Twitter growing in popularity among media pros

The social networking service is based on succinct messages.

Celebrities, professional athletes, journalists, even University of Minnesota head football coach Tim Brewster are all on Twitter, and as its popularity grows, more and more journalists see it as a vital tool. Perhaps the fastest growing social networking service in the country âÄî Twitter is a service that allows users to communicate with others in 140-character âÄútweets.âÄù The uses and advantages of the service, which was founded in 2006 , are debatable among media professionals. Nora Paul, director of the UniversityâÄôs Institute for New Media Studies , has been training journalists at the Star Tribune on how to use Twitter. Paul said Twitter is an important resource for journalists as they conduct their information gathering and reporting. âÄúI definitely feel that if you are a media practitioner, you have to be out there using these things both as a way to follow stories and to get story ideas and to find out what people are talking about or being strategic about who you follow to see what theyâÄôre doing,âÄù Paul said. Once you sign up for a Twitter account, you can choose the people who you want to âÄúfollowâÄù and receive their tweets. Paul said she is conflicted about Twitter because while she thinks it is necessary for journalists, she does not value it as a way to maintain personal relationships. âÄúItâÄôs not how I want to find out what my friends are doing,âÄù Paul said. âÄúEssentially having another place that youâÄôre supposed to be trying to keep track of whatâÄôs going on is just not something I need.âÄù Paul did say the protesters who used tweets to establish meeting places during the Republican National Convention were an example of how Twitter can be used effectively in a non-professional context. Daniel Wolter, director of the UniversityâÄôs News Service , said the news service has been using Twitter to disseminate news since the first week of January. Wolter said in many instances, Twitter has proved the quickest mode of communication. He said because Twitter is so short and succinct, it has been more effective than e-mail. Wolter added that because of its real-time nature, it makes the content more audience driven because it is more likely to have a viral effect and be picked up on blogs or by mainstream news outlets. Wolter said there are certain kinds of stories that lend themselves more to Twitter. âÄúWe donâÄôt do it for everything, but if itâÄôs something that is breaking news, pressing news, thatâÄôs interesting or thatâÄôs kind of a little quirky, it proves to be pretty effective for that,âÄù he said. Not all news outlets follow the University News ServiceâÄôs strategy. Wolter said there are certain news organizations that release all of their content in a tweet, or in some cases, donâÄôt try to make the news fit into the 140 character format. Wolter said there is a definite learning curve with the technology, and people at the University have struggled to get used to it. He said users have to immerse themselves and build up a list of people to follow for it to be a useful service. Some have accused Twitter of just being a headline-driven service, which does not encourage the receiver to read the whole story, but Wolter had a different take. âÄúYou could also suggest that people are seeing a lot more headlines than they ever saw before,âÄù he said. âÄúPeople arenâÄôt going to be able to read everything, obviously, but theyâÄôre going to have more stories that they have to filter through and decide what to read.âÄù Esme Murphy and Jason DeRusha are both reporters for WCCO and use Twitter for professional and personal purposes. In addition to being on TV for WCCO, Murphy also hosts a talk show on WCCO radio. Murphy said she really started using Twitter to put out queries looking for peopleâÄôs thoughts on different topics for her radio show. âÄúIâÄôm looking at it more as an opportunity for me to communicate with people in a way thatâÄôs very new and very fresh,âÄù she said. Murphy said people need to take tweets with a grain of salt when it comes to news because the information is always changing. âÄúItâÄôs not the final word, but itâÄôs pretty much the immediate word,âÄù Murphy said. DeRusha has been on Twitter since August 2007 and at first he just used it as a personal resource, but he now said half of his tweets are for professional purposes. DeRusha said he uses Twitter for âÄúcrowdsourcing,âÄù accomplishing what used to be done with man-on-the-street reporting. He said only a small percentage of television news reporters in the Twin Cities use Twitter, and added that itâÄôs not for everyone. âÄúIf you have an interesting personality and can talk about things other than just work and engage in the conversation with other people I think it can be a great tool,âÄù DeRusha said. Currently, Twitter does not have a sustainable revenue model and DeRusha acknowledged that it may not be around for long. âÄúIf I were a business owner I wouldnâÄôt be building my business on the back of Twitter right now, but as long as itâÄôs here itâÄôs a great tool and if itâÄôs gone tomorrow, then IâÄôll find another tool,âÄù DeRusha said.