Tweeting live from the Ontario junior curling championships might sound like a waste of time. I was skeptical too. But over these two days of tweeting from the tournament in Russell, Ontario, and training myself on the ins and outs of live blogging, I’ve come to see how this reporting method is beneficial for the reporter, his audience and a news organization carrying those tweets via their website.
Tweeting updates from any scene is live reporting, very close to real time. People love that, especially if it’s done professionally by a journalist who knows the lingo of what’s being covered. And tweeting provides an archive of notes that a reporter can refer to when building a story from a multitude of sources. Ottawa Citizen sports reporter Martin Cleary used some of my tweets to help build a story in today’s paper, and Meghan Hurley, the paper’s crime reporter, does the same thing when reporting from the field. Those tweets are permanent records, although the tweeter can delete any at any time. I just did that when I found a mis-tweet that said I was at the “Idling Championships!” That’s what happens when you give your iPhone to someone for even a brief second!
For the audience, the benefits are clear. They’re receiving information in real time, which they in turn, can retweet to others. It’s like a running conversation, except the original message doesn’t get lost or changed in translation as it goes from person to person. When I began tweeting, I did it as a volunteer for the Manotick Curling Center and to help myself learn about Twitter and iPhone apps. As I continued, I received new followers, some of whom wrote to say they really appreciated the updates. In fact, there were people at the club who were following my tweets as I was posting them!
And since my tweets were being fed to the Ottawa Citizen website immediately, which the paper has promoted, there has been a benefit to the sponsoring media company. That, in turn, has continued to grow traffic to the Ottawa Citizen’s website, which wanted to carry my tweets as a live blog. You can see an example at http://www.ottawacitizen.com/sports/Live+Blog+Ontario+junior+women+curling+championships/5940264/story.html
The Citizen, in turn, has sold advertising space adjacent to the blog. With more live blogs, the hope would be that advertisers would respond to this new kind of real-time reporting. It occurred to me that a sports equipment supplier might have liked to have been sold exclusive space around the feed.
This is an example of how media can use mobile technology to continue to underwrite good journalism.
There are some downsides to tweeting. For starters, because I’m fairly new to thumb-typing, I find it awkward and I feel clumsy hunting-and-pecking like a grade 4 kid in keyboard class. I’ve been typing for 35 years and can run about 70 words a minute without a mistake. On the iPhone, it takes me 10 seconds to type ‘Manotick’ where on a keyboard I can do it in under two. I could overcome that by linking a laptop or a tablet to the iPhone, a process called “tethering.” Essentially that involves using a smartphone as a transmitter. The venue I was at in Russell had no WiFi, so my tablet and my laptop were useless. My iPhone, however, has a data plan, and so I was able to access limited network service which allowed me to get tweets out. This is a great advantage to having a self-contained device like a smartphone, versus having to rely on the generosity of others to get the WiFi pick-up.
Live blogging is work. It isn’t an idle little extra that you can knock off sitting around drinking latte. Over the 150 minutes of a game, I rarely had a break between watching the action, then thumbing what I see and compacting it into 140 characters.
But the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages. I can also take still photos and video and tweet those too and post them to YouTube or any other site. Have a look at some of my work at http://www.flickr.com/photos/wordbanks/. I have some other apps such as Gingle and FlickIt that even provide live streaming on the web.
Tweeting events may not be suitable or desireable in every case. You don’t want to be seen to be on your handheld during a solemn occasion, for example. But for sports, presentation ceremonies, breaking news, and other events that is of interest to a wide audience, it’s a powerful and increasingly popular way to report.