Twitter is My Newspaper

Blair Hanley Frank

Twitter has been derided by plenty of people on the Internet as a means for incredibly vain people to talk about what it is that they happen to be doing every second of their sad and totally uninteresting lives. As someone who uses Twitter, I find that to be a gross misunderstanding of the situation. Okay, to be fair, there are some people who spend their time on Twitter begging Justin Bieber to follow them or tweeting incoherently, but there are also some remarkable and intelligent people using it.

At this point, Twitter is what provides me with most of my local, national and international news. As far as I’m concerned, if I need to hear about it, Twitter will tell me. For example, I first heard about the death of renowned mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot from someone I follow on Twitter. The same thing goes for the rescue of the trapped miners in Chile and the use of pork products against Muslims in the United States.

Of course, those are issues of national importance. You could get that sort of stuff from anywhere in the United States, and certainly from a national newspaper or major blog. Where Twitter really shines as a means of finding relevant and important news stories has to do with local news. I’m from California, so turning on a television here at Whitman or flipping through the Union-Bulletin won’t tell me about what’s going on back home. But with Twitter, the people I follow from the Bay Area will tweet about important local issues.

While Cal Berkeley’s slaughter this past weekend at the hands of USC doesn’t get much play here in Eastern Washington, I can still find out about it through Twitter. The same goes for running commentary on Giants games, the gubernatorial race and ordinary goings on about town. With the network of people I follow, I can know whether or not Oakland is burning (nope), if there are any protests in Berkeley (flip a coin, if heads, probably) and if an earthquake has struck the region.

I tend to flip through the New York Times online when I get a chance, but when I’m pressed for time, looking through the headlines posted by people I follow tends to give me a far more interesting and personalized experience, while still providing me with important information. This is what newspapers need to be on the lookout for: rather than getting all of my information from a single hub, I get bits and pieces from people I know. One story might come from the San Francisco Chronicle, while another is from the Washington Post. For me, Twitter serves many purposes, but one of the most useful is that it’s my own personalized newspaper.

What if you want to build your own news network on Twitter from scratch? It certainly seems like a daunting task. Here’s how to get started in a few simple steps:

1. Check out my column on getting started with Twitter from last year. That’ll help get you started with an account and good client software.

2. Find some people to follow who can provide you with news that interests you. On the national level, I enjoy Roger Ebert for politics and arts news. The New York Times’ David Pogue and independent blogger John Gruber are great for technology news. Where sports are concerned, you’re probably best off finding someone who shares a passion for your team, but Jim Rome tends to have some pretty good all around commentary.

3. Find friends who also use Twitter, or recruit some of your friends to join you. The stuff I read that’s been linked to by friends of mine is more tailored to what I like to read because of our shared interests.

4. Share stuff you find interesting. Twitter’s a two-way street. If someone posts something you like, pass it on. If you find something that you think others would find interesting, send it out as well.

Happy tweeting!