Tweeting from the council chamber

Tonight was a first for me; I followed a council debate live from Dudley while snuggling in my bedroom listening to Elbow’s new album.

No, I wasn’t peering in to the council chamber with a telescope, in the style of James Stewart in Rear Window. I was following the debate through the medium of Twitter.

All I can say is that in the space of 12 Tweets I learned all I needed to ever know about the public sector cuts debate engaging the good folk of Dudley. It saved me attending myself (as if) but still made me feel intimately involved. I particularly liked the bit when the public gallery started chanting and the police had to be called to clear the chamber. All very exciting.

As it happens, I don’t even live in the district of Dudley but I do subscribe to the tweets of the Express & Star, a daily regional newspaper where I once plied my trade as a young reporter.

Someone there has clearly twigged the value of social networks in the battle to engage the hearts and minds of local people. It will be slow, and time-intensive – but I reckon this kind of initiative is the future.

We are used to reading reports from council meetings and courts and inquests and other venues where journalists are traditionally welcome to attend. In our new world of rolling 24/7 news, we can sometimes get those reports within minutes of the case or incident ending.

But being able to get an instant, regularly updated feed live as things unfold? That is powerful. That is really mind-blowing. Through Twitter, pictures can be uploaded, captions posted, precise and clear words written – and it is as if we are right there, while it’s happening.

It’s taken me a long time to “get” Twitter. I still don’t really get it, only because I mostly follow minor celebrities and comedians rather than people I know. I don’t want to network professionally, or engage with other PR people particularly; I’m not trying to market myself or my services or tout any wares. I’ve used it to find some good photography blogs and information sites, I follow a few fantastic record company and record shop sites that tip off about upcoming tours and that kind of thing, and I once asked someone for a print quote who I spotted on Twitter just as I was about to email someone else.

But for those people who do want to do networking, or to engage with like minded people on particular topics, then I get why Twitter matters. I get why more and more people are doing it.

For me the future of Twitter comes in sharing information in a way that is direct, unadulterated and interactive. Any Express & Star followers tonight would have been able to find out what was happening in a council chamber miles away, and then make an instant response if they were so inclined.

This type of information-sharing will soon be the norm. There are already several class and school tweeters, who post daily from the classroom about what the kids are up to. Court reporters are beginning to tweet from live cases.

I like that I could choose to “tune in” to these tweets, in much the same way we currently tune in to news shows or TV and radio programmes.

Thanks for twittering on tonight, whoever was behind those E&S Dudley tweets. Good job.

PS: That Elbow album – excellent by the way.

Oh, and if you are minded to follow my tweets (they are rare) then I’m @rockhousePR See you twitterers!

  1. Ahem. And how can we follow you on twitter if we do feel so inclined?

  2. Ahem. Blog duly edited. Well spotted. Cough.

  3. Love the “Rear Window” reference! I don’t understand Twitter, but am grateful for your explanation of something useful coming from it. I don’t even know how to “follow” someone on Twitter! But I definitely enjoyed reading about the town meeting, then the scuffle, then the police… Thanks for sharing!

    • toddnash
    • March 8th, 2011

    Hi there, I’m an Online Journalist for the E&S and look after all of the social media output for the paper.

    Firstly, thanks for writing this blog and I’m glad you enjoyed the live tweets. We’ve tried it before with things like the Black Country derby football match, but I think this worked particularly well because it was something that affected a lot of people, but that most wouldn’t have attended themselves. And it turned out to be quite a dramatic meeting – probably more so than we expected!

    Charlotte Cross was the reporter over in Dudley who had the idea to tweet the meeting and who went there with her phone to send in the live updates. She did a great job with regular updates and painted a good picture of what was happening. From there, it’s quite easy to bring them all together in an easy-to-read format for the website as we did.

    I’m quite keen on the idea and would like to see us do this type of reporting more often. A lot of people seemed to enjoy the live tweets last night so, hopefully, we’ll find more opportunities to do similar ideas.


    • Cheers Todd. I was interested in the mechanics of tweeting from a council meeting – I know there have been issues around tweeting from court, and I’d be interested to know what the councillors thought, and what coroners think of tweeting from an inquest (I’m guessing they would argue it was insensitive, but who knows?)I was a journalist for 10 years and trained at the Shropshire Star and E&S in the days (not that long ago, I’m talking 1990-2000) when recording phone interviews or using a dictaphone was viewed with suspicion…I love the possibilities and potential you have now. It just needs to be harnessed and used well, and I thought last night was a good example of it in action.

        • toddnash
        • March 8th, 2011

        Yes, there have been issues around tweeting from court, but a recent ruling means that you can now report live from the courtroom. Getting permission is at the judge’s discretion and done on a case-by-case basis.

        I’m not so sure about inquests – I’d expect that you’re right about the sensitivity of the case. I’d certainly be more cautious about doing so.

        But with council meetings like the one last night, it’s most certainly in the public interest. They even had a public gallery there (for a while at least!) so there wasn’t really anything to stop us doing so. I don’t know what the councillors though, but these days you get a lot of councillors on Twitter themselves as they see it as a good way to connect with the voters.

        There’s certainly a lot of potential these days – as you say, it needs to be harnassed and there will always be problems with resources etc… but we’re giving it a try and, as it was so successful, hopefully we’ll be doing more of them in the near future!

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