I love Twitter, but I hate this book

December 15, 2009

I put off writing this review of “140 Characters” for far too long. The problem is, I love Twitter but I hate this book.

I think part of my problem with “140 Characters: A Style Guide for the Short Form” is due to its subtitle. The truth is, it’s not much of a style guide.

‘140 Characters’ isn’t about how-to help

140 Characters: A style guide for the short form

140 Characters: A style guide for the short form

In the 12 years I worked in newspapers, I turned to the Associated Press Stylebook for advice on everything from the difference between Baptists and Lutherans to the correct way to note the caliber of pistol ammunition. I still keep the stylebook close at hand. But the AP Stylebook is a practical, no-nonsense guide to how to construct discrete elements of whatever it is you happen to be writing, regardless of whether it’s a serious analysis of international monetary systems or a column about a new cartoon show on TV. It spends little space trying to inspire writers to write, encouraging them to be creative or gushing about the joy of being a journalist. Even the AP’s Guide to News Writing is more “how to” than “how marvelous.” “140 Characters,” on the other hand, seems mostly concerned with convincing the reader of the unbearable wonderfulness of using Twitter.

I love Twitter. It’s interesting and informative — dare I say wonderful? — and I use it every day. I really wanted to like this book, but I don’t have any time for 179 pages of syrupy evangelism for Twitter. If “140 Characters” had been subtitled something such as “Find your voice on Twitter” and presented as an inspirational tome, the book might have been easier to swallow and might have been more clearly targeted toward the kind of people who go to writers’ groups to talk about how great it is to be a writer.

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Obama’s Iraq speech Wordle

February 27, 2009

Here’s a Wordle I made of President Barack Obama’s speech about Iraq at Camp Lejune Friday, Feb. 27, 2009.

Wordle: President Obama Iraq speech Feb. 27, 2009

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Top 10 best and worst communicators of 2008

January 7, 2009

If the past is prologue, perhaps I’m not too late to point out communications guru Bert Decker’s list of the 10 best and worst communicators of 2008. I was pleased to introduce San Francisco Examiner readers to Bert’s observations back when I was editorial-page editor there, and he’s never failed to produce relevant insight each year. Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin has the uncommon distinction of making the 2008 list twice: once among the best, and once with the worst.

Sarah Palin at the August 31st Road to the Convention Rally. This was taken just after she entered, before John McCain delivered his speech to over 10,000 supporters in the T.R. Hughes Baseball Stadium in OFallon, MO.

Sarah Palin photo by Jeff Geerling, http://flickr.com/people/lifeisaprayer/

PretePress readers may recall a similar observation I made following Palin’s speech to the Republican Convention in September.

From Bert’s blog:

1.    Barack Obama
As his star continues to rise, there’s just no contest for #1 Best Communicator.
And it’s not just because he was elected President that he deserves #1, but that he was elected President BECAUSE of his communications ability. President Elect Obama is the first repeat at #1 (2006) and for the same reason. He vaulted from obscurity on the strength of his words and speeches at the 2004 Democratic Convention, and just kept talking. To date he hasn’t really done much except communicate. Shows you how important that skill is. One of the greatest modern orators, we’ll now see if he can replace Bill Clinton as “the great communicator” while in office.

2.    Tim Russert
He was one of the best, and we’ll miss him.
One of our best TV journalists died this year, and he would have made this list without the posthumous honor. Russert was personable, energetic and open but also tough, incisive and smart. Meet The Press, and Network TV News will never be the same. His son Luke Russert was eloquent in his eulogy, and maybe there will be more…

Read the rest of Bert Decker’s list on his excellent — and useful — blog.

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Update on my Muni express bus story pitch

December 11, 2008

I’m really pleased to report that I’ve almost reached full funding for my story about San Francisco’s Muni express bus service on spot.us!

Muni may be watching its funding get yanked out from under it right now, but that makes it even more important for Muni to run well with the resources still available. And clearly, people are interested in why Muni doesn’t run more expresses to serve the needs of daily commuters. As of the afternoon of Dec. 11, my story pitch for crowd-funded journalism site spot.us was just $60 away from full funding.

And — super cool — San Francisco blog SFist ran a little piece about my story pitch. Thanks, SFist! Read the SFist post at http://sfist.com/2008/12/09/can_muni_run_more_express_buses.php.

A more detailed update is available on my YouTube channel, http://www.youtube.com/user/tpretesf. Or just watch the video below.

For more information about my story idea, spot.us and how crowd-funded journalism works, please visit http://www.spot.us/pitches/39.

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Muni express pitch for Spot.us catches MetBlogs’ eye

November 24, 2008

My pitch for a story about San Francisco’s Muni express bus service has attracted some attention over at MetBlogs, as has new crowd-funded journalism site spot.us.

MetBlogs’ Anna explains the concept this way: “You submit an idea, either a story you want reported, or one you want to report, and people vote or Digg it *before* the work is done. Crowd-sourced journalism.”

Muni bus on Market Street.

Muni bus on Market Street.

I’m also pleased to report that thanks to some generous pledges, funding for my story is just $180 from the goal. For just a few dollars (really — a donation of 10 bucks makes a big impact), you can be part of this new direction in journalism, too. And if you’re a media outlet or other publisher of news, don’t forget that this is a great way to get unique content at a very reasonable price.

To find out more about spot.us and my story about Muni express buses, please visit www.spot.us/pitches/39.

Read the rest of MetBlogs’ post.

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Why doesn’t Muni run more express buses?

November 19, 2008

Have you ever missed the last Muni express bus and had to endure a slow bus ride home through San Francisco at the end of a long day at work? Have you come to know your fellow bus commuters a little more intimately than you might have liked because those express buses are so crowded? Have you ever thought of giving up driving your car to work in San Francisco, only to find that the express bus just doesn’t meet your needs? What’s going on? Why doesn’t Muni run more express buses?

You can help get the story on San Francisco’s Muni express buses by taking part in a new direction in media and the news: crowd-funded journalism. Crowd-funded journalism means that instead of a single publication or other media outlet paying for a news story, lots of people pitch in a little bit to fund the story. For print publications, blogs and other publishers of content, this means good content at a very low price. For news consumers, this means that they can decide what news gets published, by making even a small contribution.

I’ve pitched this story on the new crowd-funded (or “community-funded,” if you prefer) journalism site spot.us. For more information about my story on Muni express buses, or about spot.us and crowd-funded journalism, watch the video below or visit http://www.spot.us/pitches/39.

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Looking back on the Cosco Busan

November 7, 2008

One year ago, the container ship Cosco Busan hit a bumper on one of the towers of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, spilling more than 50,000 gallons of toxic bunker fuel in San Francisco Bay.

(More following video below)

I went down to Ocean Beach to see the damage for myself, and things were pretty bad. I expected the beach to be completely black with oil, and thought it wasn’t that bad, it was bad enough, with blobs of oil from the size of marbles up to the size of dinner plates all over the sand, and more stuck to the wrack that always rests on the beach.

Oil blob, Ocean Beach

Oil blob, Ocean Beach

The worst part was the birds. I saw a dead bird covered with oil right away, and farther down the beach I found more that were still alive but heavily oiled and clearly in distress. I think the saddest sight was two little eared grebes hunkered down in the sand near the end of Sloat Boulevard, desperately trying to preen the oil out of their feathers. They likely ingested quite a bit of the oil stuck to them, in which case they probably didn’t survive.

Dead murre on Ocean Beach

Dead murre on Ocean Beach

One year later, some measures have been taken to prevent another spill and to better clean up afterward, but much more remains undone. A proposed law requiring double-hulled fuel tanks on cargo ships is stalled in Congress, some proposals for faster required response times have been rejected, and most glaringly there still is little training available for people who want to be part of volunteer cleanup crews in preparation for the next spill.

Oiled grebe on Ocean Beach

Oiled grebe on Ocean Beach

As for the impact of the spill on the environment of San Francisco Bay and the nearby parts of the Pacific Ocean coast, that’s still under study. One important piece of information will come in just a matter of weeks, when schools of herring make their annual journey into the bay to lay their eggs on eelgrass and various seaweeds. The herring fishery is the last commercial fishery in the bay, with herring eggs (preferably still attached to the seaweed) fetching a good price in Japan.

The pilot guiding the Cosco Busan on the day of the crash is set to go to trial in the spring.

For more videos of the Cosco Busan aftermath at Ocean Beach and Aquatic Park, including video of oiled birds and bird rescues, visit my YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/user/tpretesf.

For more photos of the oil spill, including some that the Weather Channel picked up for an episode of its Forecast Earth show, click here to visit my Flickr photostream. I’ve separated some oil spill photos into two folders to make them easier to find.

The San Francisco Chronicle did a good job of covering the Cosco Busan spill when it happened, and they’ve done a good job following up a year later. I don’t see any reason to reinvent the wheel here, so here are some links to my posts from last year, plus some Chronicle stories:

PretePress: Black death on the beach

PretePress: Oil spill updtate November 9

Pretepress: Track the path of San Francisco oil spill tanker

PretePress: S.F.’s Aquatic Park reopens after oil spill

Chronicle op-ed reviewing reactions to the spill and what needs to be done

Chronicle article on the role of the pilot and what went wrong

Chronicle on the ongoing environmental effects of the Cosco Busan oil spill

Chronicle on the lack of training for public oil spill response

Chronicle article providing a considerably rosier view of the bay’s recovery, from the USCG

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