It’s not often that you look at a Twitter stream and think, “This is really Pulitzer material.” But if you happen to be looking at the Twitter accounts of the Tuscaloosa News and its reporting staff, that would actually be the case.
This week, Western Alabama’s Tuscaloosa News was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for breaking news reporting based on its coverage of the massive tornado outbreak that hit the region in late April 2011. The paper extensively covered the storm and its aftermath in its print and online versions, but that wasn’t all — its staff also used Twitter to report the latest on-the-ground details about the tornado, its damages, and rescue and cleanup efforts. And for the first time, the Pulitzer committee this year took tweets and other social media updates when awarding the breaking news prize.
Timing is everything when it comes to reporting, and in this case that was especially true. Just a few weeks before the storm hit, two young Tuscaloosa News staffers — web editor Brian Reynolds and reporter Wayne Grayson — had held a social media training class to encourage their coworkers to use things like Twitter. Not all of their colleagues were on board at the time, but once the tornado touched down the value of real-time social media became apparent to even the most skeptical Tuscaloosa News reporters — and fortunately, because of their recent training session they knew how to use it. So TechCrunch TV was happy to have the chance to talk to Reynolds and Grayson via Skype this week to learn more about their experience.
Watch the interview embedded above to hear about how some of Tuscaloosa’s old-school reporters first reacted to the idea of Twitter, what it was like covering the tornado and the devastation it left behind, how the Tuscaloosa News staff reacted after winning a prize that typically goes to the New York Times’ and Washington Posts of the world, and Reynolds’ and Grayson’s advice for encouraging others to adopt new social media tools.