What does it take to live tweet for 13 hours straight? A strong sense of public service, an online audience urging you on, a cellphone charger and a sense of humour. Luckily, Toronto Sun reporter Shawn Jeffords has all of the above.
On Thursday (and well into Friday morning) Jeffords tweeted a 13-hour Ontario Labour Relations Board hearing into whether a planned walkout by the province’s 76,000 elementary school teachers’ was legal and should be allowed to go ahead. He was one of a handful of media who stuck it out overnight and was one of the only ones to tweet consistently for the duration. And he was rewarded. Not only did Jeffords successfully document what happened – his tweets captured by a live blog on the Toronto Sun’s website – he gained more than 1,300 followers and received tons of accolades from grateful parents and school boards for keeping them informed.
In all, he tweeted about 140 times during the meeting and has been mentioned another 310 times (including RTs) over the last two days.
I caught up with Shawn this morning to talk about what it took to make it through the night and keep tweeting.
(Full disclosure: I’ve known Shawn for 12 years. We went to J-school together and he worked for me at the St. Catharines Standard. I consider him a friend and a colleague)
What sustained him? Jeffords said his tweets went sorta viral, with parents sharing and re-tweeting his updates. Soon, many people started following him and asking questions/offering comments. He said it was the energy of his online community that kept him going. “It was really important to them. They really wanted to know the outcome of the hearing.” As the hours ticked on, Jeffords said he was too invested in the hearing himself and couldn’t stop the live updates.
His biggest challenge? Accurately tweeting very complex legal arguments in 140 characters, Jeffords said. “I didn’t want to misinterpret what was said.” The arguments went in circles and trying to find information that was meaningful was sometimes difficult, he said. To stay neutral, Jeffords avoided retweeting or responding to overly political or offensive comments on the divisive issue. Fatigue was also a challenge, Jeffords said. “Towards the end, my tweets were a little more spaced as I became more spaced out.”
Pro tip: Bring a charger. Jeffords was one of the few reporters there with a BlackBerry charger and ended up sharing it.
What did he do in his downtime? Had a bit of fun. He re-tweeted the best and funniest tweets aimed his way and showed off his personality.
The pay off? People were appreciative – hardly any trolls. “You tend to think of the Internet as people being mean and negative, and sometimes they are, but not in this case. You’ve got to acknowledge that.”
How is he going to keep his new followers? He plans on thanking his followers and acknowledging their dedication to his live tweets.
What Jeffords did right in my view: He followed the key Twitter tenets: Tweet your beat, use a hashtag, respond to people that mention you, tweet in bursts.