I admit it — I can be a curmudgeon sometimes.
I’m rarely the first to jump on a technological bandwagon. I didn’t own a CD player until 1995, nor a DVD player until 2002. I didn’t register a Twitter account until June 1, 2009, after one of the school districts I cover started using it to distribute information, and I didn’t make a single post of my own until July 27.
Here are a few of the reasons I dismissed Twitter at first — and a few of the things that changed my mind.
REASONS I DISMISSED IT
1. The name. No, this wasn’t a big factor, but it probably didn’t help that “Twitter” sounds less like a serious communication tool and more like a group of sixth-grade girls giggling in a hallway.
2. The initial concept: that people would use Twitter to answer one question — “What are you doing?”
“Look,” I said. “If what I’m doing right this instant is even remotely interesting, I’m going to be doing it, not ‘tweeting’ about it. Therefore, by definition, anything I ‘tweet’ about will be dull.”
Or, expressed in pictures:
3. Seeing it misused. I think the first time I saw Twitter used in a news context was one afternoon in the newsroom, catching bits of a CNN newscast out of the corner of my eye. Rick Sanchez was covering a plane crash, and underneath the heading “OMG! PLANE CRASH” was a scroll featuring such insightful commentary as “I once twittered from a Bon Jovi concert” and “I once twittered from the shower.”
Rick Sanchez on CNN might be the most egregious offender. As someone always balancing the fine line between being an adventurous news professional and circus geek (“Okay, Taser me!!”), Sanchez has breathlessly turned his daily broadcast into a clearinghouse of meaningless shorthand, from his desk at Twit Central.
“Let’s go to our Facebook page and see what they’re Twittering on MySpace. Here’s what FlannelGuy21 says about our story on Iraqi military strategy- ‘Rick, the Iraqis can’t control their own country.’ Interesting thought, FlannelGuy21. And ChiChiChi in Elko sent this about our story last hour on Octomom – ‘Rick, she needs a lobotomy.’”
… When I’m watching the news, I don’t care what the viewers have to say.
If I wanted to hear what others have to say when I’m watching the news, I’d call up my friend Myles Berkowitz and listen to him yell at his TV screen.
And before anyone gets up in arms thinking that’s elitist – if I sent my own 140-character Twitter comment into a news show, no one should care about my “Tweet” either.
… When I watch a situation comedy, I don’t want it interrupted every few minutes with “Great joke! – CarpetBlogger186″ scrolling by. I expect no less from a newscast.
THINGS THAT CHANGED MY MIND
1. A post from one of my favorite bloggers. In this post from July 27, 2009, Doug Fisher took a writer in the Chronicle of Higher Education to task for complaining that 140 characters isn’t enough to convey more than the bare basics of a story:
Why do we have so much trouble getting our heads around the idea that you use the best tool for the job you need to do? If you want a hole, use a drill, not a screwdriver. Other businesses get it. Why do journalists continue to cling to the idea that all they have is a screwdriver? The problem with that, of course, to continue the metaphor, is that when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Thus, to too many journalists, everything has to look like a “story,” instead of acknowledging that much of what they do is not story but factual exposition, and maybe if they stripped those factual expositions down, they’d actually have time to do stories — you know, those things that people really do like to read, with natural, not forced, beginnings, middles and ends, and usually with some kind of complication and resolution that gives insight to the human condition or is just a “good read.”
… And, no, a news article can’t be crafted in 140 characters because it is not a news article! It is a Tweet. Nothing more, nothing less. A basic version of the facts. Stop confounding the two.
In other words: Complaining that a 140-character tweet can’t possibly convey a situation in all of its complexity is like complaining that a photograph can’t do the same thing. Sure, a photo can’t explain the city budget or analyze competing claims in a political campaign. But do you completely dismiss photography as a worthwhile medium because of it?
2. Actually starting to use the service — and realizing what people are doing with it. I haven’t found that many people who tweet about every mundane minute of their lives, and while I’m sure they’re out there … I don’t have to follow them.
I’m pretty selective about who I follow. If I look at someone’s feed and see page after page of tweets about their cornflakes, I’m not going to follow them. As a result, most mornings, I can go to TweetDeck, check everything that’s been posted since the last time I looked, and probably find at least a few links of interest.
3. Getting good story leads. Like this story, which I first read about on the @adrianmaples feed. Or the time a few weeks ago when a fatal accident happened during one of the rare periods when our newsroom is unstaffed, and the only reason I found out about before Monday morning was that I had a TweetDeck search constantly running for the word “Lenawee.”
Hearing about things via Twitter before I hear them through any other medium … for a reporter, that’s a clincher.
- “News for Twits,” by Robert J. Elisberg. Huffington Post, March 17, 2009.
- “Twitter – angst over ‘is it journalism’,” by Doug Fisher, Common Sense Journalism, July 27, 2009.