Twitter has become a vital tool for many journalists, especially those who cover government, the New York Times first social media editor told an audience Tuesday at Flagler College in St. Augustine.
“Official sources on Twitter have just exploded in the past two years,” said Jennifer Preston, who was in town as part of the college’s Forum on Government and Public Policy series.
Preston advises journalists to follow both the official and personal Twitter stream of their key sources.
She said while Times reporters were waiting for news about the first U.S. airstrikes on ISIS targets in Syria, the news surfaced in the Twitter stream of Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon spokesman.
More and more organizations, agencies and government leaders – from police and fire departments to the president of the United States – are breaking news on Twitter, said Preston, who was the paper’s social media editor from 2009 to 2011.
Preston said not all information on Twitter is true, however. She said actor Adam Sandler has been the subject of numerous bogus reports that wind up on Twitter. (See Adam Sandler dies in snowboard accident).
Information that appears on the Twitter accounts of unknown or unverified sources should be regarded as “a tip, not a fact,” said Preston, now a reporter and editor at the Times.
She cited the New York Post’s much-criticized coverage of the Boston Marathon bombings. That newspaper’s Twitter stream displayed a photo claiming to show two people wanted in the bombing. A Post headline stated: “Feds seek these two pictured at Boston Marathon.” But the two people were innocent, something the Post reporters could have figured out if they had done a more thorough job reporting the story.
Asked how student journalists should handle their own social media accounts, Preston recommended that they make their Facebook pages private. As she put it, “Wall it in.”
Facebook is a great place to exchange information among friends and family, she said, but there’s no need for prospective employers to see that.
Student journalists should use their Twitter accounts to follow sources, build a following and develop a Twitter stream “showing that they have excellent judgement,” Preston said.
She also recommended that students open LinkedIn accounts. That is must, she said.
Starting Oct. 20, Preston joins the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation as vice president for journalism. The foundation’s president, Alberto Ibargüen, said in a statement:
Jennifer is the ideal person to help newsrooms embrace innovation because she believes in the change and has helped make it happen. She’ll lead Knight’s efforts to help newspaper, TV, radio and Internet newsrooms bring media innovation into their mainstream.
Jennifer is a collaborative, natural-born teacher who will help journalism schools train a new generation of digital natives to report the news. In the process, they will help evolve the skills necessary to report the news and engage the public. We’re still in a time of creative disruption but Jennifer is unflappable.