A-Tweet-ion spans

A little circle of irony here:

I found a poignant article about how Twitter is destroying journalism and the ability to read stories longer than 140 characters on the Newspaper Escape Plan Twitter feed.

A brief snippet of that story, which really merits a full read:

This guy didnt need Twitter
This guy didn't need Twitter

A few months ago, I sat across a cafe table from a local newspaper editor and watched the bewilderment on his face as he told me how the Internet has altered print journalism at his own paper. Recently some of its readers complained when they heard through word of mouth about a car accident in town but couldn’t find updates on the newspaper’s Web site. “We told them they had to wait until we’d investigated and could post a full report,” he said, “and they demanded to know why we couldn’t just Twitter the information right then.” The answer, of course, is that 140 characters gives reporters just enough room to note who, what, where, why, and how in the most basic terms. That may be news, but it’s not a news story.

Here’s what scares me. Now, I’m not afraid of Twitter at all. Being young and impressionable, I’ve embraced the technology as a way to get more people involved with the Tracy Press, since media is no longer a one-way street. The TP Twitter is my way of seeing what Tracyites are thinking. It was no way meant to substitute Tracy Press’ news content any more than potatoes are meant to substitute for prime rib.

If there’s a concern among residents, I try to follow up on it and do a story. The “tweets” we put out are a headline and a link to the corresponding story. If there’s breaking news, something big that we can’t write up right away, but we know people need to be informed, we Tweet the basic information, but tell them there’s a full story on the way. Then we link to the full story, letting the reader know what happened to whom, where, why and how.

But Twitter in general is killing our attention span, one that has already been hurt by TV and the Internet and our need for constant, instant gratification. It’s killing our relationships and friendships and ability to form complex thought.

Twitter is like driving through at McDonald’s. Sure, it may fill you up for the time being, but it was done hastily and in an attempt to get you on your way. It offers very little in the way of nutritional (or in this case, informational) value. Ask Morgan Spurlock what happens when you eschew wholesome food for cheap and easy junk. A news story, even if you have to wait an hour or two for it, provides readers with the full deal. They have a fuller sense of what’s going on because the reporter can spend 400 or 500 words describing the action and putting in a few quotes.

In a world where TV and blogs are just going for the quick hit or quick soundbite, why don’t newspapers play to their strength and deliver on accurate, wholesome reporting, instead of trying to beat others at a game it can’t win?

This is a point explained clearly by my former co-worker at the SDSU Daily Aztec, Devin Kunysz, who smartened up and left journalism for marketing.

The sad part is, Newspapers and Magazines are just like books, far more appealing in their physical form than they are online. But, because of awful marketing, zero innovation and generally lacking content, they’ve fallen behind.

Newspapers need to blow up their model. They should be using online as a tool. Put the story online, then bring the reader in with extra information. Make the newspaper itself, the print version, bigger and better. Stop trying to compete with TV and the Web for immediacy, and instead cover a few things thoroughly.

The article and Devin’s blog made me wonder: in these days of NOW-NOW-NOW immediacy, how far would Grantland Rice and W.C. Heinz’s stories get past the editors? I’m afraid we may have stifled some of the most creative editorial writers of our time because a metro editor told some intern that his lede was too long, or that a sports editor hacked a story to bits that didn’t have the score in the first three grafs and play-by-play right after.

I read John Updike’s amazing feature on Ted Williams — “Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu” — and weep, knowing that someone would probably make Updike re-write this story, make it half as long. And of course, if that story was posted online today and open for comments, the first “interaction” might be something like “TLDR” or “Ted Willams SUXKS!!!”

Whatever happened to taking the time and enjoying something worthwhile?

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