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Thursday, Sep. 18, 2014

Following the storm

Posted Thursday, August 11, 2011, at 4:51 PM

Visit our 'Twitter for Novices' guide: http://www.marshallnews.com/blogs/mender...

When the clouds started spinning and twisters began forming in Sedalia, I followed the storm.

With the recent destruction in Joplin and tornado warnings blaring across the radar, I was terrified a twister might pick me up and throw me down in Oz--before my journalism career had a chance to plop me down in Marshall. Even more so, I knew my older brother was driving home via Highway 270 in stand-still traffic, with no hope of escaping the potential twister. If it hit there.

I didn't race outside and search the St. Louis sky for a brewing funnel cloud. I didn't jump in my car and imitate the storm chasers I had seen on TV. While the wall clouds formed, I sat in my basement glued to my Twitter feed, tracking their every movement.

Through Twitter I learned as long as my brother stuck to his typical route home, he'd be safe. I stalked hashtags discussing Sedalia and wondered how close the twister would strike to my soon-to-be new home. Via Twitter I followed a variety of news sources--The Columbia Missourian, Fox News, KPLR, KMOV, The Sedalia-Democrat--every radio, newspaper and television station funneled right through my feed. Twitter took me straight to the information I wanted to have.

I retweeted anything relevant such as the link St. Louis Mayor Slay had tweeted to report power outages or the photos my cousin had taken of the hail pounding my aunt and uncles house less than 3 miles away.

Here's the thing, the warnings reached my Twitter feed before they hit the TV. I knew there were funnel clouds approaching my home in South St. Louis before my mother in the next room did. Why? She waited for updates on TV, and I followed the storm on Twitter.

It's much easier to alert the public quickly in 140 characters than it is to compose something for a traditional news venue. I can send 20 tweets in the time it takes for me to load even the smallest story on The Marshall Democrat-New's website.

I won't speak for radio and television, but I imagine it's quicker for them to tweet than produce traditional content as well. In an emergency setting, such as the tornadoes, Twitter provides a great way to connect with a variety of news sources and have the data processed through your Twitter feed in chronological order.

Twitter should not and does not replace traditional news venues. It's merely a tool to direct you to the information most relevant to you. I won't pretend to be able to give you the full story in 140 characters, but I can use those few words to give you the cliff notes version of an issue. Then eventually I can to link you via Twitter to the whole story.

For the past week, I've spent the minimal downtime I've had in the newsroom creating a Twitter for The Marshall Democrat-News. I've thought about what kind of content I want to feed through it, as well as what sources would be most beneficial for the Democrat-News to follow.

Through 140 characters Twitter unites local organizations, businesses, news sources and people. I can retweet the Lyceum Theatre's latest updates to the Democrat-News's followers and if they decide, they can retweet the reviews we publish about their shows. Democrat-News can follow the Missouri Levee District and retweet their latest information. I can upload some of the snappier comments readers posted on our website and link you to the stories causing the most conversation. I can ask you questions and you can reply, and it all happens in a matter of seconds.

Twitter gets a bad reputation for being the ultimate source of personal and unnecessary publicity. The quick 140 character messages can be pointless and trivial, such as those who give a play-by-play of their entire day including what they eat and when they're brushing their teeth.

Among many Twitter perks, you don't have to follow someone who annoys you. You can tailor your Twitter feed to suit your personal needs. If you're into pop culture and you want to follow Charlie Sheen or Taylor Swift, be my guest. If you're more into news, you'll cater your feed to the New York Times, the Washington Post and of course the Marshall Democrat-News. If you use it to keep in touch with friends, you may have to bug them into creating an account too.

Still don't think you need a twitter? Maybe you don't. But when the power went out on Tuesday, and our computers went down, we couldn't get online to tell you why or how long you'd be without power. Yet, I could tweet the whole thing from my cell phone without any problems.

It took us 10 minutes to send out a text alert. It took me 30 seconds to send out a tweet. Think about it.

Please follow us on Twitter @MarshallMoNews http://twitter.com/MarshallMoNews

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Maggie Menderski graduated with a Bachelor of Journalism degree from the University of Missouri in May 2011. The St. Louis native began working as a staff writer for the Democrat-News shortly after. In her Out of Ink blog, she (typically) muses about the differences between rural and suburban life.
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