Craig Kanalley (@CKanal on Twitter) is the Huffington Post’s senior editor of traffic and trends. Before joining Huffington Post in late 2009, Craig launched and taught the nation’s first college class about Twitter.  Craig also interned at ChicagoNow and wrote for the Windy Citizen; we couldn’t be prouder of his successes. We recently spoke with Craig via email about how to use Twitter effectively during breaking news stories.

1. When did you first join Twitter and why?

I joined Twitter in Aug. 2008 amidst the heated presidential election. I was watching CNN and anchor Rick Sanchez explained that folks should “tweet” him. I had heard of Twitter before then and thought it was silly, but that night I was bored and decided to give it a try. My first tweet was about eating chicken fingers and watching CNN. Then, I sent Sanchez an @ reply. I had no idea what I was doing really, but just gave it a try and started experimenting.

2. If my memory serves me right, you attended President Obama’s inauguration and were inspired by the power of social media. What did you realize while attending the Inauguration?

That’s right! I attended both his Inauguration and the Grant Park rally he held in Nov. 2008, and I was in awe by the use of Twitter especially for both events. The first event I didn’t realize the magnitude of tweets until after it concluded and I caught up on all the tweets I missed during the event. The second one I live tweeted myself and was amazed by the attention that got, getting replies from Australia for instance, and how many others did the same.

3. Shortly after the inauguration you created Can you describe what breaking tweets was?

Yes. I was inspired by the events mentioned before and I wanted to start a website to aggregate Twitter reactions to major news events around the world. I sought reactions from where the news itself was taking place, so if a news event happened in Amsterdam, I looked for tweets about it in Amsterdam. It provided a very human element to the news and was most interesting when it involved eyewitness accounts.

4. What did Breaking Tweets teach you about collecting news via social media?

I learned several things. First of all, how you have to be extremely careful about the accuracy of reports on Twitter. You have to check the source all the time, find others who confirm the claim, and even in those cases still be skeptical because rumors can fly fast on Twitter. The velocity at which bad information can travel on Twitter (or other social networks like Facebook) is amazing, but similarly interesting is if you have the patience, the bad reports almost always correct themselves on social networks in time. I also learned that people often get really excited when you reach out to them on Twitter, hence the social side of this social medium.

5. You went on to create the first Twitter class taught at the college-level. What did you teach in that class?

Yes, it was an amazing experience and I’m thankful that DePaul University gave me the opportunity. The class was called Digital Editing and it focused on how to track news reports through the real-time Web, ways to verify such reports, the best ways to find them, curate them and present them. It was very hands-on and students learned by using social media themselves and writing up Web articles based on their research.

6. How can a college communication program integrate social media into its curriculum?
Just as news organizations are weaving social media into their daily work, it’s critical that college communication programs seamlessly integrate social media into all their classes. It’s nice to have separate social media classes, but in a perfect world, it becomes part of every class and the students will have experience working with social media that they can tout on their resumes and in job interviews.

7. In your opinion, how has the social media space evolved in the past two years? Where do you see social media headed next?
The most exciting part about social media is the speed at which it’s developed and grown and how it continues to evolve. Social media two years ago is different than social media today, and it’ll be different two years from now. The adoption of sites like Twitter and Facebook by all sorts of industries and the creative uses have grown exponentially, and there will likely be even more ways to use these sites and additional sites like them in the future. It’s fascinating to watch the space evolve and for anyone interested in it, I’d recommend tracking developments by reading up on the latest social media news at every opportunity.

8. Because of your role at Huffington Post, you need to stay on top of the news more than anyone. What are your must-read websites?
Twitter. It may sound silly, but the way I have my lists set up, searches, TweetDeck columns, and so on, I don’t have to chase the news as much; the news comes to me. If you have carefully curated groupings based on your interests, any one can do the same. Of course it’s like RSS of old but with a personal touch; the human side of Twitter, conversations and personalization are what make it so attractive. There are some other sites I’ll check out, but the vast majority of news comes to me through Twitter.

9. How do you disconnect and recharge yourself?
It’s tough and I need to get better at it, frankly! Everyone needs to do it and it’s so important to live a healthy, balanced life to turn those phones off and spend some time away from the computer. I do enjoy going for walks, running, watching movies, and playing on the iPad (turning WiFi off first), all of which I disconnect for a bit. I also like to read but have trouble making time to do so! Have to work on that.

10. Finally, what do you say to the critics who say Twitter is just for people who talk about what they had for breakfast?
Of course it’s not! Maybe a few years ago, and as I said earlier, I started using Twitter myself by proclaiming to (well, nobody at the time, no followers) that I was eating chicken fingers! If you look at the most creative, interesting Twitter feeds though, it’s clearly evolved into a much more mature ecosystem. You just have to hunt for those accounts related to the niches you’re interested in. They’re out there, sometimes tough to find, but when you find them, you’ll likely never see a single reference to food (unless a niche you’re interested in is food itself).

Every Wednesday, we’ll post an interview with a leading social media icon. Last week we featured @JayRosen_NYU. Have someone to suggest? Let us know via twitter @435digital.