• April 23, 2009

    Tweet No Tears for Old Media Biases

    Maureen Dowd landed an interview many tech writers would give their eye teeth for. Yesterday, Ms. Dowd, a regularly featured opinion columnist for the New York Times, published the results of an interview with Twitter founders Evan Williams and Biz Stone. Unfortunately she flubbed it, or perhaps more appropriately, her clearly biased approach to the medium produced a whale of a fail. During the interview, Ms. Dowd seemed at times frustrated by the terse and sometimes smart-assed answers given by Williams and Stone. In other places, she seemed to miss their points on purpose. What was clear reading the interview was her fear of the future of her profession, a fear she misdirected towards the two Twitter founders. That fear was apparent from the first lines of her column which invoked the legendary British horror director Alfred Hitchcock,

    "Alfred Hitchcock would have loved the Twitter headquarters here. Birds gathering everywhere, painted on the wall in flocks, perched on the coffee table, stitched on pillows and framed on the wall with a thought bubble asking employees to please tidy up after themselves."
    The mention was a droll nod to one of Hitchcock's masterworks, "The Birds", a horror film about a small town invaded by endless flocks of psychotic winged killers. Using the reference, she showed the depth of the siege mentality that has taken over the masters of traditional media as their revenues are overtaken by the emergence of new media and the increasing pace of defection among readers and advertisers. Her premise for the interview revealed a bit more about her bias and a lot more about her attitude towards the newly empowered Tweetering class.
    "I was here on a simple quest: curious to know if the inventors of Twitter were as annoying as their invention. (They’re not. They’re charming.) I sat down with Biz Stone, 35, and Evan Williams, 37, and asked them to justify themselves."
    Twitter has taken mainstream America by storm over the past few days riding on a wave which has been building for almost six months. When the reigning queen of American mass market taste Oprah Winfrey made her first Tweet on TV earlier this week, the extraordinary mini-blog/instant messaging application received an endorsement that pushes even the most mediocre actor, writer or in this case, killer-app towards mega-stardom and success. Ms. Dowd seems happier than an un-caged bird to try to lead a backlash against that success. Luckily, Evan Williams and Biz Stone were willing to show their own annoyance while answering her leading and sometimes silly questions.
    "ME (Dowd): Is there any thought that doesn’t need to be published? BIZ: The one I’m thinking right now."
    Ms. Dowd continued to push at Stone and Williams, even to the point of accusing them of attempting to destroy civilization,
    "ME: Was there anything in your childhood that led you to want to destroy civilization as we know it? BIZ: You mean enhance civilization, make it even better?"
    Throughout the interview, Ms. Dowd continues to try to trip her subjects into saying something careless or stupid. Instead of trying to learn more about the technology and its applications, she tried to trivialize her subject and its inventors. What emerges amounts to a sad commentary that is more based in bias than the clarity her curiosity usually produces. Ironically, Twitter might actually be a saving grace for newspapers, at least for the the less profitable but far more accessible online versions. Brent D. Payne, the Director of Search Engine Optimization for the Tribune Company has been one of those in the forefront of smart use of Twitter to draw readers to nearly 60 websites owned and operated by the Tribune Company. Similarly, Marshall Simmons, the SEO for Ms. Dowd's employer, The New York Times, uses Twitter to push and promote stories from the NYTimes and associated newspapers. Towards the end of the interview, Ms. Dowd remains unconvinced of any benefits she or her industry might derive from Twitter. That's unfortunate and the state of traditional media might well be summed up by the last volley of question and answer between her and Biz Stone,
    "ME: I would rather be tied up to stakes in the Kalahari Desert, have honey poured over me and red ants eat out my eyes than open a Twitter account. Is there anything you can say to change my mind? BIZ: Well, when you do find yourself in that position, you’re gonna want Twitter. You might want to type out the message “Help.”"
    While we remain wary of a perceived decline in print journalism, we shed no tears for old media bias.