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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My Spot.Us pitch about Muni reaches full funding

December 22, 2008

Success! My Spot.Us pitch for a story about San Francisco’s Muni express bus service, and why Muni doesn’t run more express buses, is now fully funded.

Thanks to all the sponsors who signed on to support this story — and, by extension, the concept of crowd-funded journalism. Thanks also to Spot.Us honcho Dave Cohn. Without his efforts, I’d still be in the fundraising stage.

I’m really pleased to be able to get moving on the legwork for this story, which I expect to start in January, and I have ideas for several other stories I think would fit in well on Spot.Us.

My Spot.Us pitch on Muni express buses is here.

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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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(Almost) everything you know about television and politics is wrong

September 29, 2008

Most of us think we know where televised debates fit into a campaign for elected office. They can remake a failing campaign or break a glass house. They provide iconic moments by which history remembers the participants. They show us just how shallow our political process has become. Right? Wrong.

Or, at least, largely wrong, according to Bruce Carlson’s podcast My History Can Beat Up Your Politics.

After watching Friday’s debate between U.S. presidential candidates Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. John McCain, I listened to an episode of the fascinating My History podcast covering the impact of television, including televised debates, on the American political process. According to Carlson, TV hasn’t cheapened modern politics, in part because earlier media accomplished that task already. And as for debates making or breaking candidates? Seldom true, Carlson says. All in all, it’s a fascinating listen that may help put the next few weeks of the presidential campaign in a historical context

Click here for the MHCBUYP episode on television, politics and debates.

Click here to go to My History Can Beat Up Your Politics on iTunes.

I should say that I’m not really clear on who Carlson is, exactly — or what makes him an expert in either history or politics. Below is how Carlson replied when I asked him about how he knows the things he says he does. His podcast and opinions undoubtedly are fascinating, and I listen to his podcast regularly, but make up your own mind about how reliable you think his facts are.

“I work outside of politics and history, and my college degree was in literature. I have no training but a lifetime of spending bizzare amounts of time in the public libraries reading old books on history and politics. I suppose. My observations then, must stand on their own.”

— Bruce Carlson

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Palin accepts blessing from witch-hunter: View the video

September 25, 2008

Sarah Palin’s former church congregation, led by a man who believed a demonic presence once caused car crashes in Kenya, prayed to protect the U.S. Republican Party vice-presidential candidate against witchcraft. But is that really significant?

As I wrote in March with regard to U.S. presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama and his former pastor the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, I don’t think it’s useful to judge a layperson by every word that emerges from the people at the pulpit of his or her church. So, just because Palin’s church in Wasilla, Alaska welcomed a preacher who has said he got his start in Kenya hunting witches and fighting a demonic presence that was causing automobile accidents, is it fair or useful to imply that this means something significant about Palin’s potential performance as vice-president of the United States? Probably not, but for one factor we’ll get to in a moment.

One thing that’s important to keep in mind is that for most believing Christians, one of the essential duties of their faith is to spread it among other people. How actively they pursue this spread varies greatly, but the point, for these Christians, is to bring to other people the benefits and rewards they believe a Christian faith and life brings to them. It is intended to be a loving act. So with that in mind, it doesn’t seem all that odd that any Christian church would want to spread its faith.

Further, for many believing Christians, their faith is one of the primary lenses through which they view the world. Whether something is right or wrong — and what they should do about it — is determined by its conformance with the tenets of their faith. Therefore, the believer is required to strive to live his or her life in accordance with faith.

However, these two well-intended desires can bump up pretty hard against another high principle, one manifested in the essential component of American democracy that the government may not establish a religion. Or, to use a Bible reference, the principle that that which is Caesar’s (the everyday world) is separate from that which is God’s (the spiritual world).

That’s what brings us to the point where whatever Sarah Palin believes, in a religious sense, becomes potentially significant. Palin has said that she has not been a member of that church since 2002. But as you may see in the videos below, Palin doesn’t just sit as a member of the congregation while Muthee talks about the need to make the media and public educational systems active instruments of God — she gets up on the dais and participates.

I don’t think it’s any fairer to judge Palin solely by her religion any more than it was fair to judge John F. Kennedy solely on the basis of his Catholic faith. Still, I urge you to view these videos — particularly the second one — in full, and make your own judgments about what you see. Make up your own mind about the significance of Palin’s faith, Obama’s past link with Wright, Joe Biden’s Catholicism and McCain’s general reluctance to talk about his religion.

The first video below comes from MSNBC’s “Countdown” with Keith Olbermann. The first few minutes will give you the basics of this story. Unfortunately, Olbermann mocks and ridicules religious faith, which isn’t appropriate no matter how different that faith may seem to him. The second video, though nearly 10 minutes long, is perhaps more useful because you may see the context of the “anti-witchcraft” blessing in which Palin participates.

By the way, the Times of London had a good piece about this, click here to read it.

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