What Twitter can’t do

Twitter* has hit the mainstream with a vengeance. The final sign of this was yesterday when John McCain – who during the campaign admitted his own computer illiteracy – did an interview (called a “twitterview” YUCK) with George Stephanopoulos. I guess they both wanted to show how “down” they are with all the latest hep-cat cool jive.

Many people are hailing this as some sort of breakthrough for the media. They also point out how much faster news is reported on Twitter than via other mediums – including the non-Twitter web. These writers seem to be implicating (or maybe I am inferring) that Twitter is supplanting or showing up regular news gathering/disseminating organizations.

While I doubt it is true, I also believe that if it is true we are all totally screwed. Twitter is good for distributing information that people need to know. I get updates from the Boston Police via Twitter – just one of many cop shops now Tweeting.

Twitter is good for the headline, not the actual story.

  • “AIG giving out million$ in bonuses.” Yes.
  • “Rep. Maxine Water’s husband gets bailout funds from Treasury Dept. for bank where he is a boardmember and bank would never have gotten the bailout money unless he was husband of a Dem. on the House Banking Committee.” No.

You can make the claim that Iraq is getting radioactive material from Nigeria on Twitter but you can’t refute it or give it any context.

It is hard to think of a technology less suited to interviewing than Twitter. If you ask me a question and we both know I am limited to a 140 character answer (or can act like I am) I can evade, obfuscate and spin like a maestro.

“Why do u oppose this plan?”

“It will put people out of work (or make America less safe or whatever…”

“But you voted for a similar plan b4?”

“That was totally different in what it was trying to do.”

Etc. Etc. (For a great example of why Twitterviews are an absurd source of information see this post by Derek Showerman.)

As Jon Stewart made clear with the (professionally) late Jim Cramer, you want to give your subject enough time to respond in depth. We call it “giving them enough rope.” It is not just rope to hang themselves with – it is also information that will tell you whether your questions/information are on-base or not.

Another thing  –as any good reporter knows — when interviewing people the long, awkward silence is your friend. Ask a question. Listen to the answer. If it doesn’t seem complete then wait. People don’t like dead air. It makes them nervous. After a while, they start to say more. Try doing that with a 140-characters.

Finally, my favorite derisive comment about Twitter v. Media is that twitter has stories faster than other news sources. Case in point – the airplane landing on the Hudson. Speaking strictly in terms of time-to-dissemination you’ll find no argument here. BUT, as I twittered earlier today (oh irony)

CurseYouKhan people surprised twitter reports faster than Media on some things. DUH! Media needs to get facts. takes time to try & get it right.

Somebody tweets there’s an earthquake in Melbourne – which he knows because he feels the earth shaking beneath him. A reporter CAN’T write a story about this even if he is standing next to the person who just tweeted. Reporters have to find out how big the earthquake is – if it’s a small tremor and I’m standing at the epicenter I am likely to overestimate its strength. Or if it’s the first earthquake I’ve ever been through then I am even more likely to overestimate its impact.

No one ever mentions the false or misleading tweets that news orgs research and disprove. It would be great to track those but you can’t. There is no way to know how many times the media has been offered (or thought it had) a story that was totally false or a misinterpretation and then found out the truth with further reporting. Sadly, that’s one of the press’s most essential functions and one that will never be appreciated.

*What is twitter? It’s a cross between a blog and a bumpersticker. Say whatever you want in 140 characters or less (surprising how much you can get into that space, really.) And have a channel to see what everyone else you are following is also saying in 140 characters or less.

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Obama carried all the “really” red states

My latest from BlownMortgage (with charts and facts and everything!):

Popular opinion has it that Barack Obama won because he took some red states away from John McCain. Nonsense. Obama won all the red states. And McCain won all the black states. But this has nothing to do with that stupid red state/blue state dichotomy. This is about the much more tangible difference between red (ink) states vs. black (ink) states.

As this chart from the Wall Street Journal shows, Obama carried 18 of the 20 states where housing prices have dipped into the red – according to the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight house price index for the second quarter. Those two that went for McCain? Arizona and Alaska – which makes their anomalous standing understandable.

Election snoozer

The press has been trying not to call this one for days. A careful reading of the stories has shown journalists who felt obliged to offer a McCain win as a plausible outcome.  The only thing at issue is the size of the Democratic victory. Given the condition the nation is in this is hardly surprising. My sympathies to Sen. Obama. I do not envy anyone who gets the job.

Who’s winning the World of Warcraft vote?

While McCain’s ad hominem attack on Dungeons & Dragons earlier this year would seem to put him at a distinct disadvantage, the poll results are surprising. And incredibly funny.

Thanks to Mike Elgan who writes the wonderful blog Raw Feed for this one!

Company introduces “Sarah-Cuda” hunting bow

What’s pink, cuddly and can bring down a moose or at least a Biden? The GOP hopes it’s Sarah Palin, they might want to invest in Lakota Industries adorable new hunting bow. While the pink camo is certainly fitting  … you really have to hope anything your hunting is color blind. Or maybe it will distract Dick Cheney if you ever have to go hunting with the current VP.

Other potential candidate/product tie ins:

  • The Joe Biden Leaf Blower — How much hot air do you need?
  • The John McCain Pistol Holster — Allows you to shoot from the hip and automatically hit your own foot.
  • Barack Obama Holy Water — Everybody keeps telling me he can perform miracles.
Are Bidens in season?

Are Bidens in season?

Nice move: The company will donate 10 percent of Sarah-Cuda proceeds to the National Association for Down Syndrome.

Strategy and tactics fail at the debate

I gotta say that Friday night’s debate brought out a feeling of bipartisanship in me. I was equally irritated both of them. Obama was testy and McCain was dismissive. By the end of it I had thoroughly switched my vote: Jim Lehrer for president.

One thing in particular that irritated me was the pissing match over the definition of the word “strategy” and how it differs from the definition of the word “tactics.”

MCCAIN: I’m afraid Senator Obama doesn’t understand the difference between a tactic and a strategy.

Obama responded that he did know the difference and I’ll tell you that neither one knows the difference because there isn’t one.

Via Encarta

Tactic: a method used or a course of action followed in order to achieve an immediate or short-term goal

Strategy: a carefully devised plan of action to achieve a goal, or the art of developing or carrying out such a plan

This isn’t just some semantic nitpicking thing of mine, military types from generals to historians have had long discussions on just this topic without coming to anything like an agreement on it. The debate boils down to this: How can you tell the difference between a tactic and a strategy? In some popular usage tactics are believed to apply to smaller efforts and achieving, as the definition says, short-term goals — whereas strategy means grand plans.  Right. Even if we accept those definitions the fact is that one defines and determines the other to such an extent that there’s no real line about where one ends and the other begins.

So as McCain and Obama tried to play king of the hill on this one, I just sputtered. I knew they were either posturing, lying or wrong. What else is new?

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