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Twitter gets the news to you now

POSTED June 27, 2009 3:47 p.m.
When news of the two probable swine flu cases in Merced County broke in our newsroom, editor Kristina Hacker called reporter Alex Cantatore with a request.
“Can you twitter this for me?” she asked.  
Despite her lack of knowledge of twitter vocabulary, (twitter is a noun, the proper verb form is tweet) Kristina was on to something.
Twitter messages are short notes of less than 140 characters that answer one simple question, “what are you doing?” I have personally been using Twitter for about a year now. I started using it when I was an intern at a newspaper where most of the staff were twitter addicts. I thought it was silly at first, but I eventually saw its usefulness as both a social and a reporting tool.
Almost every day now I use the phrase “I have to twitter that.” My friends and loved ones have grown accustomed to me grabbing my cell phone whenever anything interesting happens. I have been told that Twitter users are just egocentric for feeling a need to update everyone about their every move, and that Twitter is just a fad. I would disagree.  
We all know someone who tells the same story over and over again to everyone they know. I am one of those people, and I am aware that I bore my friends. Twitter gives me a way to tell my boring story to all of my friends at the same time.
Once I tweet something I get it out of my system and I don’t feel the need to mention it again. If people want to talk about it, or if they think it is interesting, they have the option of replying with a tweet of their own. I also meet complete strangers who find my tweets interesting and want to be my friend. I think Twitter has actually helped my social life a little bit.
Twitter is also useful as a news reporting tool, when used properly. The Turlock Journal has been using Twitter to update its followers sporadically on published stories for the last three months or so. This week, however, we have started an experiment to see if live tweeting news will get any reader response. I would say that the experiment is a success.
Alex was using the feature that makes twitter so useful when he live tweeted the Turlock City Council meeting on Tuesday from his cell phone. Tweets can be sent from any mobile phone through text message, even if the phone does not have Internet capability. So when the Turlock City Council voted to increase the price of parking tickets by $15 dollars, Alex was able to instantly send out a Twitter update.
That update was then sent to the home Twitter page of every one of the Turlock Journal’s Twitter followers. Some followers may have chosen to receive all of the Turlock Journal’s updates via text message, and they received the news of parking ticket fee increases within minutes of the city council vote.
Furthermore, the Turlock Journal sets its Twitter updates as Facebook status updates. So everyone who is a friend with us on Facebook sees our tweets as soon as they happen. Through Facebook people can comment on our updates and let us know what they think.
If you are not the technologically savvy type (I’m not sure how it works either, it just does) I can break the process down in to much simpler terms: We can let our community know about newsworthy events almost as soon as they happen.
We even have proof that our community pays attention to our twitters.  Within two minutes of us sending the swine flu update, five people had commented about it. I admit the conversation was not as heated as the discussion about parking tickets, but at least people were discussing things.
Twitter, Facebook, and other new technology gives us the chance to take community reporting to a new level. Not only can you read a detailed account of an event in the paper, but you can also see up to date information online. Community members can respond almost instantly to breaking news, and that fosters open discussion of current events.
So, Turlock Journal readers, feel free to follow us at Twitter.com/TurlockJournal. As always you can call me at 634-9141, or e-mail me at agoodwin@turlockjournal.com. I do have a personal Twitter account but it is locked, a nifty privacy feature that only allows my followers to see my tweets.

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