ONE OF the most prolific Twitter users in local television hails not from New York or Los Angeles, but from the Greenville-Spartanburg, S.C., market. Amy Wood, who anchors at Media General’s WSPA-WYCW, has posted a staggering 25,000 tweets since dipping her toes in the Twitter sea 2½ years ago. Fully 13,165 people follow Wood on Twitter at “TVAmy.”
While some dismiss the microblogging trend as a grand oversharing of minutiae, a growing number of newsroom vets say it’s a vital platform for gathering tips, breaking news and fostering the bond with viewers. Wood, for one, had a scoop during a bank robbery a few months ago, as the daughter of an employee held hostage in the bank direct-messaged Wood on Twitter, and Wood shared the intel with her followers. “We wound up knowing it was over before anyone else did,” she says.
While reporters are dabbling in all social media these days, some say Twitter offers a savvier crowd than Facebook. While Facebook offers loads of user feedback, Twitter features more real-time news tips. “It’s a great way to mine stories,” says WXYZ Detroit anchor Stephen Clark, who has 1,500 followers.
News directors add that it’s an effective means for keeping tabs on what the competition is working on, and another platform for disseminating news when they’re unable to go live on the air. “It’s like a wire service for me,” says Gary Holmes, news director at Time Warner Cable’s Albany, N.Y., news channel YNN. “I don’t know a news director in town who has time to read the newspaper cover to cover. Twitter does that for you.”
Hatched in 2006, Twitter is the Wild West for journalists, with few best practices to share and often little guidance from corporate types. Few general managers tweet regularly (KOLD Tucson’s Debbie Bush, with 1,386 followers, is one exception), and even fewer group executives do so; clearly, many people running stations think “hash tag” is the latest party game played by the local college kids.
Raycom Director of New Media Content Charles Gray believes that should change. “We really encourage our stations to put the people who best get the medium on the task,” Gray says. “If it’s not the anchor, that’s OK.” Gray does cite WWBT Richmond anchor Ryan Nobles, who has issued 6,400 tweets to 2,200 followers, sharing the news one day on Twitter after WWBT had been knocked off the air.
Wood, 45, says newsies who don’t partake in social media lack an increasingly useful arrow in their quiver. “Journalists who fight this stuff,” she says, “are missing an opportunity to up their game.”