Tweetdeck is a powerful newsgathering tool. But are you using all the tips and tricks to mean you get to the story before it breaks? Do you know how to hone in to find key contacts?
Joanna Geary (@JoannaUK), head of news at Twitter UK, came in to the London newsroom of The Wall Street Journal on 17 June to share ideas and best practice.
She also gave this ‘advanced newsgathering using Tweetdeck’ workshop during the International Journalism Festival in Perugia.
Here are my notes.
(If you are new to Tweetdeck, here’s a guide to get you started.)
From feeling overwhelmed to feeling informed
Tweetdeck may look like a bind and you may feel intimidated by the thought of having to stare at columns, but filters and smart working can liberate you by excluding some of the noise.
“You then don’t need to stare at those columns all day,” said Joanna. “Tweetdeck is in the background doing your searches for you.”
Tip 1: Embrace the filter button
The filter button at the top of a column is particularly useful.
You may find a particular keyword or hashtag you are tracking is particularly noisy. The filter button helps you filter the things that are useful to you.
You can exclude words.
Example: If you were tracking the Mandela memorial you may have been tracking the keyword ‘Mandela’ in a column but excluding the word ‘selfie’ (to omit chatter about the famous Obama selfie).
Example: Follow a World Cup list but exclude mentions of ‘England’. (Yes, Joanna was speaking when England’s dreams were still alive.)
If you were monitoring the keyword ‘Mandela’, you may have excluded RTs.
You can specify types of user, perhaps you want to track everyone who has a blue verified Twitter tick. This is an option on a dropdown.
This is particularly usedul. You can only show tweets that get a certain number of favourites or RTs. This helps you spot trending tweets early.
Tip 2: Turn the air blue
Holy shit! WTF was that? Let’s find the fucking breaking news on Twitter!
Joanna also shared keyword advice, useful for potentially finding news before it breaks.
‘Fuck’ is quite a common word used in breaking news. As is ‘shit’ as is ‘WTF was that’.
Get your search tight enough to make it useful, she advised.
Use Boolean searches (OR and AND)
A column search in Tweetdeck may look like this:
shit OR fuck OR fucking
Then you add:
AND fire OR earthquake OR bomb
Then you can remove false positives.
You can remove RTs, mentions of ‘fuck the police’ and “any gangster spelling of that,” as Joanna said.
This will give you a much slower feed of potentially useful tweets. But of course it’s not perfect. You can’t just get a stream of breaking news. What you can do is get your search refined so you might get breaking news.
Show tweets gaining traction
You could also run a search for tweets that only have at least 15 RTs, for example. You might then catch stuff relatively early but before another news outlet has it, for example. Tweak the meter / number of RTs depending what group of people you are looking at.
Tip 3: Search tools
Beyond the search boxes in Tweetdeck and on the Twitter website, there’s the Twitter search URL.
This has additional functionality than in the search bar. You can use operators and advanced search. (See links from just below the search bar on twitter.com/search)
For example, you can use from:WSJ #WorldCup to find tweets sent by @WSJ mentioning the #WorldCup.
(Want a few more Google search operators, many of which work for Twitter? See this post on Google search tips for journalists. And here are other Twitter search tips.)
Searching after a story breaks
If you had been reporting on the helicopter crash which hit the Clutha pub in Glasgow back in November, you may have searched the word ‘helicopter’ and ‘clutha’ and come up with this tweet (sent by MA journalism student Christina O’Neil)
You could then go to Google Maps and look for nearby street names. Your search may then look like this:
Clyde OR Enoch OR Stockwell
You then might want to try limiting this keyword by location, only finding tweets mentioning one of these keywords (Clyde OR Enoch OR Stockwell) sent within 1km of the area the crash happened.
Only 4% of Twitter users turn their location on, Joanna said. So using geolocation will only pick up this minority of people. But it’s worth a go.
To find the geo coordinates of a location, go to Google Maps, right click on the area, click ‘what’s here’, and you’ll get the latitude and longitude. (You’ll need to take the space out between the two numbers.)
Alternatively, Joanna recommends iTouchMap.
Your search for geolocated tweets sent mentioning Clutha and within 5 miles of the crash site would look like this:
If you want to zone in on a user and get an alert whenever that person tweets, click ‘user’ in Twitterdeck.
Not near a computer? If you are on your mobile, go to the user and ‘switch on notifications’.
The power of lists
Find lists, follow lists, create them yourself. You can now search for lists within Tweetdeck and Twitter.
Tip 4: Try Widgets
Twitter has a feature called ‘collections’ (formerly known as ‘custom timeline’). (WSJ used this to collect @samdagher’s tweets around the Syria election and to collect tweets from reporters covering the D-Day anniversary).
Joanna gave a useful tip: that this feature could be used by reporters flagging up tweets to an editor or reporter for use in a live blog.
(I use this feature to organise tweets I may want to put in a blog post. It’s also a great feature for collaboration. When I created this post with the best #ThingsTimHowardCouldSave memes, I added them to a collection. This allowed my colleague Parminder Bahra to us the same tweets I’d identified in a video.)
The search widget allows you embed a Twitter widget for a search term.
You can embed a list (tweets by WSJ reporters at the World Cup, for example),
“It’s essentially an auto-publishing tool,” Joanna said.
Tip 5: Verification tips
The task of journalists checking information is centuries old. The platforms maybe new but verification on Twitter is essentially a fact-checking and common sense process.
- Look at the profile page. “Be suspicious of eggs,” said Joanna
- Look at join date (displayed on new-style profiles)
- Look at tweets and replies
- Who is following them?
- Who do they follow?
- Verification tick – which you can hover over to check
- Look to see if people geolocate
- Look at the platform people used (Tweetdeck, Twitter, for example. If someone Tweeted from Tweetdeck it’s unlikely they did this from a mobile phone when out and about)
- Can use WolframAlpha weather in x place at x time
- Reverse image search Google Image Search / TinEye
We’ve had a number of guest speakers at WSJ recently. Here are my notes on two of the other sessions:
Instagram for journalists
Facebook for journalists