Tweet Dreams

Sept. 29, 2017—3 minute read

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How to handle Twitter as a source


When reporting on trends, developing news and emerging scandals, it’s tough to beat tweets.

As this NPR piece from Sept. 28 makes clear, ill-advised Twitter posts can spell trouble for just about anyone, including celebrities, officials, executives and, most especially, our tweet-happy commander-in-chief. That’s a dream for us in the biz.

But how can you as a journalist make the most of this amazing source of public commentary?

A few vital tools are worth exploring, other than taking the obvious initial step of identifying everyone on your beat worth following, and making sure you have their correct handles.

First, get familiar with allmytweets.

This app allows you to collect the Twitter history of any user, though the service caps the total tweets at 3,000. Even for a hyperactive feed like @realDonaldTrump, that’s going to be plenty of them. (He averages 11 per day.)

Once you have a user’s posts, download the full list into an Excel spreadsheet. That lets you search by keyword, group tweets by topic and apply other elements.

If you need help, please let us know.

Allmytweets is also pretty handy if you’re looking for a person’s email address.

This piece spells out how you do that.

Also, consider using Twitter’s advanced search option, which lets you track information by user, hashtag, follower, phrase, place and date.

These searches can help if you’re looking for information going back many years. (Trump has been an active Tweeter since 2009.)

If you cover breaking news and find yourself scouring for fast sources on political protests, natural disasters or terrorist attacks, take a look at this story, which recommends using specific search words to get what you need.

The NPR piece linked above relied on another great Twitter tool: politwoops.

It’s a creation of the nonprofit investigative site ProPublica (misspelled by NPR as politwhoops) and captures the deleted tweets of politicians and other public figures, some of whom fire off embarrassing posts that they later regret and erase.

So check it out. Let us know what you find.


 
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