Tweeting Towards Gomorrah
Did you know that any taxi driver in any city on earth is able to sum up the mood of his entire nation on cue with a single pithy yet heartfelt quote? It's lucky, since every foreign correspondent in the world (especially Thomas Friedman) bases his or her understanding of a country on what a taxi driver says. It's the classic easy quote. But now that old misguided trope may be dying! It's being overtaken by something even worse: the Twitter "hypergrapevine." Just what journalism needs, more lazy quote-whoring from a voluble unrepresentative minority! Twitter CEO (nice business card, ha) Jack Dorsey says the teeny-typing service is a boon for reporters:
Dorsey: We've heard from a number of organizations — even as old as Reuters — that are building tools to monitor what's going on with Twitter to help conform what they need to focus on in terms of writing their articles. Twitter provides a great man-on-the-street account of what's happening right now.
That's where you're wrong, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey. You know what provides a great man-on-the-street account of what's happening right now? People on the street! See, streets tend to be full of all types of people: all races, creeds, subcultures, and economic strata tend to utilize streets. But Twitter is full of—we're generalizing slightly here, but not too much—upwardly mobile white tech obsessives. It's certainly easy to shop for a quote on Twitter. And reporters love easy quotes, I say from personal experience! But it's the modern equivalent of asking your taxi driver in Mumbai what he thinks about the upcoming elections or whatever, except more likely to be delivered in 140-character increments. By an affluent tech nerd. A demographic which does not yet represent a reasonable cross-section of citizens for any story outside of, you know, tech stories. It's a lot like our own relationship with our commenters. We love you, but you're a voluble minority, and if we guided the site based solely on commenter feedback, it would consist exclusively of live blogs and notices for commenter meetups. Which is fine, no backlash please! But we've seen the problem more important arenas, too: Howard Dean thought his massive lead in Meetup.com events would help him win the presidency. It didn't! Reporters still have to leave their cubes to find the people on the street. They're outside, you see; out there, on the streets. And remember, Obama fans:
IWM: Who are some big-name Twitterers? Dorsey: The biggest one at the moment is Barack Obama.