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First POST: Twitterization

BY Micah L. Sifry | Tuesday, September 3 2013


  • CNN political reporter Peter Hamby says, in a long and well-reported 95-page essay for the Shorenstein Center at Harvard's Kennedy School where he was a fellow last spring, that not only has Twitter become "the central news source for the Washington-based political news establishment," its arrival, "along with the proliferation of media platforms that now deliver content to hungry, informed consumers, marks a vast improvement over an era when a small handful of sainted journalists interpreted political news for the masses." But, at the same time, he argues that it--along with the changing economics of the news business--has ruined the once useful intimacy of the campaign trail, where political reporters could sometimes get close enough to the candidates to figure out what makes them tick. And, to top it off, survey data shows that "what most political junkies were talking about on Twitter…was mostly irrelevant to the American populace." Some great nuggets from Hamby:

    • Liz Sidoti, the national politics editor of the AP, is critical of Twitter: "…It’s a good tip sheet, but one that has no standard and has a lot of opinion and snark. What it’s done, it’s created a groupthink, and the groupthink component of it is really kind of scary. It means we’re all reporting the same thing, and only half of it might be right. We are thinking the same way. It’s become the new conventional wisdom setter, and that conventional wisdom gets amplified as well, because you have editors sitting in bureaus watching this stuff.”
    • Romney adviser Eric Fehrnstrom: "The most important element of the debate rapid response was reacting to Twitter." He adds, "[Twitter] made it easier to spin."
    • Obama campaign strategist David Axelrod: "Twitter was a big player in the debates."
    • Veteran Republican consultant Mike Murphy: "…in the old days, Jack Germond would look over and say, ‘God, shitty day huh? You’re trying to roll out shit endorsements?’ And he would be right. And his column would be very smart about it in a day or two. And often you’d have to give him some real news to avoid that column, because he was on to you, because he’s covered 100 of these fucking things. Now what happens is Twitter makes the campaigns a lot noisier, and the noise can eclipse the news. And there is no incentive in Twitter journalism or any of this kind of 23-year-old embed journalism to have a filter, an editor, to separate the noise from the news. So the noise becomes the news.”
    • Looking ahead to 2016, NBC's Chuck Todd muses, “Some candidate is going to say, ‘I’m going to make this my advantage. I’m going to take the fact that the news cycle is 24 one-hour news cycles.' So why not be totally unfiltered and take the McCain a la 2000, and take it to the next level, and just say everything is on the record, everything is open-sourced. The first candidate that cracks that code and does it will get rewarded. The public will reward them, the media will reward them, a whole bunch of people will reward them.”

    Somewhere, Sasha Issenberg and Nate Silver, who respectively cut new ground in technologically-savvy and data-driven reporting on 2012, and showed that nearly all this chatter about and on Twitter is irrelevant, are laughing all the way to the bank.

  • Interestingly enough, the New York Times's David Carr gets the last word in Hamby's 95-page essay. And yesterday, he got the scoop on the report in his Monday media column in the Times.

In other news around the web:

  • Amazon's Jeff Bezos talks to the Washington Post's media reporter Paul Farhi, on the verge of his first visit to his new property. "We’ve had three big ideas at Amazon that we’ve stuck with for 18 years, and they’re the reason we’re successful: Put the customer first. Invent. And be patient,” he said. “If you replace ‘customer’ with ‘reader,’ that approach, that point of view, can be successful at The Post, too.”

  • You've heard of Transparency Camp, perhaps? Well, how about "teacamp"? That's where the digerati inside the British civil service go to share ideas on how they're opening up government in the United Kingdom, reports Wendy M. Grossman for techPresident in a new story just posted this morning.

  • Uber-open-data-geek Joshua Tauberer, the founder of GovTrack, gets a long and loving write-up in the alumni rag of the University of Pennsylvania alumni, where he went to graduate school in linguistics. Fun fact: In third grade, he brought a programming manual to school as his book to read.

  • We're coming to this late, but Kevin Starr, the head of the Mulago Foundation, wrote a brilliant critique of prize competitions in the Stanford Social Innovation Review on August 22. Read it if you have ever wondered about all the lost hours spent applying for and/or recommending other people for prizes they'll never win.

  • Data broker Acxiom, which is under investigation by the Federal Trade Commission, has decided to take a pro-active step towards greater transparency by launching a new site,, that will allow users to see some of the data the company has on them, reports The New York Times' Natasha Singer. Privacy advocate Joseph Turow, who teaches at the Annenberg School for Communication, comments, “It’s just a game they are playing for marketing purposes and to make regulators feel better."

  • The Drug Enforcement Agency has routine access to a giant AT&T database containing decades of records of the phone calls made by Americans inside the US, including location information, reports the New York Times.

  • The Syrian Electronic Army, a group of pro-Syrian hackers, managed to take control of a Marine Corps recruiting site yesterday. (This is supposed to hurt recruiting for the Marines?)

  • Forbes's Andy Greenberg, one of the journalists who has most closely covered the WikiLeaks story, reports that Julian Assange is filing a legal complaint in Sweden against the US government for taking a suitcase containing three of his laptops, one of which contained the video of a massacre of 60 civilians in the Afghan village of Garani.

  • Iranwire takes a close look at how recent commenters on the Facebook page of Iran's new foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, are responding to his latest posts on the Syria crisis.

  • MIT Civic Media Lab director Ethan Zuckerman takes a Safecast project Geiger counter out to visit the decommissioned Yankee Rowe nuclear reactor site in Western Massachusetts and finds himself thinking that citizen science of this sort just might help relieve some of the emotions that drive "not in my backyard" syndrome. Though, as he describes the awful consequences of the Japanese nuclear meltdown at Fukushima in the earlier part of his blog post, when governments and utility contractors have such strong track records of underplaying nuclear risks, it will probably be a long time before people wielding their own Geiger counters will feel safe enough to embrace their local nuke.

  • Marcus Wohlsen argues in that the way to get more people participating in the "sharing economy" is to force them to do so, pointing to the new company Local Motion of an example to watch. Since so many American consumers are deeply attached to own their own stuff, the way to get people to see the wisdom in sharing idle resources, he says, is by getting to them through their bosses. Local Motion makes it easy for employees of corporations, city governments and universities to share their organization's fleet of vehicles, saving them money and maybe teaching their workers about the benefits too.

  • How the United Nations Refugee Agency is using Spigit to crowdsource new ideas about refugee relief.

  • The Daily Dot reports on Wikipedia's decision to keep the former Bradley Manning, who now wishes to be known as Chelsea and wants to undergo hormone replacement therapy, under her former name. The "Bradley Manning" page, however, does begin by noting that it is about Chelsea Elizabeth Manning. Bonus link: Charles Pierce of Esquire, who we somehow missed using the headline: "Woke Up, It Was a Chelsea Manning."

  • A teacher of a popular MOOC, or "massive open online course," has decided to end his deal with Coursera because he fears "it's an excuse for state legislatures to cut funding to state universities." "I found it to be a great experience," Princeton sociology professor Mitchell Duneier told the Chronicle of Higher Education."But I also don't want to be part of a movement that is really about helping state universities achieve cost savings at the expense of their own faculty and students."

  • A man whose father had his luggage lost by British Airways has bought a promoted tweet on Twitter to complain about the company, reports Mashable.

  • ArsTechnica looks at Skype at age 10.