CASE STUDY: Using Twitter to report the recent Taser case in Columbia

On March 18, around 5:30 p.m., a man was shot with a Taser on Ninth Street in Columbia. Here’s the lede from the Columbia Missourian report:

Police shocked a man with a Taser after he reportedly assaulted a Columbia police officer during an incident at Lakota Coffee Co. on Ninth Street on Thursday afternoon.

Unfortunately, the Missourian didn’t get this story posted until 6:39 p.m. March 19 — a full 24 hours after the news happened. The Columbia Tribune didn’t do that much better in its report — the first story the Trib published came at 12:51 p.m. March 19. It was later updated at 1:41 p.m.

So why does it take the Trib 18 hours to turn a significant crime story? And why does it take the Missourian even longer? Easy: Both pieces are one-source stories from the spokeswoman at the Columbia Police Department.

Full disclosure: I am the opinion editor at the Missourian, but I’m currently home on paternity leave with my second child. I’m pretty disconnected from the newsroom right now, though I’m still getting my usual load of news releases and inter-office memos via e-mail (i.e. I’m still on the listserv). I did not get in touch with the Missourian about this story or for this blog post.

I first learned of the story through Twitter when I saw this tweet:

He wasn’t the only witness either:

She saw it, too:

Clearly, there were witnesses, but none appeared in either story. That’s a shame, because Tasers are a controversial issue within the Columbia community and has been for a while. One group of activists is completely opposed to Tasers, saying they’re too dangerous and can cause accidental deaths. The other side sees it as a useful, justified and necessary law-enforcement tool. To both sides, this is news: It’s either another example of an unneccessary use of force, or it’s a good example of the dangers police officers face and a textbook argument for why we should be equipping them with the best tools for the job.

Whichever way you lean, it’s news. So why wait to report it? Why not report what you know as you know it, like she did:

And as for this one-source thing — why? Witnesses are clearly willing to talk about it:

Plus, news spreads quickly over social media (check out all the retweets):

Here’s how I would have done it if I wasn’t up to my elbows in diapers:

1. Report what you know as you know it: Confirm someone was shot with a Taser. Publish that. Then, start contacting witnesses. Get to the scene ASAP and start asking questions. Start making contacts on Twitter and Facebook — ask them to call the office or to let you DM them your cell number.

2. Continue publishing facts as you can confirm. If a witness saw a police officer get punched, put it in with attribution. You don’t have to wait for the official spokeswoman comment if you have an eye witness. But do be careful with the language — don’t make anyone guilty or a victim, just report the facts. Let the reader decide.

3. When the official spokeswoman is ready to tell the official side, add it to the story. And while you have her ear, ask her to corroborate your witness statements. If the stories differ, be transparent about it.

And most importantly — don’t just put the story on your site and hope people will come find it. Use those same social networks to get the word out that you have the story.


Memo to journalists: Don’t steal stuff off the Internet

Just because something’s on the Internet doesn’t mean it’s free. I tell students this all the time, but the story of a man who posted a photo to Twitter, only to have it used by Sky News, is a good cautionary tale for journalists.

You can read the whole sad tale here courtesy of OJB, but the summary is as follows: Joe Neale had taken a picture of a shooting at Waterloo Station, and posted it on his Twitter account using Twitpic. SkyNews grabbed the pic to use on their Web site, which violates the Twitpic terms of service, which of course means that Mr. Neale is entitled to payment for the use of his picture (and possibly legal recourse if he isn’t paid — or, for that matter, even if he is, because they took it without permission).

The ironic part, of course, is that Rupert Murdoch owns Sky News. Remember how he recently announced he wants all his media properties to start charging for content? Here’s Mr. Neale’s take on this, via the aforementioned OJB:

“I think this story is interesting because it points to the dangers of social media for the citizen journalist. I’m pleased that my picture has achieved good reach but I worry that the cooption of apparently free content from twitter by big media is something that may become endemic and devalue the rights in photography. Rupert Murdoch has announced people will have to pay to access his sites from 2010, meantime he doesn’t seem to mind not paying for material and happily infringes on other people’s work.”

Mr. Neale got paid partly because he started a successful hashtag (hashmob?) to take up his case, using #skypic as a rallying point. Which wraps the whole thing up rather neatly.

But the take-away point for journalists is twofold: don’t assume content posted online is free for you to take; and get permission from users before you steal their stuff. Seems like common sense, but we know common sense ain’t that common.

(Cross-posted from my blog)

I found my true Twitter love:

Oh, Co-Tweet, where have you been all my life?

I’ve been experimenting with Twitter apps for the last several weeks in the hopes of finding one that would help me manage numerous accounts. Here’s what I need in a Twitter client:

  • The ability to manage four different accounts: my personal account, @CoMissourian, @CoMissourianNow (our live event account) and @GeekyJournalist.
  • The ability to keep an eye on various hashtags I find useful for mining news tips and seeing what topics are on people’s minds: #CoMo, #Mo, and #mizzou.
  • A way to better manage the @CoMissourian account. Right now, Nate Birt and I do most of the tweeting, and he’s leaving for a new job soon.

I’ve been through a ton of apps, including twhirl, TweetDeck, Splitweet and Nambu. All have great qualities, but none are the total package that Co-Tweet is.

Accounts are easy to add and manage in this Web-based application. You can toggle back and forth between accounts with a single click and easily filter feeds from a single account or multiple accounts. Cue screenshot:

Screen shot of my Co-Tweet account. The navigation makes it easy to toggle between accounts and sort tweets as you see fit

Screen shot of my Co-Tweet account. The navigation makes it easy to toggle between accounts and sort tweets as you see fit

Co-Tweet also gives me the ability to keep an eye on those hashtags that we find so helpful for news tips and community conversation. All you do is use the search function — you can keep a search open indefinitely, or by clicking on the “subscribe” option, you can set yourself up with an RSS feed of your favorite tag.

Tags I like to keep an eye on (and yes, that includes my own name. I ego-surf. Sue me)

Tags I like to keep an eye on (and yes, that includes my own name. I ego-surf. Sue me)

So far, so good, but really, nothing you couldn’t already get from the aformentioned Twitter clients. So let’s talk about what makes Co-Tweet unique.

Check out the handy managment tools

Check out the handy managment tools

For starters, you can designate users as on duty or off duty, thereby making someone responsible for feeding the account at any given time. As you can also see from the screen grab, you can send private notes to other users with instructions on how you’d like them to follow up with a received tweet. If I assign a task to someone, on duty or not, they’ll get an e-mail reminder that there’s a task waiting for them.

Here are a few other awesome features I love:

  • Co-Tweet also offers full integration, so it’s easy to not only shorten URLs, but you can still sign into to see how many clicks your tweets are receiving.
  • There’s an e-mail function built right in. If you want to reply to a tweet privately and with more than 140 characters, one click sets you up with an e-mail that even quotes the tweet that prompted the response in the first place.
  • Profiles can be looked up within Co-Tweet. It also allows you to see past conversations you’ve had with a person and sort their latest updates.
  • Co-tagging is especially helpful for those accounts used by multiple users. By using a “carrot tag” (^JS) readers can easily look up who within the organization is tweeting. Jen Reeves over at KOMU is making good use of this already.

I love me some Co-Tweet. I’m sure you will too.

New Twitter tool for the iPhone

I bought Reportage on the recommendation of a Canadian Web site today. If you haven’t heard of it, Reportage is a Twitter client for the iPhone/iPod Touch. On the face of it, that doesn’t sound too interesting, but Reportage does a couple of cool things that make it worth a look if you’re a journalist:

  • It takes your tweet stream and splits it up by individual followers, rather than lumping it all into the default chronological order. That’s so smart I really don’t know why no one’s thought of it yet — although part of the fun of Twitter is the realtime stream of information, I use it for chatting with people enough that I find myself searching for replies from individual users quite often. The analogy the Web site quoted above uses was to compare your Twitter peeps to radio stations, and it’s not a bad one. You get a “broadcast” from each individual.
  • Once you click on someone’s tweet, you can then use a horizontal scroll at the bottom of your screen to move back and forth in the wider timeline. (In other words, you get a chance to see the other folks you follow as well.)
  • It has a “local” section that lets you find people tweeting within 1, 5 or 15 miles of you. That seems to be a little quirky (it reports that I live in Moores Switch, U.S.) but I do recognize local Twitterers whom I follow when I hit that interface. (By the way, here’s the Google result for Moores Switch. Not how I would immediately describe the 65203, but who am I to argue with Google?) The obvious reporting advantage to this is being able to quickly search tweets when there’s news happening near where you are. Of course, that assumes a critical mass of people are both tweeting AND have a geolocatable device, but that number is only going to grow.
  • You can “star” people to add them as favorites. I can see a use for that for people whose tweets I care about more than others, but it would be even more useful to sort them into groups. (It would be even more useful if you could do that on the Twitter homepage and then have those follow you from client to client. But since when did Twitter itself innovate? /rant.)
  • It also has a function that lets you “mute” individuals for a period of time (for example, if people start real-time twittering from a conference.) That’s a whole lot easier than unfollowing, following, etc.

Overall, it’s a cool app. Well worth the $2.99.

(Note: Originally posted over at my blog. Totally just plagiarized myself.)