Monday, May 11, 2009

Finally, Something Twitterific

I don't give a damn about Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore's plans for tonight. I thought I'd find Tweets from the local newspapers useful but I rarely read them even when they are texted to my phone. And I've found little value myself in Tweeting other than to have new blog posts and shows in the podcast feed broadcasted or when I forget to bring a notebook to an assignment and need to keep track of something.

But this. Oh my. This is just too great.

I'd never heard of Dan Baum before. He's been a writer for the New Yorker and now has a book about post-Katrina New Orleans out that's getting raves. And he is making Twitter into something I can actually, finally enjoy.

Beginning on May 8 at 10:46 a.m., Baum has been Tweeting the story of how he lost his gig at The New Yorker. It is riveting. Not just how he lost it -- he hasn't totally gone through that yet -- but what it's like to be a New Yorker writer. Among the best stuff to me:

* His uncredited, unpaid wife did half his work. Yo, Miles...

* He made a paltry $90,000 a year, no benefits, for 30,000 words. (Paltry, that is, considering the enormous prestige, the fact that he was supporting a family, the fact that he was barred from writing for a list of other major magazines including Playboy and Rolling Stone, and that most mid-career hires at The New York Times make more.) He also admitted he tried for 17 years to get a New Yorker assignment, which suddenly filled me with a great deal of hope.

* His Tweets have pointed to fascinating parts of his site including successful and unsuccessful story pitches and even full stories he wrote that were killed by the New Yorker. (Of Vegas interest, by the by, is his failed pitch to do a New Yorker piece on the Binion slaying. I'm not sure if the NYer ever did anything about Binion.)

So, OK, Hunter Hillegas, Melissa Arsenuik and the rest of you who have told me I'm wrong about Twitter being over. This very narrowly focused use of the tool is working for me. But guess what? It works in this instance because it's behaving like...a storyteller. It's not what Dan had for breakfast or what he thinks of the Mets game. He's hooked me by telling a compelling yarn with actual suspense. Which is something that less than half of a percent of the folks who use Twitter, including me, do.

When Baum is done with this peculiar confessional exercise, though, and goes back to reporting the minutae of his book tour, something tells me I'll tune out. And then I'll be back to my original thesis: Twitter is over.


Anonymous said...

What is this 'Twitter' thing you speak of?


R-J Guy said...

it was this big tech fad at the beginning of the obama era. went bankrupt, i think.

Anonymous said...

In terms of topic, those stories the New Yorker killed sound a lot better than much of the abstruse crap it *does* publish. And I say that as a New Yorker subscriber of long standing. But it often seems like David Remnick and all his predecessors (Tina Brown excepted) pride themselves on running stories that are doomed to go unread.

David McKee

GregoryZephyr said...

My job is with online products and while Twitter is kind of interesting I'm not sure I see much of a "next big thing" to it. Sure, if you want to know what Shaq is thinking 5 minutes before the game starts, maybe. But, reading a story one sentence at a time is odd and I suspect people will get tired of that. Unless it is something immediately urgent (like maybe swine flu updates) why not just wait to read it until the guy finishes writing the whole story? Using it to dribble out tidbits of more info to come might be the only thing that could be useful. E.g., "Hi! This is Barack Obama and I may or may not run for a second term. I'll let you know in my next tweet."

Dan said...

Wow, since when did $90,000 become paltry? Oh well, market forces at work.


Gregory - I dunno about that. people watch 1-minute webisodes of shows that only post every week or so, waitng for the next part. People wait from week to week for TV show episodes. If there's suspense built in and there's minimal effort, it works in certain circumstances. But I agree in general, re: Twitter.

Dan: $90K with no benefits is surprisingly low for a staff job at a major NY-based magazine like the New Yorker. Wouldn't you think that would be low for, say, a top TV news anchor? Well, a staff job at the New Yorker is one of hte most prestigious gigs in the field.