Arkansas Lawmakers, Journalists Learn the Modern Art of Governing by Tweet

by Luke Jones  on Monday, Jan. 7, 2013 12:00 am  

As Arkansas gears up for its 89th General Assembly, the state Capitol will serve as a crucible for how information spreads. More and more legislators and journalists are using social media to pump out streams of up-to-date facts and opinions, and it’s both a tool and a challenge for the changing media world.

Of all forms of social media, Twitter is the one making the biggest splash, both for reporters and legislators, since it’s widely accessible and can be updated as fast as a person can type on his or her phone.

(See the 9 most active Arkansas legislators on Twitter by clicking here.)

“A fair number of reporters are using it,” said Max Brantley (@ArkansasBlog), senior editor of the Arkansas Times. “TV reporters are much more aggressive users than print reporters. They’re putting out a lot of quick takes on developing news stories.”

But some print-centric journalists are also making use of the 140-character format. Andrew DeMillo (@ADemillo), Capitol correspondent for The Associated Press’ Little Rock bureau, for example, is highly active on Twitter.

“The way I use Twitter is I view it as a tool for reporting,” he said. “It’s also for letting people know about my reporting. But I try to be really careful that it’s not viewed as my only tool. It’s a great tool to have, but it doesn’t substitute interviewing people or going to meetings or basic stuff like picking up the phone and making FOI requests. It’s a good way to know what’s going on, to keep track of things without cloning yourself.”

Following politicians’ Twitter feeds also helps DeMillo to be in many places at once.

“It’s a lot easier now to know what’s going on in committee rooms if you’re not there,” he said. “If you go to any committee room during a session, in the House or the Senate, they’re tweeting things going on in there a lot of times as fast as or sometimes faster than what you’re seeing from reporters there.”

Gabe Holmstrom (@Gabe_Holmstrom), the incoming House chief of staff, is one of those tweeters. He was an early adopter of the media platform.

“I remember reading an article in 2008 that this was going to be the next big thing,” he said. “I wanted to learn about it, and so that’s when I joined up and started participating.”

Holmstrom’s philosophy is to put out information that voters wouldn’t be able to see anywhere else. He said more information is always a good thing.

“One of the big changes you saw going back to the 1992 presidential campaign was what we referred to as the 24-hour news cycle with cable television,” he said. “The length of the news cycle has significantly shrunk. The news that happens today, with people on Twitter and following blogs, if people want to be actively engaged, they can see the news … as it happens as opposed to having to wait for the evening news or the newspaper the next day.”



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