Live-tweeting TV news: Q&A with KCAL9’s Melanie Woodrow

Monday, 18 November 2013

Melanie Woodrow (@MelanieWoodrow), a journalist for KCAL9 in LA, live-tweeted the November 5 airing of her investigation on human trafficking. As a result, she opened up a public dialogue on a serious issue, and in the process, gained 11x her daily average of new followers, according to Twitter data. We asked her how things went, and why she used Twitter to supplement her on-air piece.

Where did you get the idea to live-tweet the piece?

I follow @DatelineNBCProd and Lisa Ling (@lisaling), executive producer and host of Our America on OWN. I had seen them live-tweet during long-form investigations. I wanted to encourage people to watch the story and talk about human trafficking. I ran the idea by my news director and managers, and they were game to let me give it a try.

Why did you decide to live-tweet for this particular story?

I’m invested in each piece, but I found myself talking about this one so much more. I thought viewers might feel the same way, especially if the topic was new to them or challenged any preconceived notions they had about human trafficking. I wanted to create a space for viewers to ask questions and talk about the issue as well as possible solutions.

Which accounts helped out with retweeting and promoting the event?

A few followers retweeted my Tweets. The real key was having KCAL9 (@CBSLA) retweet me. During the day, I promoted that I would be live-tweeting.

The station was already tweeting promos for the piece. In addition, they retweeted me. By the time the piece was set to run, a number of people said they would join the conversation.

What was the process of live-tweeting, and what were your goals or expectations going in?

I definitely did quite a bit of thinking about this that day. I did not know what to expect at all! Ten minutes before the piece aired, I got going! Here’s how I began around 10:20 p.m.:

Since I didn’t know what to expect or if people would be nervous to jump in, I had some nuggets of information I was ready to tweet to get the conversation going.

I also kept my investigation script handy and posed a few questions and personal insights as the piece aired.

You mentioned that you got story tips that furthered your reporting. How did that happen?

This was totally unexpected and so welcomed! I had three amazing instances of this. The first happened the morning the piece aired. L.A. County Supervisor @DonKnabe caught one of the @CBSLA Retweets and followed and tweeted me to tell me this was a topic he was passionate about and about some initiatives here in L.A. County. I asked him if he would watch the piece and join the conversation afterwards. He did.

His Tweets are sprinkled throughout and added so much to the dialogue. It gave viewers and myself a chance to ask a local leader, “Are we doing enough, and can we do more?”

The second instance was that through LA County Supervisor Don Knabe’s participation, I learned that the County was holding its 22nd annual Empowerment Conference for sex trafficking victims two days after the piece aired.

The third instance was probably the most surprising of all. A viewer candidly disclosed that he had previously been a driver for an escort service where the girls were prostitutes. He answered all of my questions on Twitter and when I had a few that he did not want to publicly disclose, we took our conversation offline. I now have several new angles to explore from the above.

It was my intention to promote the piece and to create a space for dialogue and solutions, but the results were beyond what I’d even hoped to accomplish. I was thrilled!

Do you know of other innovative uses of Twitter? Write to [email protected].