Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Tweeting the news

At the RefreshAustin meetup tonight we talked out a collective idea about how to use Twitter as an ultra-fast reporting tool for a traditional online news site. Or at least how we would like to see it.

The concept is simple enough. Let's say there is a popular political figure holding a rally in downtown Austin at 6th and Congress. (It's been known to happen.) The news organization sends their best reporters and columnists to the event ... three or four people. They use their cell phones and laptops to tweet minute-by-minute updates and off-the-cuff analysis of the speech. Those dispatches are combined together into a single feed for the news site, but it's also a feed on Twitter so folks can follow on their own accounts and on their mobile devices, maybe even from the same event. Sort of like CoverItLive, but more accessible and mobile.

Or there is popular 3-day music festival at an iconic downtown park where a mix of popular Austin and Texas acts intermingle with nationally touring headliners. (It's been known to happen.) Our music critics and editors at the festival send in bursts from the festival grounds, from the shortest bathroom lines to the latest inflatable farm animal. (Where's Willie? He's right here!) Imagine last year's coverage of the fire behind the food stand.

Now, for a broader view of the festival, lets put those tweets next to (but not mixed with) a scan of other posts from the festival. (Tweetscan? maybe follow @replies with some keyword, or some location-based scan. BrighKite?).

All that sounds easy enough, but there are hurdles. Some technical, some institutional.

As journalists, we feel it is important to edit news. It's part of the getting it right ... another pair of eyes is more than a spell checker. We double check facts, ensure clarity, demand fairness and all the things that makes journalism more than just another opinion. That thought above of "off-the-cuff analysis" probably makes the hair raise on the skin of good copy editor, and rightfully so.

We also have a technical issue of combining the tweets from several different mobile sources into a single account, but that's solvable. We could even develop a quick editing system between the submission and the publishing, but that would be wrong. Ultra-fast publishing is the aim here.

Now, about those adjacent tweetscans from the public? Not sure how we keep f-bombs from the front of our entertainment site. Maybe we just put that page another layer deep into the site. And I wonder if we can collect those for the Twitter users ... to have them all together into a single feed that people could subscribe to. This may already be out there with tweetscan or some other site ... I'll have to check that out.

It's worth more good talk among smart people, and it's worth doing in some fashion.


Rob Haining 8:14 AM  

There's no reason you couldn't have a reactive system. Have the copy editors monitor your tweets. If something wonky goes through, they could delete/issue a 'tweet-traction'.

And don't worry about the fbomb. just have a layer between the tweets & your site that checks for that.

I think you can get past the institutional and technical hurdles & do something really great here. Best of luck to you, sir!

Anonymous 1:09 PM  

It should be pretty easy to pull in just the twits from an official "Statesman" user, while on a seperate page (or just a link) you display the other users and/or @ replies.

I like the idea of editors post twit-tractions and twit-corrections Rob!

rob haining 7:47 PM  

man, if only we worked for the same company, then we could really scrape something together cool! ;-)

Christian McDonald 9:22 PM  

No doubt. You, me, heisel ... what a team! I can already see using Django to create Twitter accounts for different events and match writers/devices for submissions.

Christian McDonald 11:34 AM  

I came across http://twemes.com/ which collects posts based off of #tags within tweets. Might be a solution or idea on collecting tweets from the public around a particular event.

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