Breaking Tweets Organizes Endless Twitter Stream, Making Investigating Less Expensive

Anyone with reporting experience knows what an expensive pain in the ass it can be to find good quotes for a story. Put the event up for discussion around the world and watch as “difficult” turns into a full fledged nightmare. It’s part of what makes the shrieks about losing original reporting on the under-funded web so loud.

DePaul University grad student Craig Kanalley wants to make opinion quotes and eyewitness accounts easier to wrangle. His site,, uses Twitter and a group of editors to format news stories in an unusually interactive way that provides quotes forpicture-1 other journalists.

It starts with an editor, who writes a one or two paragraph explanatory intro about the story, then come the tweeters, who send opinions, analysis and eyewitness media. Editors cull the best and most insightful tweets from the bunch, as well as occasionally interjecting with their own updates.

“I think a well done Breaking Tweets story can be just as valuable as a longer form traditional news story on the same subject,” Kanalley said.

More importantly though, it’s a model you can use for your own blogging. Whether your blog is geographically anchored or just subject-specific, the Breaking Tweets method translates to hyper-local blogging easily. Use it to enmesh your own authorship with reader opinion, to collect media and organize the endless comment stream that is Twitter.

Below you’ll find an interview with Kanalley about where Breaking Tweets came from and how his team is making it work:

Lily: Where did you get the idea for Breaking Tweets?
Craig: I first thought of doing something like Breaking Tweets on Nov. 4, when I saw the amount of people twittering about Election Day and how Twitter can serve as a place for breaking news, very personal feelings and eyewitness accounts.

I didn’t actually follow through on the idea until Jan. 31, 11 days after I attended Barack Obama’s Inauguration in D.C. That event got me even more excited about Twitter. And following what people in Australia were saying about the Australian Open on Jan. 31 put me over the top — I finally created the Breaking Tweets blog. It was meant to be a personal blog at first but quickly grew into something more. We’ve had 35,000 page views since the site launched and visits from 116 countries.

L: How is your team set up?
C: We have 28 content editors. I found them either from school or through Twitter. Almost all of them are journalism students — 27 of the 28 are, from across the country. There’s also a foreign correspondent.

L: Tell us about Breaking Tweets tweeters. Where do they come from and how do they contribute?
C: Some parts of the world use Twitter more than others, and that’s our biggest hindrance. But in the future, we’d like to develop affiliate sites for specific cities and provide just tweets from that locale. For now, it’s mostly people commenting on events, but we are growing a network of followers through Twitter from all over the world and have been utilizing them as tipsters to get closer to the scene.

Eyewitness accounts can be tough because, like I said, not everyone has Twitter. Plus, you have to be careful to verify what people are saying. We do the best we can with that and at times we have to discount a certain tweet because it doesn’t appear to be authentic.

Do you have editors available 24/7 to monitor authenticity?
C: Since one of our editors is overseas in Scotland, and I tend to stay up into the wee hours of the morning, we pretty much do have editors available 24/7…ready in case something major breaks. We have a system where a story is read by at least one senior editor before it goes up. But we don’t obsess over breaking news — we like to get things right and verify material first.

We want to make this a journalism project first, so people who at the very least understand how to construct a story in a journalistic way — essentially how to model stories after what we post now. It’s basically a 5-10 sentence set up and then into the tweets with occasional updates from editors.

L: What benefits does basing your program in Tweets as opposed to your own entry fields afford you?
C: Tweets are great because they are short, quick and, in many ways, they are just like quotes that journalists would often use anyway. They are instantaneous and, as a result, they work well with news in general, also across a wide geographic scope.

People also like that they don’t have to spend a ton of time going through stories. So for now we’re weeding out tweets that aren’t as compelling and trying to limit to the best ones. Four to six tweets is ideal. It gives enough flavor for the story, especially if those tweets are from the region the news is occurring.

L: How does Breaking Tweets fit into the greater framework of journalism/new media?
C: It’s a new type of journalism. I haven’t seen anyone doing anything remotely close to this besides Global Voices, but they focus more on blogs. Breaking Tweets changes the practice because it focuses on editing the Web. There is so much clutter out there but it takes it all and seeks to make sense of it. I think a well done Breaking Tweets story can be just as valuable as a longer form traditional news story on the same subject. It gives a different glimpse into the story.

People all over the world are commenting on news stories and in some ways reporting themselves. They just need someone to sift through all of that mess and create some meaning through a filter that gets rid of the spam and nonsense.

L: Where do you see the site going in the future?
C: The format currently used to treat tweets as quotes has worked well, and that’ll probably be at the core of whatever we do. But in the future, our content editors will be interacting more with users through Twitter to probe for more information and eyewitness accounts.

We also want to develop our niche content better. I’d like the site to be useful to people who aren’t particularly interested in world news. We’re growing, and we’re launching niche affiliate sites soon: Breaking Tweets Sports and Breaking Tweets Entertainment. We want our comments to go through the roof, for people to be active and to tell us, “hey, give us some forums and more places to have the discussion.” Our focus is always content first and the people will come.

*Initially posted by me on


3 responses to “Breaking Tweets Organizes Endless Twitter Stream, Making Investigating Less Expensive

  1. Pingback: Breaking Tweets Organizes Endless Twitter Stream, Making Investigating Less Expensive « No More Paper « Deiknuo’s Technology Blog

  2. L-

    Did you see that The Guardian (UK) is now twittering.

  3. lilyqtalksclothes

    @Ted, that I did. What a development! Unfortunately though, they seem already to have reverted to their standard format. How odd that it only lasted April 1.

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