Any journalist who tries this guide and doesn’t end up hooked, involved and contributing probably doesn’t have a news sense and should consider looking for another job.
A dull day at the office
You have turned up at the office and there is nothing in the diary for the day, the prospects for the week ahead look bleak, you’ve rung round your contacts and they have nothing new, the competition is regurgitating the same wires as your news organisation, and your mind is a blank.
As you stare at the computer screen nothing interesting seems to be happening. What do you do?
When I started in print 35 years ago the answer was get out and talk to people. We didn't have PCs with the wires flashing up on the screen.
If there was nothing on the diary we would get out of the office and walk the streets until we found a story.
We'd watch what was going on, talk to shopkeepers, keep looking, keep digging. In fact that was the only way to find news.
And, because I was a journalist, I was always working on a special project in the category of ‘had it not been for me the world would never have known’.
But for the sake of this short guide, let’s imagine you are stuck in the office.
There are loads of tools out there to help a journalist use Twitter for newsgathering, for this guide I have only touched on a few.
Others will have their own lists. If so, please add them as comments at the foot of this page.
Check what people are tweeting about
Go to Hashtags to view the most popular topics being discussed.
Notice the key words are prefaced by a hash symbol (#). These help organise and target tweets. People tweeting on a topic will either know or search for the current hashtag that will ensure the tweet is noticed.
Check the graphs to the right of the top tags to see whether that story is rising or falling in interest.
Click on the tag name to reveal a more detailed graph showing recent activity and a list of related tags. Click on those related tags to reveal their popularity.
Click on trends to see what is hot. Enter key words to the story you are investigating and see what comes up.
Click on the tags tab and look at the top tags and the newest.
Find out who has tweeted using the hashtags and check out their other tweets, their blog if they have a link, and the same with others in their network who are retweeting their material.
Check out what is already gathered
There is no point in spending a lot of time chasing a story that is already published. Have a look at the latest breaking news stimulated by tweets.
Twitscoops has a tag cloud with real-time key word monitoring; hover over a word to display the latest four tweets.
Click on the word to display the latest tweets on the left.
If you are interested in any of the stories you can reply with a question, or re-tweet it with a question.
If you get a reply you may be on the way to making a new and valuable contact. I have been amazed at how willing people are to link up and share knowledge.
Find, follow, contribute, question, engage, retweet. It's simple.
Check out who is tweeting
This is where you can expand your contact book and start to connect with people who may be able to offer you perspectives and information that may otherwise be out of reach.
There are also ways of assessing whether those contacts are likely to be reliable.
You can assess the quality of their network, have a look at what they have been tweeting about and check their profile and their web page.
If you like what you see you can follow them and they may decide to follow you.
The dog-eared, well-thumbed contacts book still has its value, and your online and telephone contacts will still be part of your newsgathering routine.
If you find someone who is tweeting stuff you find newsworthy and interesting, click on their profile to find out who they are following and who is following them.
Dig deep and keep going. As you find interesting people, follow them. Hopefully, they will follow you - but only if you have set up something worth following - see Step 2 in the Becoming a global media brand in 60 minutes module.
At this point you can start communicating privately if you need to talk about an issue without broadcasting it worldwide – essential if you start to work on an interesting story.
If you find someone who is tweeting valuable information there is a neat way to find out who they are connected to and dig deeper.
Go to the Twitter Friends Network Browser. Enter the tweeter's name and hit the find arrow.
The person you are following, and those in their network who recently tweeted, will display.
Hover over the names displayed, the people tweeting about that topic.
If you are interested in what they are saying, click on their profile and all their contacts who have recently tweeted will show up. Keeping clicking on contacts and you begin to appreciate the scale of the network.
Imagine trying to tap into network of contacts and information in the past; time wasted with out-of-date contacts books, rolodex, telephone directories, and dead ends.
Not anymore. Any journalist not using this as a key part of newsgathering is missing a trick.
The tweet trail
Many new helpful tools are appearing all the time.
One is TweetTrail, a neat interface where you type in the word you are researching and it displays the identity of the people who have been tweeting on that topic.
You can then click on their profile, read all those tweets, decide whether they are worth following and, if they are, get to know them.
There are many Twitter tools out there. Mashable has a great list in its Twitter Toolbox section, which is regularly updated. There is also a Twitter Tip section and a How To section on Mashable, and Twitter news.
By the time you have read this someone will have written a better, more up-to-date piece that will make this look lame, or they may have picked up on this and improved it. Happy newsgathering on Twitter.
The author of this piece, David Brewer, is a journalist and media strategy consultant who founded Media Helping Media. David has worked as a journalist and manager in print, broadcast and online. He has spent many years delivering journalism training and media consultancy services worldwide.