Beyond the status quo: finding creative ways to present news on Twitter

Yuliya Talmazan is a web and new media editor with News1130 Radio in Vancouver. News1130 is a 24/7-radio station with one of the fastest growing Twitter accounts in the Metro Vancouver area. Connect with her on Twitter at @yulst.

As Twitter is becoming a news aggregator of choice for many people, news organizations need to make sure their Twitter content is just as good, if not better, than the content on their homepage. Increasingly news directors across North America are getting less Twitter “averse” and the number of news networks getting on Twitter is growing. But is the way we consume news on Twitter getting better as the result?

The reality of today’s fast-paced media world makes a great majority of news organizations rely on the RSS feeds to create a big chunk of their Twitter content, with little to no input from the newsroom staff.

As a consequence, we still get hundreds of dry, monotonous news Tweets coming across our feeds every day. The news industry has been catching up with Twitter for years, but many newsrooms are still of the mindset that Twitter is a perfect channel to just “dump” their content into.

Another disconnect for most news organizations is in not counting Twitter users as part of their mainstream audience. But just like anyone conventionally measured by Nielsen ratings, Twitter users want to see personality and top-notch presentation when it comes to delivering news. In fact, Twitter users are probably more demanding, given the amount of information they have to filter through on a minute-by-minute basis. In other words, media outlets need to offer more than Tweets with broken headlines and strings of URLs to “earn” the attention of their followers, if they want them to stick around. 

Here is an example of a drastically different approach that the Guardian and a Vancouver-based transit paper took on the same story about an Italian mafia informant whose body was dissolved in acid for cooperating with authorities.

The Guardian (@guardiannews) simply pulled the headline of the story and stuck a URL next to it.

24 Hours Vancouver (@24hoursvan) came up with a creative Tweet to capture the essence of the story, rather than simply re-iterate the headline.

Clearly, the impact of these two Tweets is different. But which one is more likely to pique your interest and make you click on the link to see the rest of the story?

Another area where news organizations have not bridged divide yet is initiating the conversation and keeping it two-way. For most media outlets it’s becoming a default practice to have thousands or even millions of Twitter followers, yet follow only a couple dozen people back. The argument that a lot of news directors give for this behavior is that it takes time and resources to respond to people on Twitter and follow them back.

What a lot of newsroom managers fail to realize is that people don’t generally expect to be followed back by the “all-powerful” media, but when they do get that follow back, it makes these people feel like they are being acknowledged as part of the network’s wider audience. Similarly, having a news organization react to your question or concern with an @reply at the very least shows there is a breathing person on the other end of the Twitter feed and that makes it easier to relate to. 

In addition, a lot of newsroom managers still think that re-Tweeting content that is not “theirs” is somehow illegal, unprofessional and even unwise, because it actually promotes someone else’s content and supposedly drives web traffic away.

While news organizations probably should not re-Tweet each other on the same stories, they must not be afraid to re-Tweet verified streams of news makers around them – such as law enforcement, airports, corporations, professional associations, etc. – to show their willingness to share the stage with other participants in the news cycle. Many news organizations are also cautious when it comes to re-Tweeting their own followers, even if they are providing exclusive content. A lot of news managers think re-Tweeting someone with a moniker like @awesome_dude98 just doesn’t make their Twitter feed look professional. But ultimately people will care about what @awesome_dude98 has to say about something that is happening right now, rather than wait for a professional reporter to put their byline next to the story hours later.

Finally, if you think back to the way news are traditionally delivered, the most successful news organizations are known for their consistently flawless presentation. But it’s not all about the flawlessness. Consistency is just as important as the delivery itself. In a traditional setting, you will never see a seasoned anchor do a show one night, and then have one of the interns take over the anchor’s chair the next. So why should Twitter be treated any differently? If it takes a professional editor to build a TV cast, why should the newsroom rookies get to handle Twitter? (As is often the case!) If a news organization has already set a standard for how it wants its Tweets to come across, then its tone and style need to stay consistent and shouldn’t depend on who is doing the Tweeting, or else its followers will get confused.

The bottom line is news organizations can no longer afford to treat Twitter as a content “dump” and marginalize it on their list of priorities. If anything, it’s one of the few niches left in the broadcast industry where there is still plenty of room for experimentation.