Interview with Garance Franke-Ruta of The Atlantic

Garance Franke-Ruta has been a Senior Editor at The Atlantic since Monday, where she manages online politics coverage and the politics news channel. 

She was previously a Who Runs Gov blogger and the national web politics editor at The Washington Post, where she edited and produced the 2008 presidential campaign blog “The Trail” and later oversaw the “44” blog about the Obama presidency and Washington politics, and worked on a variety of online politics and breaking news projects as a reporter, editor and curator. 

Her work has also appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Monthly, The Washington City Paper, The New Republic, The American Prospect, Salon, Legal Affairs and the Atlantic Media Company’s National Journal, where she began her career in journalism as a cub reporter in 1997 (using a landline, Netscape, and a fax machine, natch). 

Garance graduated magna cum laude from Harvard in 1997, and returned in 2006 as a Shorenstein Fellow at the Kennedy School. 

She has been blogging since 2003, and has written for The American Prospect’s “Tapped,” the American Independent News Network’s “Iowa Independent,” her own “TheGarance” blog, and The Washington Post’s “The Trail,” “44,” “Politerati” and “Live Coverage” blogs. 

 

When did you start using Twitter? 

I signed up for Twitter a while ago – the summer of 2007 – but didn’t start using it daily until after I uploaded TwitterBerry (now OpenBeak) on my BlackBerry two years later and discovered Twitter was the perfect thing to keep a gal up to date and entertained during the interstitial moments of the day.

Sometime in 2010 I decided I wanted to tweet more, too, so I started doing that. I missed the freedom and voice of blogging for fun and I found that tweeting allowed me to be part of a conversation, part of a community, and part of the public sphere in much the same way blogging once did.

 

Do you use other social media to connect with readers?

Not really. I only accept Facebook friend requests from people I actually know in real life or who are broadly part of my professional circle, if I don’t know them. That means no random friendings of strange men located in Turkey or Tajikistan, even if they do read me – which I doubt! I do sometimes post my stories to Facebook, but that’s more just social sharing than intentional reader engagement. 

As well, there are a couple of people who started in 2007 as commenters on my personal blog, the now-defunct TheGarance.com, with whom I still e-mail occasionally, and whose tips I continue to appreciate. 

But Twitter for me has really become the main vehicle for reader engagement.

 

Do you have separate Twitter identities for your personal and professional activities?  If you have just one Twitter ID, roughly what proportion of your tweets each day are related to your beat, and what proportion are personal/fun/quirky? 

I only have one Twitter handle – @thegarance – and I use it to tweet political and media news, local news, and the occasional cultural observation or Twitpic. I don’t do much, if any, confessional tweeting, or even much documenting of my life as it unfolds. In general I don’t think people need to know – or are interested in knowing! – where I am or what I’m doing at any given moment, though I’ve also observed that tweeting public thanks for being invited to something is increasingly a social norm in DC. 

I use Twitter lists to maintain feeds on DC happenings and the foodie scene, as well as international and national security topics. My main feed is largely about politics and new media.

 

Does your news organization have a social media policy or formal guidelines about what you can and can’t do on Twitter? 

Um, let me check the new employee handbook…. The answer is yes, though it is only a couple of grafs long.

 

If you write a regular column or produce a podcast, do you announce each release on Twitter with a link? 

No. I know lots of people tweet everything they write, but I don’t want my Twitter feed to ever feel like an RSS, so I only tweet selected items.

 

Do you announce your exclusives with a link? Do you re-tweet exclusives by colleagues at your news org? 

Yes, absolutely. I do a lot of collegial tweeting and have been a huge re-tweeter of interesting stories by my co-workers.

 

Have you ever used Twitter to break a story before you had a version to link to? 

Yes, many times. And because so many other political reporters also do this, Twitter in DC is usually ahead of the wires and the e-mail alerts or text messages news organizations send out, making a well-curated feed essential reading for following breaking political news.

 

Has there been an example of a story recently that you know you have covered differently because of Twitter? 

God, there have been so many. My first real use of Twitter for a story was during the Republican National Convention in 2008, when someone I was following on Facebook tweeted about something that had just happened outside the convention center. I got the notice from her via a pop-up from a Facebook add-on for Firefox, since she had her Twitter and Facebook accounts linked. I was then able to reach out to a reporter near the scene, who filed by email, which I then edited and posted online via Movable Type, before sending the link to the homepage. 

The whole process from tweet to Washington Post home page took under 47 minutes. I thought that was pretty cool at the time, though nowadays that sort of news flow happens much, much more quickly. 

These days I use Twitter as a breaking-news feed. I’ve found that if you follow all the print and TV reporters on relevant beats, plus selected sources and bloggers and commentators, you can pretty much watch the news unfold in real time. Also, when it comes to things like White House briefings or presidential speeches, you know exactly what the moment that is going to pop will be, because it’s the quote everyone tweets moments after it’s said, then instantly starts chattering about. 

Plus all the networks and Sunday shows and late night political chat shows tweet out links to their latest hot clips, so a well-curated feed can let you watch the most interesting moments the instant they become available to the Web.

 

And has there been a story that you have advanced or amended the same day because of reader feedback on Twitter? 

Yes to this one, too, and many times. Most recently and before I even started at The Atlantic, I linked to a story published here, and one of my tweeps tweeted back a comment that led us to make a change to it. 

Twitter is also invaluable when it comes to live writing on rapidly evolving stories or doing write-thrus, because it makes it easy to keep up with the latest and get links and information from a wide array of outlets and individuals in real time. 

It is also vital for when you are doing aggregation on a major breaking international or local story.

 

For journalists, what do you think are the most beneficial aspects of being on Twitter? 

Twitter is amazing as a breaking news tool. 

I think that it’s a wonderful conversational tool and a fun reader engagement tool, and also great for sending links out into the world. 

But its real unique value added has been the role it can play in the breaking news environment. 

I relied heavily on Twitter when I was blogging the Haiti earthquake for The Post in conjunction with Liz Heron, then of the Foreign desk (now of the New York Times), for example. That first day few American papers yet had boots on the ground on in Haiti, though reporters moved to get there as soon as they could, and so curating user-generated content from the scene became a part of the coverage stream for the major newspapers covering the story. 

The way The New York Times, the Washington Post and the Huffington Post used Twitter to curate video and other user-generated content from Iran during the protests there is another example of the extraordinary way that Twitter has provided a medium for people experiencing a news event to document it – and for people writing about it in this country to find their documentation without there ever having been a pre-existing connection between them. 

The intermediary functionality here is search via the hashtag, which allows reporters and blogger-curators in one nation to find news updates from another. The messaging component is also key in that it allows direct communication with these sources overseas and the creation of more formal relationships that open up the possibility of fact-checking, elaboration and the use of more traditional reporting tools, such as the phone or e-mail, to follow up. 

Local reporters have also used Twitter to great effect, as when covering the shooting at Discovery Communications in the DC area.

 

Finally, who are two or three of the most entertaining / informative people – not necessarily other journalists – that you follow? 

Of course everyone loves @pourmecoffee. And I was thrilled to get to meet him when he came by The Post offices one day, courtesy of Karen Tumulty. 

@benpolitico is as prolific, wide-ranging, and interesting a tweeter as he is a blogger. 

And I’m really enjoying what my new colleague @alexismadrigal turns up every day.

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