Live-tweeter’s Toolbox

[Credit: “Business, Search, SEO, Engine” by ar130405 licensed under CC0 1.0]

Whoever said “multitasking is a myth” never tried live-tweeting.

In the last post I mentioned dropping in on the Banfield lecture at MacEwan earlier this month. I also took the opportunity to cover it live on Twitter.

I’ve live-tweeted once or twice before, and every time it’s a trial by fire. There are a lot of moving parts. You have to be sharp, prepared, and ready to juggle.

Here are some tips, tricks, and resources I’ve picked up along the way:

1. Use a laptop (if you can)

Tweets are supposed to be mobile and off the cuff, but better tools turn out better tweets.

Between writing, editing, linking, shooting, researching, fact-checking, responding to other users…

It’s lot for a phone, especially when you’re measuring messages, so I like to have a computer nearby. With a keyboard and bigger screen you can swap between apps and monitor the online conversation while contributing to it. But if a computer isn’t feasible, go with what you’ve got. You can still do a lot with just a phone (see Kady O’Malley’s example below)

2. Leave room for attribution

Feeds are (usually) chronological, but tweets are discrete and can appear out of context. Taking cues from veteran court reporters like Ron Sylvester and Patricia Doxsey the late Steve Buttry reminds writers to save space for attribution:

“Attribute each tweet that is passing along a speaker’s information or viewpoint. Though you hope people will read the stream, some tweets will be read by themselves, and you want at least the last name to indicate that you are covering a speaker.”

Names are easy to drop when you’re short on space and time. I’m guilty of it too. But that’s where tagging helps. Search a handle or hashtag before starting a stream and Twitter conveniently includes the tag in the post for you. When you’re live, every second counts.

3. It’s not stenography

Transcribing on Twitter is unrealistic, and boring. Get the quotes right, and report the rest. Buttry writes that it’s OK to hold back information to fact-check, and highlights Twitter’s built-in capacity for crowdsourcing:

“You can find the truth quickly sometimes by tweeting the unconfirmed report and asking the tough question openly, finding the confirmation from the crowd (or the help in debunking). It may not feel right at first, and it’s certainly risky, but it meets the first point of the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics: Seek truth and report it.”

I start my tweets in a notepad, then edit and post during breaks and asides. That way I can get everything down and filter it before publishing. Use the time to think critically and add your own observations. It livens the feed. Remember: we’re writers, not mouthpieces.

Fo a Canadian example, check out Ottawa Citizen political reporter Kady O’Mally:


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