Breaking News on Twitter: @statesman

A few months ago, when we were studying at UT in Austin, Texas, I had the pleasure of having a lecture with @statesman Social Media Editor Robert Quigley about Twitter as a powerfull tool for the coverage on breaking news.

When discussing social media and the news, the tone can be quite pessimistic and the pivot of the debate is often how it is possible to make good accountability journalism on these sites where rumors travel fast.

@statesman stems from the good old news paper (yes, they do still exist) Austin American-Statesman and today the Twitter account has as many as 118.565 followers. What is interesting about @statesman is how this professional news organization actively tries to engage the community by using Twitter to cover news stories – especially when it comes to breaking news.

At the lecture Robert Quigley gave the example of a terrorist attack, which occurred in Austin, February 2010. A plane crashed into an office building and there were a lot of different theories on what had happened and obviously a lot of rumors going round. What Quigley did was asking the community for help:


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In an article with journalist Steve Buttry, Robert Quigley says: “In a breaking news situation, rumors run rampant on Twitter. I use my background as an editor and a journalist to carefully but quickly get facts out there as we verify them. I also am not afraid to ask for help from the community. I sent a tweet early in the day asking witnesses to call one of our reporters. He received several great calls that ended up running in blogs and in print. I also sent out a tweet asking for Twitpics. Again, we got a great response.”

To Robert Quigley engaging the community is pivotal because this helps him confirm or disconfirm rumors, which is a way for the journalists to verify the news and make Twitter a valuable tool for his journalism practice.

If you are curious on how to become a skilled Twitter journalist or so called j-tweeter like Robert Quigley – read this excellent article by journalist Steve Buttry where Robert Quigley reveals the @statesman’s breaking news Twitter strategy. Or you can read our summarized version of the article below.

A strategy for news organizations using Twitter to cover breaking news:

  1. Engage the community routinely
  2. Breaking news demands Twitter use
  3. Tweet early and often
  4. Report what you’re checking on, give credit
  5. Crowd source
  6. Tweet frequent news updates
  7. Address rumors and misinformation
  8. Verify
  9. Converse with the community
  10. Converse with the newsroom
  11. Use hashtags

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