Posted at 1:59 PM on June 9, 2008
by Sanden Totten
It was a big night at MPR. St. Paul was the center of America's attention for one night thanks to Barack Obama. We had reporters at the Xcel. We had reporters outside the Xcel. We had political analysts standing by in the studio. And then there was me . . . covering the historic event in140 characters or less.
Someone had the idea to use Twitter to "tweet" coverage of the Obama rally on-line. For the uninitiated, Twitter is a social application that essentially works like an update of the old telegraph system. You can send very short messages (one or two sentences max) to all of your contacts with a single click. They can get these updates on their computer, blackberry or cell phone.
Covering the rally with Twitter worked pretty well. We had some goof-ups on the technological end and I'll be the first to admit I had no idea what I was doing when we started the evening, but by the end we got the hang of it. But what really surprised me was what happened after the rally.
The team of us working on the Tweet beat got kudos from almost everyone in the building. People wanted to know how we could use Twitter to find more listeners, to get more young people interested in public radio, to bring MPR to the forefront of Web 2.0. It felt a little like watching the Emperor's New Clothing unfold in our newsroom. Everyone loved all that Twitter had to offer . . . but no one seemed to know what exactly that was.
Now, given my very limited experience with Twitter, I'd count myself in that latter category. But from what I do know, the program is no savior. What really impresses me though, has nothing to do with "tweeting" at all . . . it's that in a newsroom, where for a long time people have played it safe, measured all the risks before making a move . . . these folks were now congratulating us for trying a chaotic experiment with uncertain results. That's a big deal.
In the media business right now, no one really knows what web application or social networking trend will be the one to bring us into the digital future. But one thing's for sure, without the right attitude about taking chances, you'll quickly be left behind.