Opinion and Forefront

SHELLA: Twitter now imperative for political junkies

June 30, 2012

Jim Shella“Mike Pence calls for making vocational education a priority in every high school.”

That’s a tweet I sent out using my smartphone while attending a recent news conference held by Republican candidate for governor Mike Pence. It’s not exactly in-depth journalism, though I did follow up with this analysis:

“Pence has said repeatedly that this race is about jobs and education. He’s trying to combine the two.”

Certainly no one is going to learn much from that, or any message of 140 characters or less, but I am here to tell you that Twitter is the place to go if you want to keep up with Indiana politics. It’s how I keep up with events I can’t attend.

It’s a new development. Several years ago, when congressman Todd Rokita was still secretary of state, he made it known to the public that he was among the first, if not the very first, Indiana politician to create a Twitter account. I made it known to the public that it didn’t seem like a meaningful way to communicate with voters. I have been convinced otherwise.

So, there I was the other day, sending this tweet from a Rokita news conference:

“Todd Rokita & Richard Mourdock together to talk about the need to change health care reform.”

And another:

“It’s one more Mourdock/mainstream moment.”

At both the Rokita event and the Pence event, other political reporters were sending tweets of their own. (You can find me @shellawish; other reporters are easy to find, though I’ll resist recommendations here.)

The point is that Twitter provides a play-by-play of every meaningful political event that takes place these days. It’s not a substitute for real reporting, but it does substitute for the wire services that used to supply those of us in the news business with the first accounts of events we weren’t watching, and now anybody can take part. In fact, Twitter is turning every political reporter into a wire service reporter and that makes news consumers more informed than ever before.

That’s because those political reporters are also writing long-form stories for TV stations, newspapers, radio stations and websites. And, guess what? When those stories are published, they get posted on Twitter, along with tiny URLs. Click on them and you go straight to the longer story.

Just four years ago, Barack Obama was winning praise for finding new ways to use text messages and social media to build support in his run for president. But four years ago, neither candidate for governor, Jill Long Thompson nor Mitch Daniels, had a Twitter account. Now, both Pence (@pencecampaign) and John Gregg (@greggforgovernor) are using Twitter, not just to build support, but also to tear down the opponent.

Gregg started the negative application with an account (@penceplan) that attacks the congressman’s record and does so with an attached picture of Pence to call attention to it. The Pence campaign at first objected to the folks at Twitter, forcing the account to be suspended for a short period, before it was changed to meet Twitter guidelines that discourage impersonation.

Then someone who supports Pence campaign came up with its own attack account (@greggplan1).

Twitter is suddenly a staple for all sorts of folks, but the changes it produced in Indiana politics are impressive. Despite the accusations that he is out of touch, even Dick Lugar has a Twitter account.

And the other day, the current occupant of the Secretary of State’s Office started a Twitter account, recognizing the trend Rokita started. I immediately signed up to receive tweets from Connie Lawson, joining a group of followers that was still in single digits.

Now, if I could just figure out that whole hash tag thing.•

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Shella is WISH-TV Channel 8’s political reporter as well as host and producer of the Emmy-nominated “Indiana Week in Review.” Send comments on this column to ibjedit@ibj.com.

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