Who Should Journalists Follow On Twitter?

When I was in college, we didn’t have Twitter*. But if I had, there are plenty of accounts I would have followed closely — and they would have extended far beyond my own social circle. I’d have included all of the accounts USA Today picked for its round-up of Nine Twitter accounts every journalism student should follow and hundreds more.

Their list is a round-up of journo-talking heads, news organizations and organizations devoted to journalism. The paper’s quick-hit list notes, “The folks below… may not be ‘masters’ of the craft, but they do have their fingers on the pulse of modern journalism. Following them should help you raise your Twitter game significantly.” Among those who made their cut:

Instead of focusing on specific accounts, I wanted to outline the TYPES of accounts journalists (students, professionals and aspiring professionals) should be following.

They include:

  • National News:
    You should be following the big players in national and probably also international news, including but not limited to NYT, WSJ, Washington Post, CNN, NPR and The Guardian. I’d also add in Breaking News, which is a great general news feed for breaking news. Beyond the main organizational feed, follow their top reporters and bloggers. You can learn from and connect with them, as well as become inspired by their good work.

  • Local News:
    You’re probably familiar with whatever the biggest newspaper or news station(s) are in your city. They’re the ones your student news organizations reads/watches/listens to each day with envy at the stories they missed or pride in the scoops the student paper pulled off. Also, don’t forget the also-rans. Sometimes the alternative papers or the suburban/regional news outlets can cover interesting or important stories the big guys miss for lack of feet on the ground. Following a variety of these accounts can help you know what type of ground has already been saturated as well as string together ideas that alone don’t paint a trend but altogether tell a story.

  • The Locals:
    One of the first things I did when I was a reporter on Twitter was to seek out and find local people using Twitter. I searched for keywords on local landmarks/cities and saved searches for them. I followed the local teachers (my beat was education) and parents, and then other interesting local people who seemed to have their heart on the pulse of the community (or if you’re in college, on the school). Interact with these people. They are potential sources for specific stories (I can’t tell you how many times I posted a simple note and ended up with a call from a friend of a friend who saw it on Twitter), and potential sources for story ideas. Did someone complain about the lack of bike lanes, or the shady towing practices? Did someone mention their building on campus just got evacuated? Do they mention a connection to the latest national tragedy that may help you localize it for your audience? You get the idea. It’s worth the afternoon it takes for you to set this up in your current community and down the road any community you move to.

  • The Authorities:
    Is your student body president on Twitter? Is your provost? Is the mayor? Your city council representative? Your congressmen? The schools superintendent? The police chief? If they’re broadcasting potential news or fielding questions from locals, you should pay attention. And you should hold them accountable for any less than professional comments or statements that contradict with other things they’ve said or their actions. Keep them on their toes.

  • Other Professionals:
    Organizations like the Society of Professional Journalists or Investigative Reporters And Editors are great starters for general journalism advice. Look for other agencies in your area (regional chapters of SPJ or local press clubs, for example), as well as associations in your topic area, whether it’s business, sports, education, or something else. If you’re not a member of the group, you can benefit from the advice and stories they share publicly via Twitter. Go beyond that national or regional level organization, however, and seek out other beat reporters covering your topic. When I covered education, I actually compiled a huge list of education reporters nationwide, from the NYT to rural weekly papers — everyone I could find — and created a list. Over time, I sussed out which reporters posted only links to their story about Local Elementary Boy Wins Vague Award and which posted ideas that I could localize, stories I wanted to read or links to national studies or sources I could use (for inspiration or for story ideas). Even as I and many of those reporters moved on to cover different areas, I still follow many of them because they are engaging sources of information for me. See if you can find or create a similar list for your beat. Check out places like Twellow for specific individuals. Or just ask your existing followers, “Who should I follow?”

And of course, don’t forget to follow us, @10000words, where we share not only our own links but a mix of interesting media news from around the web.

YOUR TURN: What accounts did USAT miss? What types of accounts would you include in this round-up?

* I’m dating myself a bit with this intro, but honestly I joined in early 2007 — mere months after my (ahead-of-schedule) college graduation. It’s crazy to imagine I’m still a relatively recent graduate and yet these tools are even more recent, yet such a huge part of the culture and the industry.