Tweets are for twits? Hard to say.

Someone Facebooked a link to a guy who says Twitter is the wave of the future that will save us all (click) so every journalist on the planet better get with the program and because it was written by someone who said anyone who thinks Twitter ISN’T the wave of the future was a jerk and old fart and curmudgeon, I took issue.

Not that I don’t think Twitter has a future somewhere, or that I’m not a curmudgeon. It is my great pleasure to be grumpy about just about everything. But Twitter is a tool, one of many being touted these days. Being pragmatic, I’m happy to take a look.

I was mostly offended by the original piece’s patronizing tone, and said so. You don’t convert old and experienced people to the new ways by saying they’re dumb if they don’t see the wisdom of your sales pitch. Old and experienced people, by definition, have seen more than their share of such pitches and are a lot better at weeding out the dreck than most less old and less experienced people give them credit for.

There was a lot of back and forth, and who can say? If I could predict the future I’d have made a killing on Iomega stock before it tanked, or AOL before it tanked, or WebTV before it tanked, or something. Anything. Anyone here still use a Palm Pilot? I see US Robotics still makes — wow — dial-up modems.

All the backs and forths are fun to read. Mine are by some jerk named Charlie. Feel free to weigh in and dump, everyone else certainly does.

And feel free to follow my tweets @ctrentelman. I always thought roland hedley’s “underwear bunching. thoughts?” was as good as that medium gets, but that’s me being a curmudgeon.

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42 Responses to Tweets are for twits? Hard to say.

  1. Mark Shenefelt says:

    The biggest problem is the patronizing and the condescending — on both sides, on all sides. If you find a tool you like, use it, and recommend it to others. Usually anything more is just hot air.

    I use Twitter. I like it, and I recommend it. It’s a useful headline service, if nothing else, if you take the time to build your incoming stream by following interesting sources.

    Personally, I’m less annoyed by the aggressive evangelizing than I am by people who sniff and smirk and tell me I’m wasting my time with it — especially by those who haven’t even tried it or have not invested a little time to figure out how it works best.

    • Bob Becker says:

      “if you take the time to build your incoming stream by following interesting sources.”

      What’s that mean when it’s at home and speaking ordinary-people English?

      • Mark Shenefelt says:

        Bob, trying to put it with more clarity: You like a columnist, a letter writer, an author, a sports star, a comedian, a network, you “follow” their tweets. Those tweets show up in your main list of tweets. Those tweets often contain hyperlinks to their columns, etc. Over time I’ve built a list of 500 twitter accounts I follow in this way. It’s a news junkie’s dream.

        In turn, I send updates about stories, blog posts, which then show up to people who follow me.

        But you have to get in there and do it yourself, and a comfort level often can take effort.

  2. Steve Buttry says:

    Thanks for the link, Charlie, and for your thoughtful contributions to the discussion on my blog. I

    recognize that your characterization of my blog was intended to be your interpretation, with some hyperbole that was probably intentional, not an accurate summary. To be clear to any of your blog readers who don’t actually click the link and read my blog: I didn’t say at all what you have attributed to me here. I addressed a question someone else had asked on my blog. I listed several reasons people might have for resisting Twitter and suggested approaches for helping them understand the value for reporters and helping them overcome fears or concerns. I said we need to cut some slack to people who are mastering other digital tools. And I said some people’s excellence at traditional journalism skills may excuse slow adoption of new tools. The last three paragraphs, if not exactly what you related here, were pretty dismissive of people who “have made a career choice to hang their future on nostalgia and wishful thinking.” I said I won’t waste my time trying to “convert” them to using Twitter, which was the question that had prompted the blog post.

    Also, since I presume most of your audience is from Utah, I should noted that I lived in Sunset for five years (1960-65), when my father was stationed at Hill Air Force Base.

    Thanks for joining the discussion, Charlie. And be glad you don’t work in Reno, where Twitter was valuable in reporting on the air show crash last week. (You can read more about that on my blog and Carl Lavin’s.)

    • Owain says:

      Don’t feel bad, Steve. Charles is that way with pretty much everyone. The ability to render accurate summaries are not among his strong points.

      • Mark Shenefelt says:

        And this gratuitous cheap shot is useful in what way?

        • Owain says:

          Is it a cheap shot if the analysis is accurate?

          As Steve notes, Charles is prone to inaccurate hyperbole, a finding that I second. If one wishes to be known for other than inaccurate hypebole, perhaps it’s best to avoid employing innaccurate hyperbole.

          Finally, the observation is useful if only to serve as a warning to new readers.

        • Owain says:

          Yes there is, Charles. It’s a small sample size, but in this case, it seems that Steve and I are in agreement that this is not a case of accurate hyperbole.

          If I read her correctly, Anna, below, is in agreement as well, but she is just more polite in how she goes about telling you that you are wrong.

  3. Charles Trentelman says:

    Links to those blogs?

    I can think of many reasons I don’t want to work in Reno, but Twitter is not one of them.

    If I HAD been there, I’d have been out at the airfield collecting column material and talking to people for sidebars for the paper, not reading Tweets. Twitter is one tool for news tips. If I weren’t using that, I’d be using others. Never been to a disaster yet where there wasn’t a shortage of news easily found.

    Once back in the newsroom, that’s when you turn on twitter and check to see what else is around…or facebook, or whatever.

  4. Steve Buttry says:

    Here are the links, Charlie:
    http://stevebuttry.wordpress.com/2011/09/19/carl-lavin-studies-twitter-use-in-covering-reno-air-crash/
    http://indianhillmediaworks.typepad.com/07newsroom/2011/09/lessons-from-reno-time-for-a-disaster-drill.html

    I bet I’ve covered more disasters than you have — both on the scene and catching up after the fact or by long distance. I use every tool I can and Twitter is the most valuable tool I’ve seen in my 40-year career for journalists covering breaking news. Even journalists on the scene (where access is limited and the crowd is scattering).

  5. GDigital says:

    The real truth is, and you can row upstream all you want on this Charlie, to be a good journalist in the present you need to be using Twitter. Any journalist not using Twitter, who doesn’t understand content cultivation, or why these two are absolute musts in today’s day and age, well frankly, you need to step off the podium and make room for someone who has taken then time to adapt. Anything you report to me through your old methods was already newsworthy, read and digested 24 hours ago by a whole other audience who does it better, more efficiently, and without any costs or hassles of print.

    You absolutely, positively cannot be a good, responsible journalist these days if you fail to understand these mediums. It’s a lot more than just a headline crawl and to relate it as such demonstrates your lack of understanding. Twitter is the most prevalent, and if you’re not there, you’re just showing your daftness and being stubborn. There’s no other way to look at it regardless of the amount of kicking and screaming you do on the way to the corner that your dwindling audience is going to send you.

    The truth hurts but the gray ones need to realize when something truly is the new norm. It might be something new next week, but this is where it is now, get used to it.

    • ctrentelman says:

      i am fascinated at the lecturing “I know best” patronizing tone of gdigital’s and mr. Buttry’s posts — did you not read MY posts. Must you be COMPLETELY right? Do you see NO halfway point in this discussion. The religious ferver is amazing here — we might as well be discussing Macs and PCs.

      Gdigital, you say anything I report to you in the paper is old and digested…good for you. But guess what? The S-E, for one, has tens of thousands of readers — actual cash-paying readers who patronize the few advertisers we still have — who don’t look at Twitter, or Facebook, or anything else. Certainly not with the 24-7 dedication you seem to have. They are our customers too and we have to take care of them as well.

      Did I mention, they PAY for the paper? How much money am I making from you? If I tweet my column to you, will you send me 75 cents? It may be a dying business model, but it’s still the business model that pays the rent.

      Twitter is a tool. It is one tool. In the booming tech business of 2011 there will be another tool that does what Twitter does any day now, if not already. I will happily use any tool that makes my job easier IF it really works for me. I cannot see how I can be any more open than that.

      Frankly, as it is now, Twitter strikes me as Facebook lite — I’ve gotten a lot more from Facebook than I ever get from tweets. If your results differ, good for you.

      I don’t know where you got that crack about headline crawl, gdigital, but I didn’t say it.

      Oh yeah, and the plural of medium is media.

      • GDigital says:

        “Did I mention, they PAY for the paper? How much money am I making from you? If I tweet my column to you, will you send me 75 cents? It may be a dying business model, but it’s still the business model that pays the rent.”

        You really just DON’T get it. You don’t think your web viewers pay for your product? You think that the web model isn’t feeding money back into your corporation? Honestly, you can’t be that numb to it, can you?

        People viewing your blog DOES make your company money, in direct and indirect ways, ways print can’t even begin to remotely compete with. I notice on the Standard-Examiner site your blog posts are wrapped around a bunch of ADVERTISEMENTS which makes your paper money, lots of it.

        Also, and this may make you cry in your sleep at night, models like Huffington post show there’s a lot more money in the online sector than there is in the print sector, and the trend is only continuing to sky rocket much to the dismay of people like you. You really came to a gun fight with a pocket knife if you’re going to compare revenue models, get a freaking clue man.

        Yes, we’re COMPLETELY right because all of the metrics and facts of today’s society prove that we are. Like I said, you just sound like a spoiled brat who realized he’s the last one to the game (oh, and no one in their right mind below 50 would even take you seriously, your points are that far off).

        Your audience is tiny and Standard’s print operation is no doubt dying out just like the rest of them because reporters like you haven’t figured out how to pique the next generation’s interest. Yes, journalists like you are one of the direct causes news organizations are failing horribly across the country – look no further than the hands on your keyboard (or whatever outdated device you insist is still fantastic to type on).

        You can continue to salute to me in your ship while it capsizes, shaking your first violently in the air, but that doesn’t mean it’s not going down horribly fast and that you don’t look like a buffoon who will keep ranting until the water hits his mouth.

        Yes we are right, there is no middle ground, have fun with the sediment at the bottom.

      • Owain says:

        “The S-E, for one, has tens of thousands of readers — actual cash-paying readers who patronize the few advertisers we still have — who don’t look at Twitter, or Facebook, or anything else.”

        That’s fine, Charles, but that doesn’t mean that YOU have to emulate them in the performance of your job. Are you really trying to make a virtue out of using less efficient ways keep up with the pace of information today?

        You may as well drop back to using a quill pen and iron gall ink so you can pride yourself on writing things out longhand gives your writing such a personal touch, and use pigeons to deliver it. Who knows, SE may have readers who use quill pens and read the paper by the light of a kerosine lamp. Those readers will appreciate it that much more when they get their news a week or two late.

        The rest of us, not so much. I am one of those folks paying for the paper, but I don’t do it BECAUSE SE lags behind the information cycle, but in spite of it. Instapundit doesn’t cover the Wasatch Front all that well, so if I want the local news, I am pretty much stuck with what SE offers. That doesn’t mean SE shouldn’t try to improve. I would certainly appreciate it. Embracing inefficiency is not an effective approach.

        Why don’t you tell us to get the hell off your lawn, while you’re at it?

  6. Charles Trentelman says:

    what i find fascinating here is that I keep saying twitter is a tool, I will use any tool that works, how open can i be?

    And you guys keep accusing me of — what exactly? Of not bowing to your greater wisdom, I guess. Of not saying twitter is God and Allah and the savior of us all, I guess.

    But, you are right, I am wrong, so I guess that ends it, eh?

    Oh, and Macs are better. (grin).

    • Owain says:

      Nobody’s accusing you of anything Charles, so take the tin foil hat off. It’s just sounds (at least to me) like you are trying to do your able best to convince yourself why you shouldn’t be using tools like Twitter. => “If I HAD been there, I’d have been out at the airfield collecting column material and talking to people for sidebars for the paper, not reading Tweets.”

      Far be it from me dissuade you from shoe leather journalism. That has to be the BEST tool available, by far. But I don’t think anyone in this thread is making that argument, so put the straw man back in the corn field.

      It isn’t a matter of Twitter/Facebook OR traditional journalism. It should be cutting edge tools AND traditional journalism. You are in the communication business. So communicate using every channel available to you, or professionally, you are at risk.

      Make it easy on yourself.

      • Charles Trentelman says:

        what i find fascinating here is that I keep saying twitter is a tool, I will use any tool that works, how open can i be?

        and Macs really do kick pc butt…

        • Owain says:

          I can only speak for myself, Charles, but I do detect a distinct condescending whiff coming off this blog post concerning Twitter and its users, since you talk about it in the same breath as the tanking of Iomega, AOL, and Palm Pilots.

          If that was not your intent, then whatever intent you might have had in mind (judging the responses), you failed to communicate that intent. Rather than criticizing your readers, perhaps you should consider casting your argument in a different form that DOES communicate your intent.

          • Charles Trentelman says:

            what i find fascinating here is that I keep saying twitter is a tool, I will use any tool that works, how open can i be?

    • Bob Becker says:

      You’re right on the mark, Charlie. These techno true believers get tiresome quickly and are starting to remind me of street preachers who claim exclusive access to the Light, the Truth and the Way. Also in that category, Kindle owners who want to lecture me on trains or in coffee shoppes about how much better it would be if I were reading the book I am reading on a machine instead. I’m happy with diff’rent strokes for diff’rent folks as a daily guide for living in a complex society. Wish they were too. Want a Kindle and get your jollies from it, by all means buy one and have a ball. But spare me the lectures, please on what a knuckle-dragging Neandertal I must be for preferring the pleasant experience of a real book.

      Speaking of which, am reading now Arguably: Essays By Christopher Hitchens, just published. Came across one discussing novels about newspaper men in England ["Fleet Street's Finest", pp. 365-374]. Lots of fun. Offers this cringeworthy headline from the lowly NY Post: “HEADLESS BODY IN TOPLESS BAR.” And to the question of “Why does the profession of journalism have such a low reputation?” he offers this answer: “Because it has such a bad press.”

      But more to the point of your post and this thread, the following:

      “I do not think there will again be a major novel, flattering or unflattering, in which a reporter is the protagonist. Or if there is, he or she will be a blogger or some other species of cyber-artist, working from home and conjuring the big story from the vastness of electronic space.” [p. 373]

      Mr. Hitchens does not think this represents progress. Neither do I.

  7. Charles Trentelman says:

    Your next answer will be on twitter….

    • Owain says:

      Sorry Charles, I don’t use Twitter, heh. ;)

      • Charles Trentelman says:

        YOUR’RE SCREAMING AT ME DEMANDING I USE SOMETHING YOU DON’T??????

        stupid luddite.

        • Owain says:

          Charles – let me explain the concept of emoticons to you. Like Twitter, they are a shiny NEW fangled thing used on the intertubes.

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_emoticons

          Look up ;) in that list, and then take your medication.

          • Charles Trentelman says:

            ur winking at me? No, seriously, i clicked on the link and there are 50 or so of the things, none of them yellow with a wink.

            You expect me to wade through that mess to see if you are serious. Does this mean if I suddenly start writing in Swahili, it is your fault you don’t understand it?

          • Owain says:

            The SE software converts emoticons entered as characters into pictoral emoticons, but regardless, it appears that the concept of emoticons is utterly beyond you, so perhaps Twitter is indeed far too cutting edge, and maybe a quill pen and iron gall ink is a better match after all. (cuneiform?)

            Seek your closest grandchild, and have one of them explain the meaning behind a ; ) emoticon. I promise, it won’t hurt too much.

  8. ctrentelman says:

    so to keep you from calling me a luddite i’m supposed to go through a list of 50 or 100 typed out emoticons, copy them onto my own computer, let the software convert them into cute little faces, look back on the list to see what ;0) means, and then see how that applies to what you wrote.

    if that’s the future, I’ll take vanilla.

    and you guys call me patronizing?

    • Owain says:

      To keep ME from calling YOU a Luddite? Let’s scroll up a bit, shall we?

      “YOUR’RE (sic) SCREAMING AT ME DEMANDING I USE SOMETHING YOU DON’T??????

      stupid luddite.”

      If something as simple as ; ) is beyond your grasp, how will you ever be able to handle anything as intricate as LOL, not to mention YGBSM? Given the 140 character character Twitter limitation, such abbreviations are ubiquitous. Not to mention hash tags. http://www.searchenginejournal.com/twitter-hashtags/9419/

      Give it up Charles. Your are intellectually too lazy to be willing to adapt.

  9. Scott Schwebke says:

    I tend to agree with Mark and Steve. Twitter isn’t the savior of journalism, just a valuable tool like a video camera or police scanner. I wasn’t sold on it initially, but the more I used the more I began to realize its value to my reporting at the S-E. One of the great things about it is if you are a true newsjunkie you can plug in a hashtag, say #egypt or #reno #saltlakecity and get immediate boots on the ground reporting of breaking news from eyewitnesses. I’ve used TheChalkOutline twitter account from the field to post breaking video of natural disasters, fires and other events. I’ve even gotten tips from followers, like a reporter from Casper, Wyoming who alerted me that Ogden’s chief administrative officer was a finalist for a city manager job there. Tweeps have also sent me pics and video of breaking news. It’s also great for networking with other journalists via weekly tweetups like @wjchat @journchat for tips and sources.
    And if you use tweetdeck or some other program, you can keep tabs on the competition. It takes a little work to build a brand and followers, but I believe it serves a niche that readers want for immediacy. It can also provide context and an outlet for observations that may not fit into a print model but can help reporters become more accessible to readers. I don’t see a downside at all.

  10. Steve Buttry says:

    I agree completely, Scott. I never said Twitter was the savior of journalism. That was Charlie’s hyperbolic interpretation of what I said. You provide excellent examples (and I have heard and read hundreds more) of how Twitter is useful for reporters.

  11. Anna Tarkov says:

    I’m now following you on Twitter Charles (I hope it’s ok to be on a first name basis?) I’ve actually trained journalists in the past on its usage and would be more than happy to do the same for you if you’d like. If I may be so bold, I see lots of room for improvement. If you’d like, I can get into some of that here, but I didn’t want to do just launch into what my advice would be unless you agreed.

    I hope of course that you will be receptive because surely it’s not only important to use a tool, but to use it optimally. Otherwise, why bother?

    By the way, here’s one of my Twitter “students” who could vouch for me: http://twitter.com/#!/judithnemes. Here’s another: http://twitter.com/#!/JessicaQChen

    I’d also like to address the thing you kept repeating over and over, here and on Twitter.

    “what i find fascinating here is that I keep saying twitter is a tool, I will use any tool that works, how open can i be?”

    Fine, it’s a tool and you’re kind of using it. But I think it’s evident to anyone that you’re using your skepticism of Twitter as a stand-in for your general skepticism of journalism in the digital age. Please correct me if I’m wrong. Yes, I know you’re on Facebook and you blog, but (and again, I could be wrong), you don’t seem to display any enthusiasm for these mediums or, obviously, for Twitter. You seem to use them grudgingly, because you have to, not because you want to. I think you would agree that anyone who undertakes any new endeavor with that kind of attitude isn’t going to get very far with it. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. What would you think of a reporter who went out to cover an event saying “Oh, it’s probably going to be worthless and I won’t find anyone to quote and there’s no story here at all.” That looks to be to be the way you’re approaching Twitter and other digital tools.

    Finally, I’d like to address the issue of you serving your readers who aren’t on Twitter, Facebook, etc. Some of the other commenters partially alluded to this and I want to reiterate it: while your current readership may not be heavily online, the readership your paper will need to sustain itself in the future most certain will be or is already. Here’s some research and of course there’s plenty more besides this: http://pewinternet.org/Media-Mentions/2011/Half-of-US-adults-using-social-networks.aspx

    This reality notwithstanding, there is no reason why you can serve your readers well across different platforms. Some people will continue to prefer print delivery of information, some prefer digital. And there is yet another group that may, at different times and in different situations, enjoy both. For instance, I’m 31 and I don’t subscribe to any print daily newspaper even though the Chicagoland area where I live offers quite a few of them. I DO however subscribe to several print magazines and I do read them in their print formats. I also read the websites of these magazines. In fact, it might interest you to know that the reason I decided to subscribe to these magazines was that I had been reading their websites for some time and was impressed by what I found there. The same could happen to a reader of your paper. If you’re doing good work and someone is reading it online, they may be prompted to sign up for a subscription. Similarly, someone may see your posts on Facebook or Twitter, enjoy your writing and possibly be willing to support it with a subscription.

    The upshot of all of this is that full and enthusiastic participation in digital platforms benefits not only you, the journalist, butalso your news organization which you presumably want to see succeed so it can continue to issue you a paycheck.

    • ctrentelman says:

      thanks anna, you actually sound halfway reasonable — you are right, twitter is, i am sure, an incredibly valuable tool, but in my situation at the S-E it must — MUST — be one of many I use to serve my readers.

      As I told Herr Butrry way the hell up there somewhere, or maybe on his blog, print may be dying, but my print column and stories can still garner 80,000 pounds of food for the local food bank in one month, $15,000 in donations for http://www.operationward57.org for wounded soldiers in a month, and hundreds of responses to any question I care to put to them.

      In the s-e’s market, with the S-E’s circulation situation (65,000 print) in Top of Utah’s economic situation (lousy), similar pleas on-line through twitter, facebook and our web site bring far fewer responses — that may grow, I will be thrilled when it does — but until then — UNTIL THEN — I also have to work with what I have as well as new tools.

      If that makes me a Luddite AND a curmudgeon, I wear those banners proudly.

      • Anna Tarkov says:

        I know Steve a bit and I feel confident in assuring you that he’s extremely reasonable too. I think you two just got off on the wrong foot. Steve is intensely passionate about what he does and it seems you are too. When two people like that collide, it can be tricky.

        I did see your comments on Steve’s blog about soliciting donations for your food bank via print vs. online and how the former was much more effective. It may be that your particular audience is still more print-focused and of course that’s fine. But again, it won’t always be that way. And actually, it might not even be that way now. There might be lots of people out there who aren’t print subscribers who may appreciate your work, but you’ll never know about them and never find them if you don’t “meet them where they are,” as it were. And social networks are increasingly where people are getting their news and information.

        Even if the majority of people will never get their news digitally (a big IF), the people that DO are I believe the ones most likely to pay for it and support it in other ways; these are the “news junkies” for lack of a better term. They are also the people who are the most intellectually curious and often the most able to spend some amount of their disposable income on news and information consumption.

      • Bob Becker says:

        People suggesting you’re a Luddite, Charlie, should remember that Luddites went around breaking other peoples’ machines.

  12. ctrentelman says:

    responding to mr buttry and owain up above:

    lots of things are useful for reporters. Taking Gregg Shorthand has been enormously useful for me, but you don’t see me saying that anyone who doesn’t learn it is a luddite who refuses to keep up with the times.

    I keep trying to agree with you people (see previous repetitive posts) but apparently I can’t agree with you properly. I give up.

  13. Ben pales says:

    Charlie, I am still way under 50 and I don’t use twitter. When I am not on the road, I like to sit in my kitchen and read the paper while I drink coffee in the morning. When I am on a plane several times most every week, I read the paper, after the stewardess yells at me to turn off my social media. I am happy to pay for the SE every month. I use several different forms of social media, as you know, but I have no use for Twitter. Also, Owain seems to think that he is smarter than you, so therefore must argue everything, but he just comes across as a ToolShed!

  14. Bob Becker says:

    They’re discussing the same topic, more or less, over on The Volokh Conspiracy site tonight:

    “Why Do Journalists Prefer Twitter to Blogging?”

    http://volokh.com/2011/09/21/why-do-journalists-prefer-twitter-to-blogging/

  15. Owain says:

    You missed your chance, Charles. You could have been seen to be just as cool as George Clooney.

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