Some journalists have added Twitter as a reporting tool, both to gather and broadcast the news. Julio Ojeda Zapata, a technology columnist for the St. Paul Pioneer Press, explains how non-stop twittering affects his reporting.
BOB GARFIELD: Julio Ojeda Zapata is the technology columnist for the St. Paul Pioneer Press. He Twitters all day long. For him it's a reporting tool, but that's just one reason he's into Twitter. JULIO OJEDA ZAPATA: I've become fascinated by the haiku-like artistry that goes into composing a 140-character or less Tweet. But you'd be surprised at the substance – the heft, of many of the conversations that are taking place in the Twitter-verse. That's one of the reasons I like it. BOB GARFIELD: Hey, try this one: Earthquake rumbles, L.A. wakens. All hell breaks loose. [LAUGHS] JULIO OJEDA ZAPATA: Well, that — that's how I found out about the earthquake, right there. It's become a news feed for a lot of people. BOB GARFIELD: When you send out a Twitter message, how many people receive it? JULIO OJEDA ZAPATA: Currently about 715 people. BOB GARFIELD: How did you get such a following? JULIO OJEDA ZAPATA: Well, being a columnist with the Pioneer Press certainly doesn't hurt. But the key thing on Twitter is you have to get out there and mix it up. You have to be friendly. You have to engage other people. And that's the key. The primary thing I'm doing on Twitter is making friends, you know, just developing relationships. And the journalism part sort of comes along for the ride. BOB GARFIELD: How many Tweets do you send out on a typical day? JULIO OJEDA ZAPATA: You don't want to know. Some days I don't do very many and some days I do a lot. I'm literally in the 3,000-Tweet range, and I've only been using Twitter for about a year. So I'm pretty prolific. BOB GARFIELD: The mind boggles. Give me an example of a story that you were able to flesh out with the help of contacts made via Twitter. JULIO OJEDA ZAPATA: Well, one story that comes to mind was about people that sort of can't leave their work at the office. They go on vacation, they take their laptops and they continue working. Twitter users tend to be kind of workaholic techie, social media, Internet addict types.
So this was tailor made for that kind of an audience. So I put it out there and, you know, literally within minutes was getting responses from people who, in fact, happened to be on vacation with their laptops and saw my Tweet and responded. So I thought that was kind of funny. BOB GARFIELD: Now, you know, I got to say while superficially it would seem that this really broadens your ability to get that kind of anecdote and to get sources for a story you're working on, I wonder if it doesn't actually have the opposite effect, narrowing your range as a reporter to the universe of your 715 contacts? JULIO OJEDA ZAPATA: Your point is well taken. I have to be very conscious of the fact that this is a silo. This is one group of people. I can't overly rely on these people. I have to find sources by other means, as well. I can't just do Twitter. But, I can't overstate how wonderful this has been for me. BOB GARFIELD: Now, you write about technology and, you know, your audience probably overlaps more with a Twitter crowd than let's say your health care reporter's audience. Are your colleagues in the newsroom, the ones with the more old school sort of beats, also embracing Twitter? JULIO OJEDA ZAPATA: I'm the most prolific Twitter user in a journalistic context for my paper by far, for now. I anticipate other people will begin using it. But Twitter doesn't always work. Like, for instance, one of my colleagues, she wanted to find people who had been affected profoundly in some way by the freeway bridge collapse which happened about a year ago, when they put out a query on that on Twitter and no responses. So you never know when Twitter is going to work or when it's, when it's not. BOB GARFIELD: And how is your haiku artistry at this stage? JULIO OJEDA ZAPATA: Oh, still working on it, Bob. BOB GARFIELD: Nice conversation. Many thanks. You're kind to join us. JULIO OJEDA ZAPATA: I really appreciate it. BOB GARFIELD: Julio Ojeda Zapata is the tech columnist for the St. Paul Pioneer Press and is author of "Twitter Means Business: How Microblogging Can Help or Hurt Your Company."