Column: How to know everything — always

02/09/2011 1:15 PM |

Here’s what I learned Tuesday while sitting and editing stories: LIPA overcharged customers by $231 million; the governor is planning a special budget speech at Hofstra; NYC is looking at sewage as a source of energy; the Riverhead school tax levy could go up some 6 percent or more next year; and Lindsay Lohan is about to get arrested, again.

Nope, I wasn’t surfing the Web all day when I should have been putting a newspaper together.

I knew all these things, probably before you, because I’m now on Twitter and I checked Tweets in between my editing chores.

I understand that just the words Twitter and Tweets may make many of us cringe, but the truth is, the whole Twitter thing gets a bad rap. And that’s mostly due to the celebrity Tweets that find their way onto newspaper and Web gossip pages. The ridiculous and annoying way the technology is used during CNN newscasts doesn’t help either. Who really cares what an unknown person by the handle Kyle4e in Fairbanks, Ill., thinks about gun control?

But I’ve learned since signing up for Twitter just a few weeks ago that it can serve as a running source of information that helps you at least look like you know about everything ­— always. It’s really quite remarkable. And all you have to do is log in.

Throughout the day, I get headlines from CNN, Newsday, News12, the Associated Press, even the Riverhead Recreation Department and the Long Island Rail Road. If an LIRR train heading to Riverhead from Ronkonkoma is running 13 minutes late, I know about it. There’s even some comic relief, as I’ve subscribed to news from Gawker, The Onion and Howard Stern. And by subscribing, I don’t mean having to fill in my name and address, squinting and writing letter by letter into tiny boxes and sending a pre-paid envelope in the mail. It’s just a matter clicking on logo-adorned boxes on a computer screen, like a digital newsstand.

Of course, the question remains, is this stuff rotting our brains? Unlike Facebook, I don’t see much difference between Twitter and thumbing through a daily newspaper. Being a journalist who worked for years at dailies, I’ve heard of all the studies. I know how you people consume news content. You’ll look at all the photos, read a lot of headlines and maybe some sub-headlines, then possibly a few photo captions and ­— if we’re lucky — the first two or even three paragraphs of a few stories.

A whopping 3 percent of newspaper readers actually make it to the end of a piece we labor over and grow so attached to through the writing process.

Consuming Twitter headlines, and picking out which to click and read further, isn’t a very different process — but it is free. So it’s okay to just read headlines and move on without feeling some guilt about the good money you spent just to eye a paper’s photos. You get a range of news — politics, sports, gossip — by selecting which feeds to follow, as well as individual celebrities.

And celebrities don’t have to be Hollywood or reality star-types. Your favorite authors, for example, and even scientific researchers are on Twitter, pumping out those 140-character posts several times a day, keeping people apprised of their latest projects or breakthroughs, or simply providing some insights into their everyday lives.

So, in short, it’s not just a medium for prepubescent teens and Anderson Cooper fans. It’s a great way to sound smart at family parties. So go to, choose a username and password and start doing searches for whatever interests you — be it news, trains, knitting or exercising — and start “following” related people and organizations.

And be sure to follow The Suffolk Times! Just enter thesuffolktimes into the search box on the Twitter homepage.

That’s right; it appears I just wrote an advertisement for our own Twitter account.

Maybe this social media stuff has warped my mind.

Michael White is the editor of the Riverhead News-Review. He can be reached at [email protected] or 631- 298-3200, ext. 152. Or follow him on Twitter at mikewhite31.



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