Newspapers don’t own journalism

I always thought it was odd to hear flat out declarations that there can be no life on other planets in the absence of water. How egocentric! So you’re saying that life can only exist if it’s precisely like us?

Really?

That’s the feeling I’m getting right now in the woe-is-us, hand-wringing sob-fest about whether life and our democracy can survive the death of some newspapers.

With all due respect to some great newspapers where I’ve worked, I don’t give a damn about the paper they’re printed on.

What I care about is journalism.

And you don’t need special 3-D glasses to see that completely fabulous, raise the rafters, award-winning, democracy-preserving journalism is being committed and published many times a day in life forms other than newspapers.

Guess what else?

Some online news operations, including two where I was a top manager, have been profitable for years, while upholding the highest standards of journalism.

Here’s a bit of what I saw from an editor’s perch:

Were we perfect? No.

Was it journalism. You betcha.

For more examples of the kind of journalism that’s been committed outside the world of paper, check out the Online News Association’s awards gallery, whose members range from the BBC News and Frontline to Slate and NewWest.

Fast forward to 2007, when the San Diego public radio station, KPBS, performed an amazing public service by using Twitter and a Google maps mashup on its Website to broadcast alerts and illustrate the danger during the deadly wildfires that swept Southern California.

Then in 2008, there was Josh Marshall’s unflinching journalism at Talking Points Memo, which prompted the resignation of the Attorney General of the United States.

Don’t get hung up on the life form: TPM is published with blog technology, and I get updates thrown on my browser’s front lawn by Twitter via RSS, (thank you Dave W!).

Update: And anyone who didn’t see Marcy Wheeler’s breathtakingly good journalism from the blog Emptywheel quoted on the front page of the New York Times, well check out the story right here.

That’s the kind of journalism that helps me sleep well at night.

I spent the first 20 years of my career inside print newsrooms, and I have nothing but admiration for the print folks whose journalism has made the world a better place. (Check out the winners and finalists for the Pulitzer Prize in Public Service Journalism. I’m proud to be on that list, in the company of a team of reporters from the late, great, Dallas Times Herald.)

It is precisely out of respect for those journalistic achievements that I will not lament the demise of newspapers that ignore the public good. David Simon details such a case in this chilling piece in the Washington Post. I’ve also written about instances where having a monopoly on the newspaper market turned watchdogs into sycophantic, naval-gazing, paper tigers. Those newspapers – and the corporations that own them – deserve to decompose with the fish.

But those forces no longer control the conversation – if they ever did. This is spring again, a time for celebration.

Centuries ago, the discovery of movable type meant that Martin Luther no longer needed permission from the Pope to publish his work.

And today, our ideas, conversations and questions won’t be stifled when the newspaper owners run out of cash and ink and stop their giant presses.

We control our own free presses with funny names, like Drupal and Joomla and WordPress, YouTube and Blip and Twitter, Flickr and Utterli and Ning.

And yes, Virginia, there really is a healthy and irrepressible thing called journalism.

Update: Please forgive my unintentional sins of omission and add the following to the list of great un-paper journalism: Politico, The Huffington Post, MarketWatch, Pegasus News and Voice of San Diego.
I will gladly add more as folks knock the cobwebs from my brain!

Students, Denver and the Fifth Estate

I’m in Denver today with a group of University of Nevada, Las Vegas students who are kind enough to call me their teacher. Fellow-learner is more like it.

Once again, we’re experimenting with the future of journalism — using the latest tools in different ways to help people get news and better connect with information, events and newsmakers.

The students are using Nokia N95 cellphones to stream video live from Denver and the Democratic National Convention straight to the Web. But that’s not all. The video is being broadcast on our Web channel at Kyte.tv that lets anyone with a computer or smart phone chat via text with the students and their video subjects live, in real time.

So if you have a question, you can type it in, and the student journalist can see the question on the phone, and pass it along to the delegate, protester, elected official or whomever. You can even ask them to change the camera angle. It’s transparent, so anyone watching can also see the question and comment on it or type in a follow up.

You can also subscribe to our Twitter feed here, where you’ll get notified every time the video stream goes live>

Historically, the Fourth Estate — the press — has been in charge of deciding what questions to ask. But this week on our channel, the Fifth Estate — the people – will have a voice and access to power.

That means the people in the East Paradise neighborhood next to UNLV — a remarkably diverse and historically underserved area — will have just as much access to their elected officials and delegates as reporters do.

I was 28 when I first got to cover a convention, and it was the utterly scripted 1984 re-coronation of Ronald Reagan in Dallas. I covered the feds — the FBI, DEA, ATF, IRS, Secret Service — and I remember trying to worm some information out of one of the agents about people being arrested. “Robert Ludlum will have it in print before you do,” he glowered.

Having been double-dog-dared, I worked as hard and as fast as I could, and just two days later, Jerry Needham and I had a double-byline story stripped across page one of the Dallas Times Herald about the supposed plot to attack the convention center via hang gliders.

For today’s reporters, news is just a nanosecond away from worldwide broadcast on the Web. And instead of talking to people, we can have a conversation about the news even as it is happening. That’s a great advantage, because as we know, the Fourth Estate commonly asks pretty clueless questions and could use all the help they can get from the Fifth Estate.

I cannot imagine a more fabulous time to be a journalist!

The students and I have many people to thank for this extraordinary opportunity, most importantly, Ardyth Sohn, Director of the Hank Greenspun School of Journalism and Media Studies, who lured me to Vegas, sight unseen, to teach convergence, new media, digital journalism, multiplatform reporting and Web publishing and design, even though I could barely pronounce the word syllabus and had never written one in my life.

And we couldn’t have done this without a generous grant to support civic journalism from LasVegasNow.com, KLAS-TV Channel 8. That provided students with reporters’ backpacks, MacBooks and cameras to explore and document the neighborhood. The money also supported the student-developed Website, East Paradise, and it paid the four students’ way to Denver.

I am tremendously grateful to Nokia, where some good-hearted folks had the technical chops and the vision to imagine what kinds of remarkable things can be done with the powerful N95 cellphones that only recently became available in the U.S. They loaned the students (and their lucky teacher) phones to experiment with this summer for this project.

Over at the San Francisco startup, Kyte, people went way, way far out of their way to help us load beta software and launch a classy-looking channel for the video and chats. You can make my day by embedding our Kyte.tv channel in your Website or blog and spreading the word.

And thank you to my fellow learners, Reid Geary, Ariel Gove, Sandra Herandez and Denitsa Yotova. You truly are the ATeam!

I hope you will watch, participate and tell us what you think.

See no AP, speak no AP, link no AP

I kept telling myself I was way too busy to compose a long, thoughtful piece about AP’s supremely boneheaded, wrongheaded, counterproductive and just plain stupid move to threaten to sue bloggers who quote and link to AP stories but don’t pay AP.

But I am never, ever too busy to vote.

So please count my vote in the NO AP column. Until further notice, I won’t be quoting or linking to AP stories in this blog – even if they are written by my friends whose work deserves credit and re-distribution. And I will encourage others to do the same.

As Jack Lail notes in his blog this morning, there are several stories out about the rift, and his list doesn’t include Amy Gahran’s dandy E-Media Tidbits piece, “AP v. Bloggers: Hurting Journalism?”

But the article that held my attention this morning is written by Christopher Sprigman, an associate professor of law at the University of Virginia School of Law, on the American Constitution Society for Law and Policy Blog.

Here’s his take:

… for some reason unfathomable to anyone with a lick of common sense, the Associated Press has decided that the blogs’ “quote and link” practice violates their copyrights. It’s hard to overstate what a senseless move this is for the AP. Nonetheless, it’s also true that unless everyone – the AP and bloggers alike – steps lightly here, copyright law could end up doing a lot of damage to both the blogs and the press. Let me explain . . .

Springman’s piece is worth a read and a re-read. And he has a call to action:

…We should reform copyright to require that plaintiffs in most cases be required, as an element of their prima facie case in an infringement lawsuit, to prove that they have been harmed. In a stroke, this reform would re-focus copyright on the task it is meant to perform: policing serious threats to the ability of content owners to profit from their work.

Amen!

As a veteran journalist, both print and online, I taught blogging last semester at the journalism school of University of Nevada, Las Vegas and (silly me) I taught the students that the most important issue on quotes is — or should be — all about attribution.

My playground rules for journalism include this:

  • No stealing other people’s stuff

I told the students that quoting people accurately and giving them credit, on the other hand, is a good thing.

And I know at least one person at the highest levels of the Associated Press agrees with me.

I had a hallway conversation at an APME conference in 2004 with Kathleen Carroll, Executive Editor and Senior Vice President of the Associated Press. We talked about her work as a very (very) young AP reporter on the 1979 Wichita Falls, Texas tornado, one of the most deadly in U.S. history, according to NOAA.

Carroll kicked butt on the tornado story (according to eyewitnesses including my journalist husband), but she still remembers that one newspaper in Dallas used her material without attribution in their story. Twenty-five years later, it still annoyed her.

The AP started as a cooperative, to distribute and re-distribute reporters’ and photographers’ work around the world.

As a young print reporter, I remember how thrilled I was when the AP picked up my stories. One article I wrote was distributed by the AP to three continents with my name on it. I know that for sure, because I got letters from across the U.S. and Africa and Europe, including one addressed simply to “Charlotte Lucas, Dallas Newsaper, USA.” God bless the Post Office who made sure the letter found my desk at the late, great Dallas Times Herald.

So now the AP wants bloggers to pay — per word! — and to give them credit and to promise not to say anything bad about anybody? (Forgive me for saying so, but that sure sounds more like a muzzle of my free speech than a copyright license.)

So what happens when the AP picks up something written by a blogger?

Does the blogger get paid by the word by the AP?

Did the AP follow its own guidelines when it picked up quotes from blogger Mayhill Fowler about Barak Obama’s now infamous use of the word “bitter”?

Here’s what the AP wrote about what Fowler wrote:

The Huffington Post Web site reported Friday that Obama, speaking of some Pennsylvanians’ economic anxieties, told supporters at the San Francisco fundraiser: “You go into these small towns in Pennsylvania and, like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years. And they fell through the Clinton Administration and the Bush Administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate, and they have not. And it’s not surprising then they get bitter. They cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”

I know. I just broke my rule.

So is the AP going to sue me for quoting them using the words they accurately quoted from a blogger?

Or are we all going to get together and figure out how to figure this out?

Sex, texting, secrets and media lapdogs

I’m shocked (shocked, I tell ya!) at the high percentage of prudes and fraidy cat nannies in the Nevada press corps.

It’s Nevada, for crying out loud, home to Reno, divorce capitol of the world in the north, Vegas Sin City in the south, and legal brothels in between. It’s a place where even the taxicabs sport cleavage (trust me, that’s true) and everything including the nose on the faux sphinx has been “enhanced.”

In Vegas, Mayor Oscar Goodman, a former mob lawyer, hires two svelte, semi-clad woman — one for each arm — to pretend to be showgirls and enhance his image.

It’s all about sex and the economy.

Up the road in the capital of Carson City, there’s Gov. Jim Gibbons, 63, a former flyboy and back-bench congressman who’s embroiled in a messy divorce. Come to find out he sent hundreds of late-night text messages to someone else’s wife and then held a news conference to say they were not love notes — the other woman was just advising him on taxation.

So in his case, it’s not sex — the texts were about taxes!

Jimbo could use some advice in that arena, because right now, Nevada is about $1 billion short of a full tax coffer.

But such is Gibbons’ grasp of math (and reality) that he claims he had no idea that it cost extra to send 867 text messages to his alleged paramour from his taxpayer-funded phone.

For this insight into the governor’s character, we must thank Anjeanette Damon of the Reno Gazette Journal, who had the journalistic good sense to ask questions and demand public records. Here’s her story and here’s the timeline of the calls.

The RGJ’s Damon was also the first mainstream journalist to write about the Gibbons’ marital problems, when she reported online Feb. 28 that the governor’s office issued a public statement confirming a general lack of happy home and hearth. (I would link, but the article is no longer available.) That came a day after Las Vegas Gleaner blogger Hugh Jackson first wrote that the governor would be filing for divorce.

But it gets even odder: Gibbons took the unusual mid-term action of filing for divorce, then his spokesperson went on the record to talk about it and now he’s filed to keep everything secret. Does that make anyone else go hmmmm? (He didn’t seal the records the last time he divorced, when she got the kids and the Oldsmobile, and he got the Porche 911.)

Don’t forget this governor was sworn in during a semi-secret midnight meeting at his home with only an AP photographer present. He’s kept his cell phone number a secret from the Chancellor of Higher Education (and refused to return his calls with advice on taxes). And to the best of my knowledge, Gibbons’ reason for wanting to be governor is still a secret.

Gibbons tried to move the message from texting to taxes, calling a special session of the Nevada Legislature to take on the budget crisis. One proposal would have state workers and teachers take a pay cut by eliminating their 4 percent pay raises at a time when consumer prices are up 4.5 percent. (Full disclosure: My teaching position at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas was among those cut by a dean in response to the budget crisis.)

Outside of Nevada, the sheer number of cliches and outlandish details in this story are a non-fiction writer’s dream, as the Times Online in the United Kingdom proved in this piece. The nearby Los Angles Times called the situation a Gossip Jackpot. Even the New York Times, once known as the Gray Lady, couldn’t resist publishing the story under the headline “Nevada’s Texter-in-Chief.

Among the Nevada media, however, there’s a whole lot of mumbling and whispering, not to mention very prudie, wimpie behavior.

For the longest time, reporters were too timid to write something known to every fourth-grader in Northern Nevada who’d taken a class trip to tour the capital: That Dawn Gibbons was living in the governor’s mansion in Carson City and she’d relegated Jimbo to their home in Reno.

The governor’s personal life is a public matter and an important story, and here’s why:

  • He is a public official, whose salary (and cell phone) are paid by the taxpayers who have a right to know what he is doing.
  • Gibbons is under federal investigation for matters outlined here by TalkingPointsMemo. Up until now, his wife, Dawn, has been his defender-in-chief on those issues. If her attitude or her story changes, that could affect the investigation in a very newsworthy way.
  • Gibbons ran for office on a platform of family values. When he is accused by his wife of womanizing in office, after being accused during the campaign of drunkenly groping a woman in a Vegas parking garage, well, let’s just say, it’s a story.

From the start, some bloggers in Nevada seemed intent on protecting Gibbons, even apologizing for the fact that any story was published. Take this from conservative blogger Chuck Muth’s Muth’s Truths in February:

And the fact is many reporters, columnists and responsible bloggers in the mainstream media knew about the rumors of a possible Gibbons divorce at least a WEEK ago. So did I.

But not one of them reported on the rumors until a Gibbons-hating liberal, Las Vegas blogger wrote about it yesterday afternoon. And even then, not one mainstream newspaper that I’m aware of ran with the story this morning, despite the proverbial cat being out of the bag. That’s responsible, professional journalism – and it showed an admirable level of restraint over a story I’m sure all of them were dying to break.

Two more apologies for the story’s publication, this time from mainstream media writers, Las Vegas Sun’s Jon Ralston and Las Vegas CityLife’s Steve Sebelius, were enough to prompt this from the Las Vegas Gleaner:

All hail the magnanimous restraint of a caring media

… Both journalists, in something of a departure from their profession’s custom, seem to wish that a high-ranking official in the governor’s administration would have said “no comment.”

Both also signaled their wholehearted agreement with a Gibbons-loving professional political activist in Reno, who wrote on his website that marital strife in the governor’s mansion would not even be a story if not for the utterances of the Gibbons staffer.

Having formed a triumvirate of hyper-sensitivity, all three writers took time out from burying [Gibbons Chief Operating Officer Diane] Cornwall in opprobrium to heap varying degrees of praise on the media and themselves for showing such magnanimous responsible restraint in these difficult times.

After all, the governor’s marriage has nothing to do with how the state is governed. Well, except for the strain divorce could have on the governor’s ability (such as it is) to do his job. And the impact it could have on his political effectiveness and prospects for reelection or even his capacity to last through the remainder of his term. And how divorce proceedings might intersect with various allegations of wrongdoing lodged against both Gibbonses.

On Feb. 29, I was on Ralston’s Face to Face television show and on KNPR’s State of Nevada with host Dave Berns, emphatically saying the governor’s marital woes warrant journalistic exploration. Simply put: It’s a story!

But even as the national and international media — and the Reno Gazette Journal and KNPR’s Dave Berns — try to set an example for how to cover a story, the locals keep floundering.

In early June, KLAS-TV’s investigative reporter, George Knapp, contributed to the ongoing static by pulling another embarrassing “Don’t-ask-don’t-tell” moment in his Knappster blog in Las Vegas CityLife:

I’m all but certain that the governor has accumulated dirt of his own and could obliterate his wife’s reputation if he chose to do so. (In fact, the nature of this damaging information is already circulating in political circles. We’re talking about some salacious stuff.)

The job of a journalist is to UN-secret things, not to keep secrets!

Then on Friday the 13th, I got a call from a reporter at the Las Vegas Review Journal asking if I, in my role as professor and journalist, could please explain to him why the story about the governor’s divorce is getting traction all the way to the United Kingdom.

Dudes, stop apologizing, stop tiptoeing, and go ask some smart questions!

For instance, why in the world hasn’t a Nevada news organization challenged the divorce secrecy? What could Gibbons possibly want to hide from the people who elected (and pay) him? What made the alleged paramour’s texted tax advice better than the Chancellor of Higher Education’s? Is Gibbons going to take a pay cut, pay raise, or get paid for not showing up as he did when he was in Congress?

Reporters are being laid off in newsrooms across the country, and what is the Nevada press corps doing? Trying to ensure a second career on the governor’s protective detail?

There’s a story here and you are required as a journalist to be curious, ask questions and write stories that put things into context.

Go do your jobs.

And that means you, too, bloggers!

Correction: As originally published, this article erroneously characterized CityLife as a mainstream media publication. Its owner, Stephens Media, characterizes it as a weekly newspaper. We regret the error.

Sad face TwitterSync no workie

When my friend Chris O’Brien messaged me yesterday asking how I link my Twitter updates to my Facebook status, I had to haul myself out of denial and figure out what went wrong.

For months I had been speeding along in the fast lane with my FB and Tweets all linked together for one-stop updating. I communicate with different people on different platforms – some on Twitter, some on Facebook, some on IM, and the integration made my wacky life a lot easier.

Then it went down, kaput, zonk. Out like a light. Twitter and Facebook and IM stopped speaking to one another, and I had to manually copy and paste (egads, how 1990s!)

I noted it on Twitter when things first came unhinged, but what with final exam week, having my job cut (details here and here) and moving and driving 1,350 miles home to Texas, I was too distracted to souse it out.

For a moment, I couldn’t even figure out which side to start the forensics on, the Twitter or the Facebook.

O’Brien’s reaction to my initial confusion was sweet: “sjcobrien Geez. You mean you broke Facebook AND Twitter? Careful, or they might ban you from the Internet for ever.”

On the Twitter side, here’s one of the error messages (complete with the sad/happy face/Twitterface barometer).

On the Facebook side, there’s finger-pointing and silliness. I had used the TwitterSync application to pull the two together, but the application developers now say Twitter undid it: “Twitter has temporarily, 5/23/2008, turned off the TwitterIM feature of Twitter — meaning TwitterSync is broken until they turn it back on.”

Well, that explains it!

For a little therapy, there is a discussion board right there on TwitterSync for “What are you doing while we wait for TwitterIM to come back …”

While I wait, I may go over and check out the integration-on-steroids called FriendFeed, which Michael Arrington describes as “this year’s Twitter.

But I get irritated when I have to spend a lot of time figuring something out, when the whole point to begin with was to *save* time.

I guess I could just unplug for a while. Go off the grid. Relax.

Sad face.

Raising hell and having fun

So keep fightin’ for freedom and justice, beloveds, but don’t you forget to have fun doin’ it.

Lord, let your laughter ring forth.

-Molly Ivins

I am one lucky journo.

So many times in the past 30 years I paused, looked up to the heavens, and thanked the stars that someone was actually paying me to do this fabulous journalism thing.

But as my friend Amy Gahran lamented today in her E-Media Tidbits column, that spirit is long gone from newspaper newsrooms today.

As I know from up-close and personal experience, many newsrooms have been poisoned by a hateful blend of slash, blame and holier-than-thou attitude.

May they all be encased in amber. Soon.

As my friend Molly Ivins once wrote, “I don’t so much mind that newspapers are dying – it’s watching them commit suicide that pisses me off.”

That’s not the culture that lured me into this business, but it is what drove me away.

Once again, though, I got lucky.

My students at UNLV are wonderfully enthusiastic about committing solid, ethical, world-changing and interesting journalism.

They are curious sponges, soaking up every “how-to” and “why” as fast as I can dish it out. They’re excited about experimenting with cell phones and useful tools with wacky names like Twitter and Netvibes and Utterz and Drupal. (Lookout guys, Ning‘s next!)

In this faux town, they chose grounded and interesting beats, including poverty, health and nutrition, women’s health, feminism, the diverse neighborhood near the university, celebrity philanthropy, animals, parking, podcasting, social networking, UNLV basketball, Rebel sports, street racing in Vegas, (update) a local’s guide to Vegas entertainment, a critical look at cosmetic surgery, the NFL Draft and the environment.

They understand that there may be no “man” to go work for, and that they are responsible for establishing their credibility, their brand.

Their stories are relevant, engaging, full of facts, context and staying power.

They are the future.

And ya’ know what, Molly?

We’re having fun!

Twitter 101

What is Twitter?

It is like a microblog, a place to say your piece, or Tweet, in 140 characters or less.

And it is a place to listen.

Unlike my soapbox of a blog, my Twitter home page is actually a waterfall of other people’s words, blended in a real time river from streams around the world. They are people I have stumbled upon and collected simply by clicking on the button to “follow” them.

Those of my colleagues who already think I’m some kind of weirdo for being on Facebook will probably not be encouraged by the fact that one of my favorite followers on Twitter is a dead guy named Buckminster Fuller. (I’m just saying.)

By Twitter standards, I am a mere amateur, following 150 or so people, a museum and a few news services. (I have not yet made the leap to follow a plant, although it is mighty tempting.) By last night, about 90 or so people including my husband ;-) were following me.

What is Twitter? I think it is giant leap forward in communication and connectivity — and I’m incorporating it in my advanced reporting class at UNLV to help students learn to be better writers, communicators and global netizens.

How, why and when? Here’s the Wikipedia entry, and for that matter, here’s a Wiki started and maintained by Twitter Fans. Laughing Squid posted a nifty little clip and save cheat sheet of commands, and there are more applications born each day.

Thanks to the folks at Strategic Public Relations, here is one of the best tutorials and Twitter hack sheets I’ve seen.

How big is it? Here’s the Swiss Army Knife of stat boxes, Twitstat, real time Twitter analytics. Not to be confused with Twitterholic: Who are these people?

As for where, you can Tweet on your computer or Tweet on your cell phone. But unlike simple phone calls, emails or text messages, Twittering is not ordinarily a one-on-one experience.

A Twitter is a broadcast, tossed out there for everyone to hear.

But that’s just the technical answer.

Twittering, someone else said, is like being in a crowded bar surrounded by people talking on their cellphones. (If someone sends me that link, I would love to give credit.)

Twitter is for parents. “If you can’t let go, just Twitter,” wrote one mom in a delightful New York Times piece.

Twitter can be a lifesaver.

Twitter first got my attention when Chuckumentary got the Twitterverse scoop on the Minneapolis bridge collapse, as is chronicled here in a wonderfully encompassing post in David Erickson’s Internet Marketing Blog.

Last fall, KPBS news in San Diego put up a Twitter headline feed of news on the devastating Southern California Wildfires and massive evacuations. When people are evacuating their homes, putting news on a Web page can be useless if the computer is at home or on the back seat of the car. Sending an email is tantamount to delivering a newspaper to the lawn and hoping they get it. But rushing out a Tweet stream to their cell phone with emergency info is better than gold. As Mark Glaser wrote in his MediaShift column at the time, people quickly learned of the emergency alerts and flocked to the Twitter feeds.

Twitter is news.

I first learned of the death of Pakistan’s Benazir Bhutto from BreakingNewsOn’s Twitters, and I now subscribe to BBC, TechMeme , the Associated Press, and TheNewYorkTimes, among others, so I don’t miss anything.

Journalist Jim Long, aka, Newmediajim, is using Twitter to give a very real glimpse behind the scenes as he, an NBC cameraman, takes off with the White House press corps on Air Force One to exotic places such as Crawford, Texas or Africa, and then back again, to a perch in the Senate press gallery, or even at home with his girl. (The past few days he seems to be in a super-secret and dangerous location whose initials are Baghdad.)

Other journalists do it differently. Take former Wonkette, AnaMarie Cox, who has fine-tuned her snark to a priceless 140-character Tweet from the campaign trail. She’s worth watching, even though there is sometimes a gap of days between posts.

Twitter is community.

It can be like sitting with your friends on a coast-to-coast couch, eavesdropping on a national conversation.

Take the mashup from the Super Tuesday primary night, that let us all see primary-related Tweets live.

Twitter is a village, says Laura Fitton, known as Pistachio to the Twitterverse.

Twitter is connecting people to raise money for breast cancer, as this piece in Loudoun extra.com showed.

Twitter is crowdsourcing. There was Rex Hammock’s low-tech request for help on using a new table saw. There is a Wiki effort to create “Twitter Packs” of people to follow in various industries. And with a lot of help from his Twitter friends,  Guy Kawasaki has created Alltop.com, which includes a section of so-called Twitterati. (If you have to ask …)

Twitter is about groups that are created, morphed and created anew, as people collect around events and ideas. For the TED conference last week, there was a not-so-secret handshake. Put #TED into your Twitter post, and we can all follow along, thanks to the wonders of a search in Terraminds (the Google of Twitter) and an RSS feed. (Here’s the result.) There are slices of RSS feeds for this week’s SXSW festival in Austin, and there will be more that just grow organically.

Venture capitalist Fred Wilson (a big investor in TheStreet.com, where I once worked) calls the “#” slice of Twitter an “event firehose.”

On Twitter things are open and the field is level. You can follow Fred and hear his latest musings, or you can follow Dave Winer, the guy who helped make all of this possible by pioneering and developing RSS, blogs and podcasting too. Or you can follow Howard Rheingold, who foresaw some of these possibilities in his fabulous book, Smart Mobs.

What is Twitter?

It is, says Silicon Alley Insider, a new form of literature, as evidenced by this minute-by-minute account as Ryan K was being laid off from Yahoo!

Written well, a Twitter can broadcast magical poetry of our day-to-day lives, as in this one from Laura Fitton that I quickly “favorited” to share with my students.

Trying to describe Twitter is pointless, Rex Hammock says:

It’s a little like trying to explain the telephone by describing what people talk about on the phone. ‘Telephones are devices that teenagers use to spread gossip.’ ‘Telephones are the devices people use to contact police when bad things happen.’ ‘Telephones are the devices you use to call the 7-11 to ask if they have Prince Albert in a can.’

Twitter, as Doc Searls says, is a prototype.

Twitter is me and you and everybody else talking, connecting and listening.

It is a live window on the world, in at least three dimensions.

 …

Update: Check out this lovely and inclusive compendium of Twitter Resources from Kathy E. Gill’s WiredPen blog. And bookmark this comprehensive Twitter-pedia from Mahalo.

Update 2: The Twiends, a social media company that helps people connect through Twitter, has a nice guide for how to build your follower list at this link:  http://twiends.com/get-twitter-followers And for the more visual among us, Twiends also has a fun ‘How to Twitter’ infographic with beginner Twitter tips at this link: http://twiends.com/how-to-twitter

Note: As originally published, this piece incorrectly said Guy Kawasaki was with Forrester Research. Kawasaki  is managing director of a venture capital firm, Garage Technology Ventures, and he writes for Entrepreneur Magazine. 

Saul Alinsky would be proud

The students and I talked current events today in my Web Publishing and Design class, and the chit chat wasn’t about the Super Bowl or Super Duper Tuesday. It was about Microsoft’s bid for Yahoo and what that could mean for all of us.

One among them knew that Google’s CEO reportedly called Yahoo’s CEO to offer help in the battle, as Reuters reported here.

For some context and food for thought, I screened the short Flash movie Epic 2015 for the class, and we talked more about mergers and the media and the future of journalism. (Note to the creators — it needs updating again!)

I was surprised again at how many elements of that movie have become routine parts of our everyday lives, and tickled that it seemed to anticipate something Twitter-like, even though it saw Friendster and not Facebook.

Some of the students said the movie left them depressed, just as it had been a downer for my print journalist friends when I first showed them Epic 2014 back in 2004, and the remake in 2005.

But I think perhaps the movie doesn’t give adequate credit to the indomitable spirit that lives in all of us who can self-publish (for free!) to places like our blogs, YouTube, Flickr, Twitter, and wherever.

So here is why I am smiling, and thank you Laughing Squid, for pulling it together:

In response to Microsoft’s hostile acquisition bid for Yahoo, many Flickr users are expressing concern for what might happen if Microsoft is successful. They have even created a Flickr Group to address this issue, Microsoft: Keep Your Evil Grubby Hands Off Of Our Flickr, complete with photo pool of MS/Flickr takeover images, including some that envision what a Flickr website re-design might look like with Microsoft at the controls.

 

They are using the system to fight the system — as it should be.

I’d like to think that somewhere, Saul Alinksy is smiling upon them.

Quote ‘em if they can’t take a joke

That’s one of my basic rules of journalism, and never has it been so delightfully true as today, when we can not only tell you what someone said, but let you hear how they said it — in their own voice.

One of my students got a very rude awakening last semester thanks to an Embarq screwup, but she turned the incident into a very nice piece of digital journalism.

Have a listen to what she produced and published:

The challenge for the students in my digital storytelling class was to choose the right medium for the story, whether that was text, sound, video, graphics or still images. In this instance, telling the story through text wouldn’t have really done it justice. The sound makes the story.

Las Vegas Sun reporter Tim Pratt, who covers social services and the poor, wrote a piece Jan. 5 about the other victims of this bonehead snaffu by Embarq and the Clark County Housing Authority.

When he interviewed me, Pratt made it clear he understood the power of all things digital by asking if Ruby’s video might “go viral” on the Web.

That would be nice.

What’s important is that journalists no longer need a big old printing press, a radio station or a television station to publish and broadcast stories.

But knowing how to use digital recorders, cameras and editing software is increasingly important.

Just gather the facts, pick a medium, weave the story and publish!

P.S. — Check out the Sun’s Website redesign, which went live today. Among other essentials, they’ve added a field for comments under news stories, acknowledging that news is a conversation.