A quick start guide to Twitter for ASNE members

John Robinson, editor of the News & Record in Greensboro, N.C, is a big proponent of Twitter for editors. “(I)f you're not on Twitter, you're making your job more difficult,” he says in an introduction to the quick start guide he wrote for fellow ASNE members. “It's not time-consuming; you can benefit greatly with only 15 minutes a day. It's not about what people had for lunch; most people you'll follow talk about interesting things.” After brushing aside the usual reasons busy editors give for avoiding the microblogging site, Robinson provides some simple advice to help them get started.

“Whether or not Twitter makes you stupid, it certainly makes some smart people sound stupid.” – New York Times Executive Editor Bill Keller, May 18, 2011

John Robinson

I hope that's not the reason more editors aren't active on Twitter. The solution is simple: Don't follow people who sound stupid.

Even so, at the risk of sounding stupid, I'll say to my fellow editors, if you're not on Twitter, you're making your job more difficult. It's a place where people are talking about things that matter to them. In my 36 years as a journalist, we've wanted to be in the middle of that.

If you are not a regular user of Twitter, forget everything you think you know about it. It's not time-consuming; you can benefit greatly with only 15 minutes a day. It's not about what people had for lunch; most people you'll follow talk about interesting things. Think you can't say anything meaningful in 140 characters? You can. None of the sentences I'm writing exceeds 140.

Consider this a quick and easy guide to introduce you to Twitter. As in the real world, it's all about who you hang out with. At the end I include a starter list of smart journalists and educators you should follow. They won't waste your time with inane chatter. They will tell you things you don't know. They will both challenge and affirm your beliefs.

But first, a word about Twitter.

Here is what you will get from it.

  • Breaking news -- I saw that Anthony Weiner was about to start his news conference from Twitter, prompting me to tune in. Shaq announced his retirement on Twitter, and Newt Gingrich declared his presidential candidacy there.
  • Networks -- I hired two summer news interns when I tweeted that we were hiring. I also asked Twitter what I should tell you in this column. I got plenty of responses and provide a few links below that I was sent.
  • Interesting conversation -- Everyone I mention below is interesting and will engage with you. Once you follow people in your community, it gets even better because they speak specifically about your journalism and what interests them. (That sentence is 140 characters.)
  • Interesting links about journalism -- Twitter is where you'll find the latest news and analysis of journalism issues. The links people have tweeted have led me to innovative ideas.
  • Story ideas -- They're all over Twitter if you look for them. And don't get me started on the opportunity of crowdsourcing.

Thirteen percent of American adults online use Twitter. Many of your readers are there. Many of your sources are, too. How long do you feel safe in staying away from them? If we've learned anything from technological evolution of the last 10 years, it's that we have to go to where people are gathering.

Enough lecture.

There are lots of tips available; Google them whenever you're ready. One of our own, Steve Buttry, has written extensively about how to use Twitter wisely and efficiently:

The hardest thing about getting started is deciding who to follow. You should include friends, people in your community, people interested in what you're interested in. But I'll make the journalism part of it easy – start with these people. (ASNE Executive Director Richard Karpel and I created the list. To keep it under 50 we had to omit other good ones but you can find them yourselves.) Want to check them out? You can find each one by typing the name at the end of

  • AnnaTarkov
  • borowitz (for humor)
  • BrianStelter
  • carr2n
  • Chanders
  • charlesapple
  • craigsilverman
  • dangillmor
  • dankennedy_nu
  • dkiesow
  • ezraklein
  • felixsalmon
  • fivethirtyeight
  • gabrielsherman
  • jayrosen_nyu
  • jeffjarvis
  • jeffsonderman
  • JillGeisler
  • jimbradysp
  • johnmcquaid
  • kdoctor
  • kensands
  • lavrusik
  • lheron
  • lisawilliams
  • Lucas_MG
  • mallarytenore
  • marksluckie
  • mathewi
  • mattderienzo
  • mattyglesias
  • megangarber
  • michelemclellan
  • mthomps
  • niemanlab
  • palafo
  • pourmecoffee (for humor)
  • Poynter
  • rajunarisetti
  • scottros
  • sdkstl
  • stevebuttry
  • TerryHeaton
  • underoak
  • xarker
  • yelvington
  • zseward

And of course, johnrobinson. (To see ALL of these people in one feed, try looking at this Twitter list.)

Don't worry too much about creating the perfect list; part of the appeal of Twitter is being able to refine your stream by unfollowing people you don't find very interesting. Just get started and dive right in.

ASNE member John Robinson is editor of the News & Record, Greensboro, N.C.