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Reader Advocate: The future of journalism in 140 characters?

Published March 6, 2009 3:45 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2009, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Social networking -- once the property of college kids and then high school students -- is now the purview of older folks, including some in their golden years.

And, while no one was looking, news outlets have started using Facebook.com and Twitter.com to get tips on stories and find information about sources -- and to let readers or listeners know when they post stories on the Web or add posts to their blogs.

Many reporters and editors for The Salt Lake Tribune have pages on Facebook and a presence on Twitter. (You can search Google for individual names -- plus either Twitter or Facebook -- to find them.) One of the best features of these sites is their ability to add faces and a sense of humanity to the names readers see in the paper every day.

And on Twitter, it forces reporters and editors to be brief: Tweets (postings) on Twitter are restricted to 140 characters. The Lord's Prayer, for instance, could be: R dad in sky: U r cool here & on high. Ur will is all. Feed & nurture us. 4 give us & we forgive. Let us evade temptation & evil. Amen.

The thought is there, but the language pales.

Twitter can be handy for referring readers to Salt Lake Tribune breaking news and staff blogs, but sometimes individual posts can tend to be too self-referential.

According to a column on http://www.poynter.org" Target="_BLANK">http://www.poynter.org by Mallary Jean Tenore, "At its most basic level, Twitter is a networking tool that helps users keep abreast of what friends, or strangers, are doing. For news organizations, it is a resource for publishing work, communicating with other journalists and finding story ideas."

That means if you "follow" a staff member on Twitter and have a story idea, you can let that staffer know. Or staff members can follow public figures to mine the ore for story gold.

Facebook is just fun. There is a page there for The Tribune, and it includes a listing of some staff members who have individual pages. Readers can become fans of The Tribune and be notified when breaking news occurs or how to find certain feature and sports stories.

If you wonder about a page for a staff members, you can search for his or her name. Many of them turn up that way, so you can keep track of what we are doing once we allow you to become our friends.

I just tweeted a guy from Miami who describes himself as "Social tech blogger; problem solver, hacker, data junkie. Newmedia advice for Oldmedia pros." He bought a Kindle (Amazon's electronic reader) that just arrived at his home. He describes it as: "almost as if the Kindle was an aluminum cover over a real book. Kinda creepy."

Add quick product reviews to the ways Twitter can be used.

Will Facebook and Twitter grow as platforms that newspaper journalists? No one knows. The technological applications are evolving so fast that no one can predict what will be popular and worthwhile three months from now.

The Reader Advocate's phone number is 801-257-8782. Write to the Reader Advocate, The Salt Lake Tribune, P.O. Box 867, Salt Lake City, Utah 84110. E-mail: reader.advocate@sltrib.com" Target="_BLANK">reader.advocate@sltrib.com.

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