social media every day to report the news as it happens.

No longer do they have to run out of meetings or trials to race back to the newsroom to file a story for the next day's paper.  Their goal is to beat the competition in sharing information on Twitter and to give their followers the first glimpse of a fire, a parade or other community happenings through photos and videos transmitted from the scene.   

For them, Twitter as become a "live notebook."  Information shared on Twitter later gets posted on lehighvalleylive (The Express-Times website) and/or pulled together for a story for the next day's paper. 

Rob Hays, a professor of journalism at Northampton Community College, invited Satullo and Wojcik to speak to students in a program titled "Sweet Tweet: The News Biz Meets the Twitterverse."

Both reporters say they find Twitter invaluable not only for breaking news and providing readers with updates, but also for tracking down sources, for monitoring what people in the community care about, and for answering questions from readers.

Twitter has limitations, however.  The 140-character limit isn't suitable for all topics and it can lead to  confusion.  Another drawback according to the reporters is that "The pressure to tweet before your competition can be a trap for inaccuracy.  You need to be clear about what is confirmed and what isn't."

Wojcik also cautioned the students that "using Twitter in a professional environment is different than playing around with it personally.  If you are a social media addict, you may want to have two accounts - one for work and one for more personal topics.  "Stay away from snark," in both she advised. 

Satullo only has one account.  In addition to news, "You'll see me Tweet about running, eating and my dog. All tame topics. But they make me human. Sharing yourself builds trust."

Reporting live can be  stressful, Wojcik says.  "You have to master the equipment and the tools." Among the tools she and Satullo find helpful are Hootsuite which allows you to monitor your own posts and posts by others, dash to see what people are reading, Videolicious to record videos, JotNote to take photos of documents, and Storify to pull together photos, videos and posts to tell a story. 

Although Twitter is growing in popularity, the reporters pointed out that Facebook still has clout.  "Three times as many people come to our website from Facebook as from Twitter," Satullo says. "We don't use Instagram much now, but it will be a big thing for news organizations going forward."

After they graduate, students will "have a head start on technology, but there's always something new.  Explore and experiment.  And speak up!  If you think a new tech tool can help your organization, let your supervisors know," the reporters told the audience.

"And stick with it.  Journalism is an incredibly exciting career."

You can follow Satullo on Twitter @sarasatullo and Wojcik @Sarah_M_Wojcik.

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