Wednesday, April 15, 2009

How to Use Twitter to Break News on Your Site When Staff's Away

Covering breaking news immediately with small or shrinking staffs can be difficult at any organization.
That was, until now.
Matthew Stoff of The (Nacogdoches) Daily Sentinel shared an excellent Twitter breaking news widget tutorial (including the code needed) that he and Lead Developer David Durrett created.
In an e-mail interview, Stoff said they have been using the tool since January, "The reporters were excited because it meant no longer relying on Web staff to publish up-to-the minute headlines, which, for us, is a process that is slower than we'd like. As a result, we've been much more flexible about getting intermittent updates published quickly. I'm referring to new facts that don't warrant an entire rewrite by themselves, but help to flesh out a breaking news incident."
In the published guide, they explain the practicality of this tool for small news staffs with tight deadlines, "The newsroom at The Daily Sentinel, a small East Texas newspaper, did not frequently publish breaking news alerts to its Web site because posting those stories quickly required technical expertise. When news broke and trained Web staff were not in the newsroom, the news would often go unpublished until much later in the day.
"We wanted to take advantage of Twitter's ease of use so that reporters and editors with little or no training could post headlines quickly without special software and without having to memorize a technical process. The resulting method uses e-mail as the interface for posting short headlines (which are actually Twitter messages, or "tweets") to the Web site. If you can send an e-mail, you can post breaking news."
The tutorial they created uses Twitter's ability to break news quickly by feeding a modified Twitter widget on the homepage to create "Breaking news" text alerts at the top of the Web site (Similar to what CNN does on its Web site fairly regularly). What makes this tool extra useful is that unlike similar fixed Twitter badges, when there's no breaking news updates, the breaking news box is hidden from viewers.
While this is an excellent tool, in the tutorial they caution, "You'll probably want to keep the TwitterMail address and the Twitter account login information to trustworthy staff who will be using it frequently. In theory, any malicious person with that information could publish damaging information to the Web site from outside the newsroom."
Stoff also provided screenshot examples and explanations:

Stoff says, "A kidnapping led to a regional Amber Alert, and we were able to get details of the suspect's description out to the public much faster than we would have if we had had to wait to build a story and a post it through our regular CMS. When it was all over, we were also able to get the news of the suspect's arrest out much faster."


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