JOHN L. PITTS: Believe or not, there is a useful side to Twitter

By John Pitts/NEMS Daily Journal

I come this morning to praise Twitter, not to bury it. It’s easy to focus on all the negative news surrounding Twitter, a social media website that lets you share messages, known as “tweets,” that can’t exceed 140 characters.
After all, a congressman recently quit in the wake of what was seen as some very inappropriate tweets, and all sorts of college and pro athletes have gotten into hot water on Twitter.
But behind the scenes, Twitter has helped promote a quiet revolution in the way many news organizations including the Daily Journal do their business.
First, a confession: I am a Twitter junkie. I have to get my daily fix, both reading what others have posted and of posting myself. I don’t know how I ever got along without it.
I first opened a Twitter account in March of 2009 and more or less promptly forgot about it. In the next six months, I might have tweeted 40 times.
Now, I can do 40 tweets on a slow day – and about a thousand every month.
What changed? It finally clicked for me during the 2009 high school football season. People were going to games and tweeting updates on scores, so it was possible to keep a handle on what was happening at two dozen sites, all at once.
That’s a significant advantage for us on a demanding deadline – after all, it was just a few years ago that reporters would walk back in the office on a football night and the first question you’d ask was, “Hey, who won your game?”
Now, we know precisely when the football game at Lafayette or West Point or Corinth ended and who won, because somebody there tweeted the final result.
That’s also true during playoff time in sports like high school baseball and softball. It used to require an endless series of phone calls to track down scores from downstate – if there was time to do that at all on deadline. But most teams now have at least one person, perhaps a reporter or a determined fan, tweeting from any given game.
I have called Twitter “the Swiss Army Knife of the Internet.” It’s a quick way to let people know a little something about a lot of things. And to find out a little something about almost anything.
And I could give you a thousand other examples of how it helps us do our jobs. But here are just a few:
– I “watched” the dramatic end of the Mississippi State-Florida football game last fall on Twitter, because I couldn’t see it on TV. Reporters on the scene, including our Brad Locke, were tweeting as that last-second field goal try by the Gators went wide right.
– We keep up with a lot of developments ahead of them becoming widely known – Saltillo’s Tim Dillard getting called up to pitch in the major leagues by the Brewers and then sent back down, for example, or the death late last week of former MSU broadcaster Dick Crago in Florida.
– Savvy organizations, including our area community colleges and high school athletic departments including those at Tupelo, New Albany and East Webster, have quickly adopted Twitter as another way to get out their sports news.
– If we’re stumped on a question, we just ask on Twitter. Is Tupelo’s Robert Scribner running in a marathon? Did Bubba Watson’s mother really grow up in Booneville? Did the Lee County TigerCats play football on Saturday night? All you have to do is ask – somebody on Twitter knows.
And I’ll offer this cautionary tale for why coaches and athletes should keep tweeting – the Ole Miss baseball team was 23-14 overall and tied for the SEC Western Division lead when Rebels coach Mike Bianco (twitter.com/CoachMikeBianco) made his last tweet of the 2011 season.
After that, the Rebels only won 7 of their last 18 games and missed the SEC tournament. You could look it up.
Coincidence? Probably, but why take the chance?
I say, “winners tweet and tweeters prosper.”
John L. Pitts is sports editor of the Daily Journal. Contact him at 678-1522 or john.pitts@djournal.com. Or, you know, look for him on Twitter.