Using social media tools to break news — Sona Patel


Twitter is the tool of choice for reporters covering breaking news, but getting it right requires coordination between social media staff, reporters and even other news organizations, said Sona Patel, staff editor for social media at the New York Times who spoke Wednesday at the 2014 KipCamp.

“Planning ahead is the most important thing to do,” Patel said, citing examples from her time at the Seattle Times, including a Seattle police murder and a live-blog of city council.

Lakewood police killer

The Seattle Times won a Pulitzer in 2009 for its coverage of murders of four Lakewood, Wash., police officers. Patel’s team provided comprehensive coverage using social media tools as reporter tweeted updates throughout the day. (To see the Time’s coverage,  including tweets by reporters, click here.)

The Times and other area news organizations agreed on a single hashtag — #washooting — creating an authoritative and up-to-the-minute source for updates.

“Seattle media is very tight,” she said. “We were able to communicate with local TV  stations, etc. that this is the hashtag we want to use.”

Advance planning is key to handling social media during breaking news.

“We have communicated with (reporters) well before breaking news events about what the expectations are,” Patel said.

She suggested having a very detailed plan in place, creating potential roles for reporters, dedicating an editor to each reporter, developing a plan for how to handle tweets or do live blogs.

Aurora movie theater shooting

The Denver Post used ScribbleLive to provide breaking news coverage of the 2012 movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colo. To see coverage, click here. The tool, also used by the Boston Globe in their coverage of the Boston Marathon bombing, allows media organizations to curate unruly streams of tweets and other social posts.

“It’s really not about the quantity, but the quality,” Patel said.

“They are tweeting once every three or four minutes. All those updates are not going to be of interest to the reader.”

During breaking news situation, Patel scans social media, monitoring hashtags and key words.

“I’ll be in the newsroom, searching on FourSquare and Facebook and Twitter,” she said. “Having someone back at the command post is helpful. That’s very critical. When you’re out covering breaking news, you’re covering breaking news.”

Seattle May Day protests

The 2012 May Day protests were easier for Patel’s Seattle team to anticipate than the tragic shootings referenced in the presentation. In preparation, every reporter was armed with an iPad or smartphone for taking photos and instant sharing.

The reporters were able to send drafts to their editors using WordPress. This streamlined the process and allowed the Seattle Times to publish quickly.

Live blog from city council

Breaking news can be tackled in teams of two reporters, one to write the full story for print publication and another live-blogging and interacting with the audience online, Patel said.

The Seattle Times used this approach at a contentious city council meeting and the colorful quotes and photos from the on-scene reporters gave the coverage an edge over the televised version of the hearing.

“Readers commented in real time, asked questions during the meeting,” Patel said. To read a liveblog of a public hearing on a Seattle arena proposal, click here.

App toolbox

Patel shared a selection of apps to help reporters become fully-formed multimedia pros. Here’s the list:

  • Communication:
  •  5-0 Radio Police Scanner (iOS /Android). Listen to police scanner dispatches on the go.
  • Glympse (iOS /Android). A favorite of editors, occasionally maligned by reporters. This app allows users to temporarily share their location.
  • GroupMe (iOS/Android). A group text-messaging service. Useful for groups of reporters and photographers in the field.

Photo and video:

  • Camera+ (iOS). Photo-taking and editing all in one app.
  • YouTube (iOS / Android). The best video client for social sharing.
  • Instagram (iOS / Android). Large network, now embeddable on posts.

Finding Your Social Media Voice — Robin J. Phillips


People have an image of you, whether you like it or not, said Robin J. Phillips, digital director at The Reynolds Center for Business Journalism and co-founder of #wjchat, a weekly Twitter-based community of web journalists.

“ (Your brand) is not just about telling people what you’ve done and how great you are. It’s about anticipating what you can do for them and sharing that,” she said.

Phillips sees value in having a strong online presence and developing a positive reputation, both of which can be done using social media.

Two goals to remember when developing a brand online are to “differentiate yourself” and “know yourself,” Phillips said. Journalists should discover what is valuable to their career and to themselves personally, and use that knowledge to showcase themselves.

One way to determine your current online persona is to ask friends, mentors and strangers what they think and what they see, Phillips said. She demonstrated this by showing various KipCamp fellows their own Internet personas, displaying their Twitter and Facebook pages, websites and results of online searches. “I just Googled,” she said.

Philips’ tips for extending the Fellows’ brands include:

  • Secure your own domain name; this makes finding your work much easier. A website for checking available domain names is
  • Google searches for common names can result in many individuals, so determine how to make yours unique. Phillips goes by Robin J. Phillips to differentiate herself.
  • Try to maintain just one account for each social media platform: It’s easier for the public to locate a journalist’s work.
  • Balance your personal and professional lives, excluding private information. The private can include personal relationships and opinions on almost any matter, which should not be shared because this compromises objectivity.
  • Look at other journalists online. Many have already developed their brand. A few that Phillips considers to have a strong presence:
    Twitter: Mark S. Luckie, @marksluckie
    LinkedIn: Yumi Wilson
  • Do not rely on links, which are owned by other sites and could disappear. When sharing work online, use PDF files to ensure they are easily accessible.
  • Look for individuals who have portfolio websites and model something similar. Portfolio sites allow a journalist to bring together various media outlets into one portfolio.

Phillips reminded attendees to be themselves, to be interesting and to be focused. When developing your brand, she said, the first and last question you ask yourself should be the same.

“Who are you?”

Follow Robin J. Phillips on Twitter @RobinJP.


Shots, Scenes and Sequences — Randy Walk


Online tools and technology used to capture and construct video media are in constant flux. Yet there remain tried-and-true mechanics of basic video shooting.

Randy Walk, Ohio State Multimedia Producer, outlined these fundamentals of videography during Tuesday’s KipCamp video session. He was assisted by Joe Camoriano, broadcast director of the Ohio State Media and Public Relations. The presentation focused on training journalist videographers to shoot three elements of an effective video production: Shots, scenes and sequences.

“Whether you’re doing six-second Vine, a 15-second Instagram video, a 30-second b-roll package or a one-minute story for your news program, it’s all built on these fundamental building blocks,” Walk said.

 The Shot

“It’s one continuous take; you frame something, you hit record, you let the action happen in front of you, you hit the record button again to stop.”

Walk’s tips:

  • Avoid the “soccer-mom” technique of standing stationary while recording long, continuous takes. Move your feet and find the story. Your editor cannot work with one shot. The single-shot, spectator-like approach is common in citizen journalism and is only effective while shooting the most spontaneous and dramatic of stories. In this rare instance, a single shot can be a scene. “But most of the time, we’re going to have to bust up things into multiple shots,” Walk said.
  • Use the “rule of thirds” when framing a shot. This helps push the subject out of the frame’s center — to the left or right third of the frame — and creates a more pleasing composition. Get close and keep the subject’s eyes in the upper-third crosshairs of the viewfinder, allowing him “looking area” or “talking space” in the opposite side of the frame. Not doing this can create tension and discomfort. Walk uses the iPhone app ProCamera to aid him when composing shots.
  • Get detail. Although you should shoot some wide shots, get a majority of medium and tight shots for the editor. “For the most part, people are going to be seeing your videos on phones and on small screens. So, if you’re going to do that big, beautiful ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ shot, and it’s really wide, you’re going to lose detail,” Walk said.
  • Camoriano said videographers should also be mindful of audio. Getting a tight shot will enhance the natural sound recording, especially you are not using an external microphone. “Always try to throw in some natural sound on your close-ups,” he said. “You’re not only visually trying to put a story together — the audio is very important.” Walk added, “If it makes noise, shoot it.”

 The Scene

“It’s a series of takes that focus around a specific period of time that either covers a theme, an event or the development of a character.”

  • Breaking up a story into multiple shots tells a better story. “This is one of my favorite scenes, from one of my favorite movies, ‘North by Northwest.’ I was 8 years old when I saw this, and I remember being mesmerized by this. It’s just Cary Grant standing by the side of the road, waiting for a Mr. Kaplan to show up,” Walk said.
  • Chopping Carrots: Walk demonstrated the three-over-one rule, borrowed from Michael Rosenblum, while shooting a subject chopping carrots. Collect three variations of shots. “These shots go by really, really quick. On average, an editor is going to have each shot up for two seconds,” Walk said. “If you can shoot ten shots, two of them should be wide, three or four are medium, the rest should be tight.”
  • Give your editor some creativity and options by using the five-shot rule: tight shot of the hands, tight on the face, over-the-shoulder shot, a wide and one miscellaneous shot. Walk said he frequently watches this BBC tutorial as a reminder. “I watch this video over and over and over again. And this guy is in my head every time I shoot. Because sometimes I forget, then I say, ‘Oh yeah. Why am I not breaking this scene down?’”
  • When shooting, be in the moment and plan out what shots you’ll need for the scene. Don’t be afraid to move around and make sure you’ve fully covered the story. But stay mindful of the subject and material and avoid disrupting the action. Walk showed “Bob the Bugler,” a story shot and edited by Michelle Michael, as an example of this.

 The Sequence

“It’s a series of scenes that are also made up of shots,” Walk said.

  • Sequences are less common in traditional news pieces. Your average video piece for a news story will run roughly one minute. Sequences are more appropriate in a longer piece. Walk gave the example of the intro in a James Bond film that precedes the opening credits and theme song.


By reexamining how a series of scenes come together, and the scenes and shots themselves, we can consider new visual story-telling possibilities. Tools ideal for short stories, like Vine and Instagram, compose quick, concise visual stories. Camoriano said a complete story can be told in a 15-second video. CNN, the Washington Post and other news outlets seek out online videos by subject or hashtag.

“Nowadays, you don’t have to have the pristine editing and the glossy finish, because you’re gathering news, right? It’s all about the story. So, that’s what make these tools so convenient and so exciting, because anyone can tell a story. You guys are all journalists; you guys crack stories wide open. So, think of new ways to use Vine, new ways to use Instagram to bring the story to life,” Camoriano said.


Getting the Most of Smartphones – Carl Corry



In today’s pursuit of news gathering, less is more, said Carl Corry, online editor for local news at Newsday and a speaker at Tuesday’s KipCamp, a short-term fellowship designed to help journalists make better use of online tools.

“Everyone should have either an iPhone or an Android,” he said.

Corry stressed that being “multimedia lite” — using as little bulky technology as possible — is essential. Harnessing speed, audience interaction and robust storytelling are critical to build job skills expected in the field today.

Journalists should not hesitate to incorporate smartphones into their everyday work.

“The time is now,” Corry said.

 “Must-Haves” for Smartphones

 Corry encourages journalists to survey their surroundings for available resources. You can cut costs by using wireless providers with the best connectivity (Corry likes Verizon), syncing with free networks in coffee shops, and using airplane mode on your smartphone. It is vital, he said, to monitor battery life.

“Always keep your battery in mind. In the cold weather, the battery life drains even faster than normal,” said Corry.

To improve battery life, consider getting a portable battery “juice pack” such as Morphie Juice Pack ($100) or New Trent iGeek external portable battery ($60).

Additional must-haves:

  • smart gloves, which allow you to use a smartphone without taking off your gloves
  • windsock for your iPhone/Android
  • external microphone to plug into smartphone
  • external lens for smartphone camera
  • external light to improve smartphone video and photo quality

Tips for Success

 Corry urges journalists to post and share material immediately, rather than waiting until the end of the day to write a story.

“Invite others into what you’re doing,” he said. Reply to emails promptly, stay well-connected and initiate involvement from as many others as possible, he suggested.

When shooting, Corry said, remember to:

  • Horizontally compose your photos and video (all posted videos are horizontal).
  • Eliminate camera shake by anchoring yourself to anything possible. “Hold your breath if you need to.”
  • Use airplane mode when shooting, so you won’t be interrupted by a call.
  • Shoot for at least 10 seconds of video footage.
  • Use your car as a makeshift sound-editing booth.
  • Keep finished video clips to 30 seconds or less to keep audience attention.

The Importance of Smartphone Photos

Smartphone photos are becoming accepted forms of mainstream photojournalism. Corry cited a photo of Yankee Alex Rodriguez on the front page of The New York Times. It was taken with an iPhone.

“Take the advantages that a smartphone has and amplify them,” said Corry.

“I’m not going to be the guy to tell you that an iPhone replaces everything . . . but it is what you have available.”

Smartphones can be powerful, useful and effective. Sharing photos immediately from the scene brings a new level of speed to storytelling, he said. When reporting crime and terrorism, smartphones can be less threatening and “spy-like.”

Amazing Apps

 Many smartphone apps can be downloaded for free or just a little money, Corry said.


  • Photogene
  • Camera+
  • Snapseed (photo app from Google)
  • Virtual Photo Walks (from Google+) An unexplored journalism opportunity, Corry said. Sharing your view through platforms such as Google+ can allow others to experience a changed perspective on an issue or event.
  • Vine, 6-second, digestible clips that can be embedded on Twitter or within stories.
  • Instagram (photo and video)

 Audio/Audio Editing:

  • SoundCloud. Tracks where you are via GPS
  • VC Audio Pro
  • Voddio. Popular audio editing app software
  • Google Voice. Free phone number you can call through Google to record phone conversations. (Hit “4” before you dial a number). Note: A time limit restricts your recording time. Turns voicemails into texts.

Video Editing:

  • Video Camera Pro
  • iMovie
  • Vine has the advantage over Instagram video in that is embeddable natively into Twitter.



Tips To Best Use Social Media – Jeff Cutler


Social media trainer and journalist Jeff Cutler taught Kiplinger Fellows how to leverage the latest social tools to research stories and engage audiences at Monday’s session of 2014 KipCamp.

“Social tools are not here forever,” he said. “Don’t fall in love with the tools.”

Search engines

The most basic tools are search engines. Google is one of the best tools a journalist can use, Cutler said, in today’s technology-driven society. He suggested setting up Google Alerts to get notifications from news outlets and sources.

“Google is king/queen,” he said. “It’s free, accurate mostly, comprehensive . . . Alerts do the work for you. You must be smart about choosing phrasing but you get better at it over time.”

He doesn’t recommend Bing, which he said means “Bing Is Not Google.” It is more commercial in nature.

He also suggested using several search engine aggregators, including Addict-o-matic and DuckDuckGo. A synopsis of search engines is at

Keeping your ear to the ground

Find your audience and interact with them, Culter said.

“Conversations are happening all around,” he said. “Push for hyper-local” sources such as NPR member stations, Gatehouse and affiliate TV stations for newer topics, smaller focus and bigger stories.

“Don’t produce content just for the small percentage of consumers that actually appear and participate in your effort,” he said.

Verification is Key

People use the term “citizen journalist” too loosely, Cutler said. Verification is what sets true journalists apart.

“I can put a webcam around the neck of my cat and call it a citizen reporter but not a citizen journalist because I am not getting the perspective and the analysis of a journalist from the cat,” he said.

Don’t take tweets and Facebook posts at face value.

“People do this circular verification that makes it difficult for all of us to do our jobs because . . . one references the other,” he said. “Everyone loses.”

Find out who is behind the Twitter handles and Facebook accounts so you can know what to use and who to trust. Vet every story by finding other sources and whenever possible put social media sources on camera.

Twitter best practices

Twitter is good for getting crowd-sourced questions answered and finding involved sources who are passionate about their interests.

Before using them, Cutler suggests reading the bio and clicking on the links of sources, reading many of their tweets, seeing who their followers are and vetting those sources. Start a conversation with them, and ask colleagues and competitors if they are reliable.

Know the rules of your media outlet, Cutler said. Can you quote a tweet? Should you set up interviews by tweeting? He recommends, a list of all professional journalists on Twitter that also covers the news based on what members are tweeting and sharing.

Facebook best practices

Cutler likes Facebook because it is more efficient, effective, you can share all your photos and it’s not limited in the number of characters you can type. He dislikes its convoluted structure and the fact that administrators don’t listen to feedback.

Cutler suggests that reporters “friend” their sources so they can have full access to verify them. Read their updates. Research their information, affiliations, networks and photos.


Video is powerful, Cutler said: “The elephant in the room.”

“Most people are less intelligent and lazier than you would ever believe,” he said. “Video and photos make it easier . . . pull people in.”

Other helpful tools

Cutler also recommends:
• Mashable: “They cover the social landscape better than anyone else.”
• LinkedIn: “It’s more verified.” LinkedIn For Journalists also offers a year’s worth of free premium service that allows you to contact anyone on LinkedIn without friending them.
• KnowEm: Very helpful for establishing your own brand.
• WordPress, Blogger, PlaceBlogger, Tumblr: Blogging websites that can be searched for information, topics and sources.
• Quora: Great for finding experts.

Check out more by Jeff Cutler at and on Twitter @jeffcutler.

See Jeff Cutler’s PowerPoint:

Social Media Trends for Journalists – Robert Hernandez



Robert Hernandez is a web-based journalist who says his whole professional career has been “nerding out in the name of journalism.”

The assistant professor at the University of Southern California Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism spoke at Monday’s KipCamp, a short-term fellowship designed to help journalists make better use of online tools.

Although technology trends shift with society, journalism will survive, he said. “Journalism will outlive Facebook.”

Hernandez outlined his five rules of engagement in social media.

Rule 1: Journalism first, technology second.

Journalists’ primary job is to collect information, distribute it and inform their community.

“If you believe content is king, like I do, it’s not about the device, it’s about the content — but the content optimized for the user of the device.

“You’re a lazy journalist if you only rely on social media. You’re a lazy journalist if you don’t use it,” he said.

Rule 2: If your mom tweets that she loves you, check it out.

Social media has created a huge increase of information and voices; you have to fact check before sharing the information. Passing on inaccurate information through social media tools is easy, especially when Twitter allows you to Retweet with just one click. Confirm information before risking your credibility.

Rule 3: Social media does not replace the phone or in-person interviews,

An active journalist must not rely solely on social media: Phone and in-person interviews provide much greater insight into your subject.

At the same time, an active journalist also must use social media. Ignoring the advantages that come from these tools can hinder your story from reaching the optimal audience.

Rule 4: Citizen, Brand, Journalist.
Your brand is your credibility. It is important to recognize that the stories you write and information you share are your brand — who you are — and what you will be known for as a journalist. Account for both sides to ensure credibility and objectivity.

Rule 5: Be open.

New social media outlets are being developed regularly. Though they may seem inapplicable in the field of journalism, reporters must be open to trying them and acknowledge possible benefits. Being open to new possibilities will turn the possibilities into opportunities.

“Don’t dismiss things you don’t understand. Embrace the change . . . and hijack it in the name of journalism,” Hernandez said.

More about Robert Hernandez on Twitter: @webjournalist.

See a video that Robert Hernandez showed at KipCamp: