Friday, May 17, 2013

Mining for Sources on Twitter

My soon-to-be-10-year-old son is part of the worldwide craze for the game, "Minecraft." The objective is to survive the "night" against zombies and horrific creatures called, "creepers." But because it requires the players to build their own homes and fortresses, it has a side benefit: My kid now has an interest in gems and mining. In fact, he leap-frogged from his Minecraft adventures into research for a school science report on the world's minerals.

As I watched his block-headed character navigate the imaginary Minecraft landscape, I got to thinking about my own guilty pleasure -- Twitter. And just like Minecraft led my child from zombies to a science project, Twitter has led me from inane chatter to mining for the best sources for my magazine articles.

If you're not on Twitter or don't understand how it works, here's a quick tutorial: You "follow" people with similar interests to yours. In my case, my following list is pretty diverse. I talk to parents about Asperger's Syndrome. I talk to lovers of books and films. I talk to people who are interested in outerspace and NASA. I talk to people who live in the United Kingdom, because I'm fascinated with that particular country and culture. I find fans of the Pittsburgh Steelers and tweet while I watch football games. I talk to fitness experts about my gym workouts. I even practice my French by tweeting Bible verses in French to a Spanish-speaking person who is also practicing his French.

It runs the gamut.

But, I also tweet about magazine stories that are on my plate.

Recently, because I also have an interest in etiquette, I started talking to an etiquette coach. She saw me chatting about my magazine articles and offered her expertise as a story source. This morning, I pitched an editor based on one of our chats ... and now I have an assignment lined up for a November issue, with permission to interview this lady.

I also chat with a boxing coach out of Australia. This week, I'm researching fitness magazine markets and also thinking outside of the box -- finding other niche audiences and trade magazines that would benefit from this boxing coach's advice. I plan on sending about three dozen ideas out by Monday.

When you market your freelance business, realize the potential that social media holds. If you are a journalist, then your nature is to be curious and to be observant. I get ideas when I'm in the grocery store, when I'm at the gym, when I'm taking my dog to the groomer, when I'm picking my kid up from school.

But a lot of GREAT ideas ... are also on Twitter. And so are a lot of great people. Yes, you have to be careful about who you choose as an "expert" source, but nowadays with the Internet, it's easy to check someone's credentials and vet them before you pitch an idea.

If you need help navigating Twitter and have questions, feel free to post them here -- or find me on Twitter at and talk to me there in real time. Yes, the user name has nothing to do with my profession -- "Mr. Thornton" is a character in a 19th century British novel. And you'll see on my profile page that I'm not talking a great deal about my work or my stories. But I'm constantly talking to people about ideas.

And with those ideas come a long list of potential sources ... and future income.