Now that I'm officially out of college, I'm getting in touch with all my past and present editors and offering up my services as a writer-with-a-car to anyone who'll have me. But when the freelance budget is bupkis, there's got to be other ways to contribute. An editor told me he couldn't use me on the writing front for the section he's controlling, but asked if I knew of any ways to "mine the Internet for content" that he might not have thought of.
Well, when in doubt, I turn to people who know more than I do. And lately, I've discovered that the "collective" is often the best source.
My response was to Twitter-search each of the towns. Yeah, it sounds dumb, but hear me out - you're not using the tweets themselves as sources, obviously you can't do that with unconfirmable identities and the easy potential for bad information. But you can see very quickly what people are talking about in respect to a given town.
For example, one town in question had a short tweet about termites. Well, looking at the tweeter's website indicated he was a pest control service provider, so he clearly has a vested interest in increased interest in termites in that town. That said, the simple fact that it's being mentioned merits a call to town officials to see if there has, in fact, been a spike in the number of termites in the town. And if there is - bang. Story.
I'm looking at Twitter for journalists the same way I look at Wikipedia for research papers - you can't use it as a primary source, but you can absolutely use it as a listing of primary sources or an idea well.