Readers Learn a Lot From Brian Stelter’s Joplin Tweets

Reading the New York Times’ Brian Stelter’s tweets from Joplin, Missouri helps one really see how this social media outlet can give reporters a very useful outlet for breaking news.


As one who is pretty immersed in and enamored with how Twitter is used by journalists, I was especially intrigued by the New York Times’ Brian Stelter’s retrospective  last week on his experience covering the aftermath of the Joplin tornado.

Brian Stelter's BusinessInsider Photo

“My best reporting was on Twitter,” Stelter said. “But only up until a certain point on Monday.”

When I saw this, I thought – WELL, the only way to really judge what’s better and what’s best is to look at the tweets themselves.

While Stelter provided an archive of his own tweets,  they don’t tell the full story of this reporter who actually was tweeting on the Joplin, Tornado many hours before he arrived in Joplin.

Also, to truly understand the chronological context for the tweets, one has to see the time stamp.    After a few days, the time stamp is only visible with a mouseover in Twitter.

One of my colleagues here at the University of Alabama, Natalie Brown, has become an expert at analyzing tweets. She and I have an ongoing research project that involves looking back at tweets over a series of months.

I thought perhaps reading through Brian Stelter’s 140-character missives for just a day would help me become at least half as adept at analyzing tweets as Brown.

Here’s what I learned from analyzing Brian Stelter’s Tweets


Total Number of Tweets from Joplin: 97 (if you include just the ones that Stelter initiated)

Total Number of Exchanges While in Joplin with Readers: 3

GRAND Total of Tweets: 100

The hour of the day when Brian tweeted the most: 5 p.m. hour on Tuesday, May 23.

Overnight Tweets Help

While Brian seems to think that after 11 p.m., his best work was what he was filing to the New York Times Web site or preparing for A1 in next day’s edition, I think there was tremendous value in the tweets that came overnight.

Certainly, the opportunity for great photos diminishes in darkness and there aren’t as many great stories in those less-active hours of the day.

The late night hours were when Stelter had his most interesting exchanges with Twitter followers.

Two readers challenged him on his statements about his work on the stories for the site and his naming of a particular auto company in his tweets.

This is not unlike other media outlets that operate around the clock.

Full disclosure: I used to produce morning newscasts in a Top Ten media market and am very familiar with the viewers/audience members who are still up in the wee hours of the morning who will call to engage you on your news product both online and on the air.

Now, with Twitter, our audience engages with us more easily all day– 24/7.

Stelter Struck a Balance

The lack of a stable Internet connection (as we had here in Tuscaloosa in the first few hours after the April 27th tornado) forced Stelter to do storytelling on his iPhone– a mobile reporting device with which more and more of our journalism students are bringing to class.

  • He established a balance between telling what he’s seeing and SHOWING what he’s seeing.
  • He gave Twitter followers a glimpse of the sausage-making (as we like to call) that happens as we as journalists GATHER the news.
  • Sometimes making the reporting process visible as it’s happening is warranted and I would argue, even preferred.
  • We didn’t see was a lot of promotion of updates on the Web site.   (I fear that if there were a stable connection, we might have seen more of that self-promotion and less gathering and writing.)
  • It’s natural for us to use Twitter to share what we’ve posted online (I do it several times a day).   But, what we saw in these tweets was the value of the tweets as reporting product themselves.
  • Last, but not least, Stelter did not invest a lot of time in Re-tweeting what other folks were doing in the field. He was too busy gathering information and getting it out.

I DO Agree with Stelter that  it would be best if  there were a “Get Me Rewrite” kind of person like I’m told newspapers had years ago when reporters would phone in their stories.

The harsh reality

Most reporters have not figured out the balance between tweeting what you’re reporting and working on the writing of the core reporting product- a TV story, a story for the web or for the next day’s newspaper.

We want to bring our Twitter followers with us through the process, but we haven’t quite figured out how to do that.

OUR NEXT STEP: Compare some of tweets of others covering the Joplin Tornado to Stelter’s to see how their observations differed.  And for the academic researchers reading this post– that’s an opportunity for scholarly inquiry here when one compares the tweets to what’s ending up in the newspaper or on the next newscast.

Thanks to Brian’s hard work, we’re a little bit closer to understanding what to do in efforts to understand the link between Twitter and journalism.

Five Reasons Why I Will Be Holding A Candle At Government Plaza Wednesday Night

It’s time for Tuscaloosa to come together remember those whose lives were lost in the April 27th tornado and commit ourselves as a community to rebuild our city better than it was before the storm.

Just last month was the first time I visited the new Government Plaza, the five-acre park behind Tuscaloosa City Hall, which will be the site of a Citywide Candlelight Vigil this Wednesday night.

The June 1st vigil, which begins at 8 p.m. is taking place five weeks to the day after the devastating April 27th tornado.

According to published reports, the vigil will be a time to remember those who were killed or injured in the storms, and a time to reflect on all that has happened since April 27.   The Office of Mayor Walt Maddox is organizing the event.

The last time I held a candle at an event would have been at the Christmas Eve services last December 24th back home at First Baptist Church in Richmond, Va.

Little did I know then that 41 people would lose their lives in a tornado that would plow through the city of Tuscaloosa where I work.   On December 24th, I celebrated the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ.    On Wednesday I’ll be celebrating and mourning at the same time.

I’m sure I’ll shed a tear. It’s hard not to when you think about what’s happened and what’s ahead.  But, I’ve noted FIVE REASONS why I’ll be there with the rest of Tuscaloosa:

1. Reason #1: Celebrate the Resilience of a Community

When we light up that plaza with our candles on Wednesday night, the collective glow will represent the resilience that we as a community have as we set ourselves up for the months and years of recovery.  We are positioning ourselves to be used and the light of those candles will illuminate our way as we journey down that path TOGETHER as a community.

2. Reason #2: Mourn Our Lost Loved Lost Ones

I hate that it took the April 27th tornado for me to get to know people like Marcus Smith, a University of Alabama student from my hometown who lost his life in the storm. This Wednesday, we mourn his loss and the other more than three dozen of our neighbors who are no longer with us.

3. Reason #3: Unify Our community

Recovering from the April 27th tornado will take many, many years and the efforts of those who come from all walks of life and all aspects of our community.

Those of at the University will have to partner with so many from places near and far.  But, it’s our unity that will make this happen. There won’t be the “I’s” and the “You’s,” but the “WE’s” who will get this done.

4. Reason #4: Remember the Call to Help the Least of These

As noted in an earlier post today, the frustrations of those who could least afford to lose their homes weigh heavily on us as a community.  Where will they go when the shelters close?  We will lift a candle on Wednesday night to light the way for them and say that we care and will be there for them individually and collectively.

5. Reason #5: Pray for Our Leaders, Other Communities

I sincerely hope those leading this event will remember the importance of us corporately remaining in a posture of prayer for Mayor Walt Maddox, Governor Robert Bentley, Police Chief Steve Anderson,  FEMA Chief Craig Fugate and all of those, by virtue of their positions in government, are charged with providing leadership through the recovery.

We cannot forget to collectively pray for other Alabama communities such as Pratt City, Cullman, Hackleburg  and outside our state, Ringgold, Ga. and Joplin, Missouri.  These areas will be rebuilding even as we rebuild here.

They suffered a loss of life too.  Our candles symbolize our collective resolve that we as not only Tuscaloosa residents, but also Americans have as we look forward, as we make our respective communities better than they were before the tornadoes.

ABC’s Osunsami Captures Frustration in Tuscaloosa Tornado Aftermath

ABC Correspondent Steve Osunsami captures frustration of Tuscaloosa tornado victims, one of whom questioned President Obama’s pledge to help everybody who lost homes in the April 27th tornado. Issues of class in Tuscaloosa were exposed.

One week after the deadly tornado in Joplin, Missouri, one network news correspondent is exposing the class differences back here in Tuscaloosa about to become most apparent as shelters for victims of the April 27th tornado here close in June.

Shirley Billingsley told ABC News on Sunday she doesn't believe President Obama's pledge to help 'everybody' who lost everything in the April 27th tornado

You have to view ABC News Correspondent Steve Osunsami’s May 29th story to see the cries of 69-year-old Shirley Billingsley who questioned the sincerity of President Obama’s pledge during his April 29th Tuscaloosa visit to “help everybody.”

“That’s a lie,” Billingsley said.

Billingsley’s comments came on the same day that Obama visited Joplin, Missouri, where more than 120 people died in the May 22 storm.

“This is not just your tragedy. This is a national tragedy, and that means there will be a national response,” Obama said today in Missouri.

But, is the national response already underway here in Tuscaloosa ENOUGH for those who don’t have a place to go in the immediate future?

That’s the question that Osunsami’s report posed.   Even the headline that used for the story– “Alabama Still Suffering” makes the point crystal clear.

Today, Obama acknowledged that FEMA Chief Craig Fugate is the hardest working man in the federal government as he shuttles between Tuscaloosa and Joplin as well as other communities that have been hit by natural disasters.

The harsh words from Tuscaloosa for the man some have called “Healer-in-Chief” are eerily reminiscent of what we saw in the New Orleans flooding in 2005 as levees failed after Hurricane Katrina.  A disproportionate number of victims left stranded, many of died, were among the city’s poorest residents.

Osunsami Pegged The Problem on April 28

Today’s report follows the same theme as Osunsami’s April 28 report, one day after the Tuscaloosa tornado when he mentioned that those who were affected by the April 27th storm “had so little and lost so much.”

Locally, an editorial in The Tuscaloosa News last week shined the spotlight on the housing issue.

It’s not clear if either media outlet took cues from one another. But, I seriously doubt it given Osunsami’s earlier news reporting.

ABC News Southeast Correspondent Steve Osunsami Comforted Tornado Victim Claudia Key April 28 as she searched for family members.

I remember watching  ABC News Correspondent comfort Claudia Key, who was crying as she frantically searched for multiple relatives only hours after the storm hit.    You can tell then that this particular reporter understood the emotions that needed to be captured in telling this story.

He also understood the issues of class that were a theme in his latest story, which compared the experiences of families that have insurance and are ready to start rebuilding and those without insurance who are unsure of where they will stay once the tornado shelter closes.

His live reports last month on Good Morning America and World News Tonight  were often from 10th Avenue in and around Rosedale Court, a 59-year-old housing complex that reportedly was scheduled to be demolished as soon as this fall.

But residents like Billingsley in non-government housing along our city’s 10th Avenue corridor have not been able to find places to live.  Their frustration is now beginning to make national news.

You may recall in an earlier post, I questioned how long it would take national media to leave our community.  Clearly Osunsami and the producers at ABC News haven’t forgotten about us.

Maddox says SIX YEARS

Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox, seen here in a ride-along, told ABC News Sunday he thinks the recovery from April 27th tornado may take six years.

Osunsami’s report was, in part, based on a ride-along with Mayor Walt Maddox, who for the first time (that I can recall) indicated it will “probably” take  SIX YEARS for the city to recover from the April 27th tornado.

Before this report, I had not heard him estimate a long-term timeline for the city’s recovery.   The key qualifier, in Maddox’s comment was “probably.”

We certainly hope it won’t take that long.

As our entire Tuscaloosa community prepares to come together this Wednesday, June 1 for a candlelight vigil to remember those whose lives were lost in the tornado,  we need to be prepared to address the frustration that those who survived are facing.

I don’t think this will be the last national news report that looks at the “least of these” who were among the hundreds of families who lost everything.

Gilbert Morris Interview Caps A Week of Wisdom from Senior Writers

This week I had the pleasure of interviewing and meeting both Curtis Hallman, a prolific letter writer and Gilbert Morris, who has authored 228 novels in 18 years.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Gilbert Morris, during his May 27th visit to the Tuscaloosa Public LIbrary.

This week I managed to sit at the feet of two senior writers, each of whom have made significant contributions to two different area of media.

The wisdom of Gilbert Morris and Curtis Hallman will stay with me for a long time.

This morning, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Gilbert Morris, who is literally twice my age.  But, at 82, this former college professor is more productive than most people will be in a lifetime.

He’s written 228 novels, which he has figured is about one novel a month for 18 years.  And, that’s after he retired once as a pastor and again as an English professor at Ouachita Baptist University.

Setting up the camera and just having a conversation, I didn’t know what to expect in talking with Dr. Morris.

What I got were some  real important tips about writing and an earful about why one has to be persistent.

His story was more inspirational than any I’ve received from an inspirational author.

I first heard Dr. Morris speak about 10 years ago at the Southern Christian Writers Conference, when it was held at Samford University in Birmingham.

What a delight to be re-acquainted with him today– professor-to-professor during an interview at the Tuscaloosa Public Library.

An Encounter with a Veteran Letter Writer

The Tuscaloosa Public LIbrary also happened to be the setting for more insight and information earlier this week at the Tuscaloosa Christian Writers Meeting (I’m a member of this group, which meets monthly usually on fourth Tuesdays)

Curtis Hallman has been writing letters to the editor to The Tuscaloosa News since 1993.   He’s never been turned down by the 30,000+ circulation daily.

He believes doing things like writing letters to the editor is part of his calling as a Christian.

“I’m just an amateur writer,” he modestly told the dozen or so writers who attended his talk on Tuesday. “As Christian writers, I feel we have a responsibility.”

What’s most interesting about this man who’s written about everything from politics and the Fox News Channel to the O.J. Simpson trial and prayer in school,

“I don’t know I’ve ever saved anybody’s life, but I know I’ve kept somebody’s dog from being shot,” Hallman said as he recalled some of his letters that focused on gun safety during hunting season.

He himself is a hunter .

His writing continues even after he survived cancer TWICE.

Most recently, he was transported to a hospice and battle through his illness, returned home to pick up his pen and write more letters on topics of interest in 2011.

While he has a cell phone, he has given up his computer and only sends handwritten letters

His old computer was attacked twice by two different viruses.

Hallman inspired me to be more prolific in my own writing.  He left me with much to think about as I plan for my future writing endeavors.

Both Hallman and Morris provided much food for thought.

I only hope and pray that I will be able to be alive and well still writing and still speaking about my work when I get to be both of their ages.

To God Be the Glory for the way he is using BOTH of these gentlemen!

82-Year-Old Novelist Talks About His 228 Books, Three Careers And E-Readers

How many people do you know have written 228 novels?

Gilbert Morris, author of God’s Warrior, has done just that in record time — 18 years and he’s STILL going strong.

He’s a pioneer of the genre known as inspirational fiction, which mixes romance, action and some Christian principles.

“I just write books like I would like to read, ” he told a small crowd who came to his booksigning Saturday at Tuscaloosa Public Library’s main branch on Jack Warner Parkway.

God’s Warrior

On this Memorial Day Weekend, Morris traveled from his home in Gulf Shores, Ala. to sign copies of one of his latest books, God’s Warrior, a story of a staff sergeant who wins the Silver Star in Afghanistan.

But her work on the battlefield is just part of the inspirational story of this character in Morris’ book.

Three Careers

The 82-year-old former pastor and English professor at Ouachita Baptist University talked about his three careers that spanned more than five decades.

On Readers and E-Readers in 2011

Along with God’s Warrior, Morris is also talking a lot about another recent book, The Crossing, which has been featured on the along with many of his other titles.

Unlike many authors, Morris is not quite ready to sign on the electronic book craze.  You won’t find him reading books on a Kindle or a Nook.    But, he does recognize the changes in his audience in 2011.

Full Gospel Baptist Fellowship Takes Social Media Approach to Promoting Its 2011 Conference

Full Gospel Baptist International Conference has posted a new Web site.

Full Gospel Conference Web Site

Just stumbled upon a new Web site for the Full Gospel Baptist Church Fellowship 2011 International Conference.

Looks like it’s been up for about a month.   I just saw a link to some components of it in an e-mail that I received as an attendee from previous years.

Having interacted with several Twitter followers during last year’s conference in Atlanta and posted here   about my experience at the 2010 conference,  I am excited to see this change.

It’s about time.

As we learned at the ChurchMediaU gathering back in March, the Church (big “C” ) has to utilize 21st century methods of reaching a 21st century generation.

Though many (perhaps most) churches don’t have them, static Web sites with a picture of your church, your pastor, and your service times are really an old strategy. That’s so 2000!

It’s 2011. Now, that Web site has to change, pop and connect with social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and YES, YouTube!

At my church, Cornerstone Full Gospel Baptist Church in Tuscaloosa, Ala. we’ve had a YouTube Channel since 2008 and it’s still the most effective means of outreach beyond our congregation.

Over the last almost three years, we’ve learned what types of videos are most likely to be of interest to that Web audience, and which ones are NOT likely to go over well.

Facebook would be next most effective.  But, I think  it’s primarily effective within our congregation, which dominates the friends and fans on our page.


I was NOT the biggest supporter of a church Facebook Group when it was initially proposed.

Thankfully, some of my fellow technology enthusiasts didn’t wait for me to give it my blessing.

Now, we’re using it to post sermon points and to communicate BREAKING NEWS such as the cancellation of a tornado benefit concert last Friday.

In the aftermath of the April 27th, the Facebook group has been an effective way to make calls for members’ to assist with our massive, multi-faceted effort to help those whose homes were damaged.


As we look to upgrade our own Web site in the next few months, some of the strategies of the Full Gospel Conference Web site are worthy of closer examination—  a blog, Twitter Account, RSS Feed (though, some have questioned whether this is quite as important as it used to be)

Still it looks like Full Gospel Baptist Fellowship may be “soft-launching” the new Web site as I saw materials for the 2011 conference on its old site as well.

There is a strong argument for having a microsite that is event-driven and is separate from your home page and Web site that is more associated with the organization and its structure and less about an event.

Service Learning Research Takes Spotlight Again in Indianapolis

Service Learning Research and Service Learning Program Evaluation are two different things, a key point mentioned at the IUPUI Research Academy, which is taking place this week here in Indianapolis.

INDIANAPOLIS– Six months after hosting the International Association for Research in Service Learning and Community Engagement (IARSLCE), Indianapolis is the place for yet another gathering on research in service learning– the IUPUI Research Academy that I’m attending this week.

Indiana University-Purdue University-Indianapolis is the home base for Bob Bringle, who literally wrote the book (several of them) on service learning research and who directs IUPUI’s Center for Service and Learning.  He and colleague, Julie Hatcher from the Center on Philanthropy have defined “service learning” in a way that so many scholars have cited for more than a decade.

Bob Bringle, director of IUPUI's Center for Service and Learning leads the IUPUI Research Academy.

For at least this week, “Bringle & Hatcher” are not just a citation in an academic research article.   They are mentors who are talking about ways to raise the quality and conceptualization of scholarship that has yet to be done on community-based partnerships and civic engagement.

The name “Patti Clayton” is so familiar to those of us who have read and cited service learning research in our own scholarship.

On Wednesday, Patti was speaking about how she as a qualitative researcher has done quantitative work as well.    Seeing her interact with Bob Bringle during our Research Academy has been great.

It has been amazing to sit at their feet for a few minutes and just hear them talk about the types of projects in which they’re involved.    And, we still have a full day with them today and a half-day tomorrow.

Last November’s IARSCLE Conference was a big part of the discussion on Wednesday as we talked about some of the research projects that were presented.   Most importantly, we as teacher-scholars in service learning were educated in a different way about how to “pitch” our own research to those assembling conference and convention programs.

You CAN do Homework Again

All this week we’ve been challenged to continue the learning on our own each night after our sessions with homework.  Even in developing my own research project, I had the opportunity dig through the stacks of the University Library here at IUPUI and locate references that relate to my project.

Wednesday’s homework where we read some excellent academic articles, some still in the writing and revision stage, really took me back to the my days as a Ph.D. student at The University of Georgia.

We had assigned readings and questions to tackle that made the readings relevant for our own research.

Program Evaluation vs. Research

The IUPUI Research Academy has only been going a half-day.  But, I’ve already been challenged to re-think the purpose of my own so-called “research.”

In their attempts to raise the quality, level and yes, profile of service learning research, the team here at IUPUI differentiates between projects that test theory and contribute to what’s known (Research) and those that are concerned primarily with the data and inferences from that data for a particular service learning or community engagement effort (program evaluation).

I think I may have been confusing these concepts even as I have tried to generate scholarship from my own service learning efforts.

We’ll be talking about this distinction a lot more today, the second day of the research academy and the fourth day of my trip to Indiana.