Does Twitter have a civic engagement role?

Does Twitter have a civic engagement role?

I’m still not sure, but here’s a possible answer based on excerpts of an account told at Poynter.

The piece below, edited for brevity, suggests that for public hearings, agency leadership policy presentations and the like, Twitter may offer some potential for extending your reach beyond what the media may – or may not – cover, and do so in a very transparent way.  

Did Use of Twitter During Mich. Governor’s Speech Improve Reporting?

“Something happened Tuesday night that has me again thinking of the journalistic dimensions of Twitter.

I tuned in an Internet broadcast of Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm‘s annual state of the state speech because it was expected to be laden with energy and environment issues. On impulse I logged into Twitter and asked my followers if there had been a hashtag established for the speech. There was: MiSOTS (Mich. State of the State).

To my amazement, the hashtag had been established by the governor’s staff — who were tweeting major points of Granholm’s speech as she made them.

Meanwhile, many, many, many other people used this hashtag to challenge points, support points, do some partisan sniping, question assumptions, add perspective, speculate about what was going on, and provide links to supporting information — including a transcript of the speech and the opposite (Republican) party’s response.

The strongest flurry of supportive MiSOTS-tagged posts came when the governor asked the state’s universities to freeze tuition. Perhaps that’s reflective of a college student demographic among Twitter users.

At times I felt like I was in the back of the room, discussing points immediately as they came up but without getting angry stares from others for interrupting the speech.

…I’m still wondering if this is journalism or simply very cool civic engagement.

Perhaps the journalist’s role in this kind of activity is to simply help establish and publicize the hashtag. In this case, that wasn’t necessary because of the governor’s Twitter-savvy staff. But that won’t always be the case. And journalists (like any other Twitter user) can still play a role in publicizing the relevant hashtags in play.

Using good news judgment to spot when a hashtag may aid tracking breaking news or an unfolding issue, and knowing how to establish and promote a hashtag, can be a key journalistic skill. News breaks, people start discussing it on Twitter, but no hashtag appears until the discussion is well underway (making earlier tweets harder to track). Establishing hashtags early can communicate the value of good news judgment and aid the coherence of stories in social media.

Plus, a news organization has a longer reach. Establishing and publicizing news-related hashtags encourages even more of this kind of interaction — although I’m guessing that too much would not be a good thing.

Perhaps a news organization could become become popular for spotting hashtag opportunities and quickly spreading the word. It might also try tracking down tweeters of interesting comments for traditional interviews.”

Guest contributor Dave Poulson is Associate Director of the Knight Center for Environmental Journalism at Michigan State University.

(Via E-Media Tidbits.)

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