CBS Correspondent David Begnaud’s Tweets: 34 Days After Hurricane Maria

For Puerto Ricans living in the mainland or in the island, CBS News Correspondent David Begnaud has become a household name. Only a few journalists covered Hurricane Maria’s devastation a few hours after the storm swept through Puerto Rico on September 20, 2017. And Begnaud’s reporting helped many people around the world appreciate the magnitude of the destruction and the unfolding humanitarian crisis. 

What has made Begnaud’s style of journalism different from his colleagues? On top of his news stories for CBS News, Begnaud has used to great effect his Twitter and Facebook accounts to explain the island’s challenges. Many of his tweets or posts include video interviews of federal and Puerto Rican officials shot with his iPhone and photos of the island’s devastation. 

An article on Begnaud’s work, published in The Daily Advertiser, notes that his “Facebook page jumped from 10,000 followers to 315,000 followers in just under one month.” Similarly, on September 1, 2017, Begnaud had around 10,400 Twitter followers, growing to over 75,000 followers this week. In addition, Google Trends data show that during this time period Google users in the United States became more interested in his reporting as well.

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In this post, I want to conduct a quick analysis of Begnaud’s Twitter activity. Using TwitteR, a package created by Jeff Gentry for the R programming language, I downloaded his tweets from September 19 to October 24, 2017, totaling 413 tweets.

The graph below shows how many tweets Begnaud has posted per day.

chart (36)

In Twitter, users can interact with others users in three different ways. They can respond to a particular tweet by making a comment, they can “reTweet” a tweet or they can “favorite” it. For a journalist, reTweets are a valuable commodity as users who reTweet a tweet are sharing this tweet with their followers. Thus, reTweets help tweets go viral.

The graph below shows a timeline of all the “favorites” Begnaud’s tweets earned during the time period.

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Two tweets standout. On September 26, he posted the following tweet, which was favorited 34,933 times: “About 44% of the population in Puerto Rico is without drinking water, according to the Department of Defense. It’s 90 degrees today.

A day later he tweeted: “Maddening. 3,000 shipping containers packed with food water & medicene [sic] have been sitting at the port in Puerto Rico since Saturday. This post was favorited 36,142 times.

The next graph help us visualize all the reTweets.

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Not surprisingly, the most reTweeted tweets are also the most “favorited” . The tweet of September 27, 2017 was covered by other media outlets around the world. On this day, Begnaud had 21,700 followers. By October 4, after President Trump’s visit to Puerto Rico, he had 49,800 followers.

Begnaud’s reporting has covered many issues, such as FEMA’s and the Puerto Rican government’s efforts to restore power and water to the island’s residents. He has also reported on Puerto Ricans’ frustrations gaining access to the USNS Comfort, the U.S. Navy’s hospital ship which has been docked in San Juan harbor since on October 3, 2017. Begnaud’s tweets have also made references to Governor Ricardo Rossello, San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz and President Trump. The following pie chart helps us visualize the total amount of tweets that mention each topic or individual. 

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How are Begnaud’s tweets different from his Facebook’s posts? I will conduct this analysis at later date. But for now it is worth noting that his use of Twitter as a journalism tool has helped him raise awareness of Puerto Rico’s recovery efforts. His tweets and Facebook posts have helped government officials understand Puerto Ricans’ frustrations. Begnaud has also been able to use these social media platforms to make the decision-making process more transparent and to hold accountable federal and Puerto Rican government officials for their post-Maria recovery strategies. It is no wonder that so many people in and outside the island have started online petitions asking for Begnaud to be considered for an Emmy or a Pulitzer for his reporting.

Are you familiar with Begnaud’s reporting? What do you think of his work? Feel free to share your views.

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