Twitter: Why Fleet Street is turning to Tweet Street

MP Alan Johnson’s doing it, Borat has tried it and David Brent soon gave up the ghost – but should you be twittering too?

Twittering or ‘tweeting’means telling anyone who’s interested your answer to the question ‘What are you doing now?’You can also send messages direct via Twitter – but they have to be 140 characters or less. Log on at twitter. com to get started. You’ll see an array of journalists having their say in the ‘public timeline”.

You can update your feed and read other people’s tweets and messages either online or via your mobile phone. What you say and how often, is entirely up to you.

Inevitably, opinion is divided on whether the ‘micro-blogging’service is useful. Fans maintain that Twitter, which started in San Francisco last year, is a great way of keeping on top of important developments, while detractors insist it’s all a waste of time. Do we really need to know that someone had for dinner, again?

But Twitter can be about much more than that. Major news organisations including the BBC, Al-Jazeera and The New York Times keep followers up to date with headlines.

I’ve digested news about the French elections and the latest debate on IVF.

Avid Twitterer and IT Pro magazine editor Chris Green says: ‘It’s an effective news distribution and promotion mechanism, and I’m using it to point people towards interesting content online and offline, as well as flagging up issues and concerns for discussion.

‘It’s a great ice breaker. New contacts will say they’ve seen my Twitter feed. Larger news organisations using Twitter provide a cheap, near-realtime and multidevice way of being kept in touch with important and breaking news.”

Green says those slating Twitter for some of its more inane messages are missing the point:

‘There is a lot of more sensible use – and some very worthwhile and interesting conversations going on. Anyone who reckons it’s a waste of time should at least give it a go to see the bigger picture.”

As a freelance writer I have gained ideas and leads for pitches from stuff I’ve read on Twitter and, as a news junkie, I know my next fix won’t be long in coming.

The PR industry has also embraced Twitter to some extent – with the likes of Stuart Bruce, PR man for Labour deputy leader frontrunner Alan Johnson, and Simon Collister at Edelman, representing elements of London’s 2012 Olympics marketing, tweeting away.

You can even find a new job through Twitter, with various new media agencies keeping you abreast of opportunities.

According to Stuart Dredge, editor of Twitter blog www.twitterati.tv, the jury is still out on whether Twitter is a passing fad – but he says that journalists are some of the key people to have already ‘bought into’the concept. And this isn’t surprising when you consider that US presidential electoral candidates John Edwards and Barack Obama have signed up.

That means, in theory at least, these people are directly contactable through their Twitter feeds. Whether they reply is another matter.

Another key way that you can shape Twitter to your best advantage as a journalist or blogger, is in promoting your work.

A popular use is to add a link to your latest article or blog post, which can help underline your specialism or find new readers. Add it by using an imaginatively named TwitThis button on your blog. This course of action has also come under fire.

How narcissistic can you get, protests a predictable chorus of disapproval. But leading tech blogger Robert Scoble has 3,724 ‘friends’and 4,029 followers – how about that for enhancing a professional reputation?

Whether Twitter has any bearing whatsoever on developing writing skills is, of course, debatable – it depends who you are and how long you’ve been at it. But Dredge adds: ‘The challenge for heavyweight journalists is boiling their purple prose down to 140 characters of pithy comment. If nothing else, it should improve their subbing skills.”

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