Virtual Communities Spark Coverage Ideas As Primary Season Ends

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Tuesday’s final primary elections in Montana and South Dakota present journalists with fresh opportunities to go into their communities and probe what people are thinking as this tumultuous Democratic primary season ends.

But journalists may also want to visit virtual communities to find out what people in their coverage areas are saying in public forums about the primaries, the candidates and news organizations’ coverage of them.

Social networking sites let you see what others around the world are doing and saying, but they also have a practical application for journalists who want to dig deeper into their local communities. Sites such as Twittermap, for instance, let you search for geographic locations and see what Twitter users are saying in specific areas. Additionally, journalists can use Facebook’s Point2 Neighborhoods application to see profiles of Facebook users in their community and to search for local groups/discussion boards.

Here are some tips on how to use social networking and political sites to engage your users and find different angles on the final primaries and the Democratic nomination process.

Twitter

This is a great opportunity for you to log in to your Twitter accounts and interact with users. (See a step-by-step tutorial on how to create a Twitter account for your news organization.) Many news organizations’ Twitter pages are updated automatically through RSS feeds. Instead, log in to your news organization’s account or your own account and ask your Twitter followers for their reaction to the news, what they want to see more coverage of and their thoughts on election coverage so far. You could also feature your site’s Twitter page on your news organization’s home page and encourage users to engage in a discussion using Twitter.

I used Twitter as a resource in researching this article. Because I am “following” about 50 news organizations’ Twitter updates, I was able to use Twitter as a time line of news updates, many of which were related to Clinton and Obama.

If you’re not following many people or news organizations on Twitter, you can use Twitter search engines such as Summize and Terraminds. By typing the word “Clinton” into the search field, for example, you’ll be directed to a list of all the most recent Twitterers from around the world who have used this word in their Tweets. You may also want to check out Twitter’s public time line, a random listing of Twitterers that is updated every couple of minutes.

There are also Twitter pages specifically focused on all three of the presidential candidates. ClintonNews features updates about the Clinton campaign, though when I checked it hadn’t yet linked to wire stories about Clinton possibly conceding. There is a similar page for Obama called ObamaNews — a compilation of RSS feeds about Obama — as well as Twitter pages such as BarackObama and ObamaPalooza.

You can also use Twittervision and Twittervision 3D to virtually connect with others across the world and in your own community. Twittervision superimposes Twitter’s public time line onto an interactive Google map of the world. Tweets appear sporadically across the global map as Twitterers post them, giving viewers an opportunity to see virtually what others are “Tweeting” around the world.

Del.icio.us

You can use this social bookmarking site to search for articles about Clinton or Obama. Searching by Del.icio.us tags will turn up lists of news articles and Web sites related to the tags you search. The URLs del.icio.us/tag/clinton and del.icio.us/tag/obama, for example, turn up hundreds of articles that Del.icio.us users have saved. The most recent sites bookmarked rise to the top of the list.

Facebook

Facebook is a helpful tool for learning more about what voters are saying about candidates in public forums. A simple search for “Hillary Clinton” on Facebook turns up 10 results, including a “Hillary Clinton” group with 159,353 supporters, a “Hillary Clinton Supporters” group and a more crass “Hillary Clinton Deathwatch” group. The Hillary Clinton group has more than 405,000 wall posts, which started pouring in the minute after news broke that Clinton may concede.

Sometimes the postings can lead to other resources or story ideas. While reading the wall postings, for example, I came across one from a girl identified as Nikki Patino that read, “I think the Hillaryclinton.com blog is going to go insane today.” I hadn’t thought to read the Hillary Clinton blog, but the posting prompted me to look at it. On the blog I stumbled across a heated discussion stemming from a short statement on the blog that read: “The AP story is incorrect. Senator Clinton will not concede the nomination this evening.”

A Facebook search for “Obama” yields plenty of results as well. Groups such as “Obama ’08″ and “Barack Obama Supporters” also have discussion boards that may help give you a greater glimpse into what younger voters are saying and thinking. Again, Facebook’s Neighborhoods application is helpful when searching for users within your communities.

More sites

Flickr: Use this to find users’ photos of candidates and to read related user comments.

Technorati and Google Blog Search: These are just two of many blog search engines that can help you narrow your search of key topics. Blogs can be a breeding ground for political story ideas, as can the comments on individual blog items.

Politics Online: This is an insider Web site that political organizers sometimes visit to find out how others are using the Web. The site includes a state-by-state search field.

1st Headlines: Top Political News Headlines: This site aggregates the latest political headlines.

Political Wire: A free wire service dedicated to politics, the site lets you search state-by-state for frequently updated stories.

Roll Call: The newspaper of Capitol Hill, which includes state legislature.

Electicker 2008: This resourceful site aggregates political news articles, featuring stories from Mark Halperin’s The Page, Politico, wire stories, video, commentary, the “latest wire photo” and more.

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