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Tom Meagher

News nerd.

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Diving headfirst into the social media deep end

A few months ago, I was laid up for a few days recovering from knee surgery. I spent most of the time lounging on the sofa and watching European soccer games on ESPN3.com. But I also stumbled upon a great series of podcasts that walked me through how and why journalists should bushwhack into the social media frontier.

The programs, essentially a series of lo-fi internet radio call-in shows, were hosted by Sree Sreenivasan, dean of student affairs at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. Like everyone else on the planet, I had been dabbling in Facebook, and I had heard a lot about Twitter but didn’t understand how to use either very well, particularly as a journalist.

So I charged through Sree’s programs (mostly using Google’s excellent Listen app on my Android phone). The most helpful were the episodes on Basic Twitter and Facebook for journalists. They gave some practical, but simple background on each service and shared advice from other working professionals. It was enough to make me feel comfortable experimenting.

Then I went to pick up more of the episodes, which covered topics like launching your own media company, using Google Docs in reporting and what exactly are we supposed to do with LinkedIn?

The audio quality wasn’t crystal clear, but the medium was simple and straightforward. Before finding these, I was addicted to my RSS feeds, checking each one religiously throughout the work day. I now can go three or four days without even remembering to open Google Reader.

Instead, with Twitter I have this incredible, if sometimes overwhelming, stream of information coming at me in (often) clever, funny snippets. And with its open, collaborative nature, it’s far more likely that I’ll be turned on to new, engaging news sources and writers than I ever would find by reading hundreds of individual blogs. I’ve found about a hundred writers covering media issues, food, beer, film, television and soccer to follow on Twitter and to keep me abreast of the news and ideas of the day. Particularly for a news junkie, it’s a great advance.

As I’ve gotten more comfortable with the service, I’ve experimented with a couple of Twitter management programs that help me more easily handle the onslaught of information. Seesmic has a half-decent app for Android phones, but I’ve settled on using Hootsuite (also on Sree’s advice). It’s got a great web interface that allows you to manage not only Twitter, but also LinkedIn, Facebook and Myspace accounts, and its Android app is easy and attractive.

If you’re curious about this whole Twitter phenomenon in particular, I’d recommend checking out Sree’s podcasts and then peruse his exhaustive Twitter guide for skeptics and newbies. If you decide to sign up (or if you’re already there), let me know so that I can start following your work too.

Leave a comment below or follow me on Twitter @ultracasual and tell me what tools you’ve found useful in navigating the social mediasphere.