Is Twitter Just a One-Way Street?

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Twitter...'tweeting'...the 'Twitter-verse'...if you are currently involved in any kind of media-related activity, you cannot shun this micro-blogging phenomenon that has attracted over 500 million users and produces over 340 million updates daily.  Started in 2006, the allure of this service is in its brevity--all 'tweets' must be 140 characters or less.  While the user can attach photos or embed hyperlinks to provide some subject context, that self-imposed limit supposedly allows for more spontaneous submissions and simulates a public 'chat' among a group of individuals who 'follow' each other's postings.

I joined Twitter a little over a year ago and have 'tweeted' 149 150 times (my 150th 151st will be announcing this blog posting).  Along the way, I have acquired 24 'followers' whom I became acquainted with during my pursuit of my lifelong dream either directly, through others already subscribed to my feed, or complete strangers who were merely attracted by my content.  I follow 78 other 'Twitizens' who hail from the world of journalism, the media, my UMass classes, or were the subjects/settings for my published pieces.

I will honestly admit that I do not keep as current with this account as I do with my personal Facebook page but I do receive notifications when I get a new 'follower' or when I am mentioned in someone else's 'tweet'.  When such an email hits my in-box, I log in to check on that activity (and some very interesting people have tried to befriend me which resulted in 'spam' notifications to the service).  This is a rather mundane process for someone who only interacts with two dozen others on an irregular basis so I cannot imagine how someone with 10,000 times more 'followers' handles the deluge of daily comments, 'retweets', and direct messages that might be generated.  And this dilemma is what has me posting today.

As I have mentioned on this site before, I am a fan of MSNBC's The Daily Rundown program.  Although this news channel does skew towards a liberal point-of-view on many of its prime-time (4-11PM) selections, its daytime offerings do provide venues for conservatives and independents to chime in and add their perspectives on issues of the day and Chuck Todd's program is probably the most balanced (and accurate) of all of them.  With that mantle of integrity in place, you can see why the graphic below would bother me:

On last Thursday's show, Todd and his guests were talking about the then just-announced bus tour across Ohio for the Republican presidential and vice-presidential nominees in Ohio this week.  Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and Wisconsin representative Paul Ryan are scheduled to visit several locales in the "Buckeye State" over a three-day period, with solo and joint stops in Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton, Lima and Toledo.  While they were talking about the tour, a graphic was displayed to represent all of that information in a simple, easy-to-understand way; however, the person who created it must not have been a student of geography because they misplaced the callout box for Dayton, putting it incorrectly to the south (and partially east) of Cincinnati.  Here is a map to show their true topographical placements:

As an astute viewer (and Ohio resident), I immediately caught the error and wanted to let the show know about the mistake.  Since I 'follow' the host, I sent the following 'tweet' to him and to The Daily Rundown staff via the "@reply" and "mention" feature:

I really was not sure what I would expect from sending this...would I get a 'shout out' from Chuck on-air for bringing that error to his attention?  Would I get a 'follow @' like the first correct submitters for the show's daily trivia question receive?  Or would I have to simply bask in the personal reward for doing a good deed?  Unfortunately, I got to do none of these because in the 'A' segment of Jansing & Co., the show that immediately follows Todd's, I saw this:

Lo and behold, it was the same graphic that the earlier show had aired with the incorrect placement of Dayton on the Ohio map.  I took to Twitter yet again and sent a new message to that show:

I even included Todd in the body, just in case he was checking his feed now that he was off-air, so that the message could be relayed through MSNBC official channels to get someone to fix it as soon as possible.  When the next program came one, MSNBC Live, I was again treated to the same graphic:

Since I was in the final stages of preparing my Obama rally piece for publication, I chose not to try yet again to notify the news channel of their recurring geographical mistake.  Once completed, I turned the television back on and started watching Andrea Mitchell Reports with guest host Chris Cillizza from The Washington Post.  Like a broken clock with its hands stuck at "wrong", that same graphic was again featured to accompany an on-air discussion about the 'retooling' of the Romney campaign.  This time, I took a photo of the screen and sent it to the channel as well as Cillizza's personal account:

One would think that after four notifications, someone would see at least one of them and do the right thing and correct the graphic (and it looks like someone did make a change, superimposing a photo of the Romney campaign bus underneath the photo of Ryan).  I went outside to mow our outside lawn and took a lunch break during the 2PM NewsNation program where, again, that incorrect item was making its hourly appearance.  I sent one final tweet:

The last words in that update were probably a little bit unprofessional but one can only handle just so much frustration before taking it out in sarcastic ways (and the typo--"haw" instead of "has" was another ready indicator).  But recalling that sense of desperation last week leads to my openly asking the topic of this post--is Twitter just a "one-way street" in terms of passing information?  I was introduced to the following video during my Introduction to Online Journalism course over the summer that surgically cuts to the heart of the matter on the subject of  'tweeting':

As the logo bird shares with the two "twenty-somethings", Twitter appears to be a place where you are talking to no one and everyone at the same time, communicating with "detached, bite-sized yippity yap".  While I will argue that the vast majority of journalist 'tweets' really aren't that mundane, some do slip into personal conversations or observations reminiscent of the other occupants of the 'Twitter-sphere'.  But in their zeal to put out as much information into this virtual environment as possible, it appears that many of them only know how to post and not how to read, to block off sufficient time to see what others are saying about them, or to delegate responsibility to a full-time caretaker for their account.

In the case of MSNBC, the channel has over 286,000 'followers' and has subscribed to only 246 feeds for a ratio of around 1165 to 1.  Compare my following-to-follower ratio (24 followers/78 following/.31:1 ratio) to that of  The Daily Rundown (17,175/554/31:1), Chuck Todd (246,647/960/256:1), Jansing & Co. (7,202/730/9.8:1), Chris Cillizza (141,983/1,334/106:1) or NewsNation (5,081/254/20:1) and you can see how easy I currently have it (and these figures do not include other popular social networking sites like Facebook or Tumblr that I choose not to deal with).  While I can justify my 'slackerness' due to this being a part-time endeavor, those other 'tweeters' see Twitter and other social outlets as critical avenues to their continued success on television.

With the fragmentation of audiences among a modern plethora of multimedia outlets, metrics such as 'followers', 'friends/likes', and page views will become as important as Nielsen viewers were in pre-digital age (and some may argue that they are still pertinent today).  And this fact should force them to becoming more aware of the returning 'conversation' in response to their postings to their audiences.  If sincere subscribers feel like their inputs are tantamount to "random shouts into the darkness" as the non-Twitter man on the video described the site's purpose, they may feel inclined to ignore them or (heaven forbid!) 'unfollow' them and drop their counts.  In the final segment of Rachel Maddow's show (also on MSNBC) last Friday night, she provides a very strong case for the power of journalistic "populism" through social media outlets (the pertinent part starts at the 2:03 mark):

UPDATE:  This is the point where I stopped my composition on Monday afternoon when I had to attend to other issues before heading in to work later in the afternoon.  While I had the television on in the background, guess what came up again on MSNBC?  Here is my 'tweet' (the 150th) to address that lingering issue to the addressed parties:

I thought that this was yet another futile attempt to attract someone's attention and have the graphic changed to accurately reflect what they wanted to convey.  I received no feedback or 'retweets' so I chalked it up to perhaps caring far too much (although I was getting hopeful when I did not see it reappear on The Cycle or in the first portions of Martin Bashir). It wasn't until this morning's edition of The Daily Rundown that I got my first indicator that someone might have actually taken my suggested changes to heart (the graphic is provided below):

Although it looks similar to the original (which, as far as I saw, was never corrected), there are some subtle differences (with a different bus picture now covering the extreme southern part of the state and colored dots to distinguish which candidates would appear where).  The Romney/Ryan campaign did make some changes to the venues originally announced last week (the Dayton stop, actually taking place in nearby Kettering, was moved to a location adjacent to the city's airport) as well as who would be showing up (the Dayton event was supposed to be a Romney-only affair; Ryan and Kentucky senator Rand Paul were added to the event listing on Monday).

Those recent tour updates would have been a logical reason for the news channel to update their graphic and while I have no proof or open acknowledgement, I want to believe that my string of 'tweets' probably played a minor part in their decision.  With that key assumption firmly in mind, my thanks go out to MSNBC for boosting my faith in the power of Twitter and for answering my "shouts into the darkness."  P.S.  If you need a freelancer to perform quality checks of your on-air graphics, I can provide you a resume!

UPDATE: While drafting another Twitter-related post, I noticed that two of the video links above were not working anymore so I replaced the inoperative links.

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