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Brevity is the soul of wit.

Shakespeare wrote that. And no one said it was shallow because he said it in fewer than 140 characters (27, to be precise).

When people who don’t understand Twitter whine about it, a common implication is that you can’t say much in 140 characters. So everything on Twitter must be shallow, right? I received a job application recently that touted the other social media the applicant was using but dismissed Twitter, implying that the person’s big thoughts simply couldn’t be expressed in just 140 characters.

Setting aside the fact that one of Twitter’s best uses is to distribute links to pieces of greater depth, I want to dispute the myth that short equals shallow. I have done my share of lengthy writing. I once wrote a newspaper story that ran 200 inches and my Blueprint for the Complete Community Connection ran 38 pages as a pdf. But I aspire to get to the point occasionally with a nugget of wit or wisdom.

So I rounded up some wisdom, insight and humor, much of which you will recognize immediately, all of it tweetworthy.

Let’s start with Jesus, whose most famous statement fits easily in a tweet: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”

And some of the most enduring statements from our presidents fit easily in tweets (I deliberately left President Obama off this list because it is just too soon to say which statements of his will endure):

Thomas Jefferson: I have sworn upon the altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.

Abraham Lincoln: A house divided against itself cannot stand.

Franklin D. Roosevelt: The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.

Harry Truman: The buck stops here.

Dwight D. Eisenhower: We must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex.

John F. Kennedy: And so, my fellow Americans: Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.

Ronald Reagan: Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.

And, of course, leaders of other nations have been eloquent but brief as well:

Winston Churchill: I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.

Nelson Mandela: If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.

Other inspirational leaders also showed their eloquence in brief statements:

Mohandas Gandhi: An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind.

Patrick Henry: I know not what others may choose but, as for me, give me liberty or give me death.

Helen Keller: It is a terrible thing to see and have no vision.

Martin Luther King Jr.: Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

Douglas MacArthur: Old soldiers never die; they just fade away.

Rosa Parks: All I was doing was trying to get home from work.

Gloria Steinem: A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle.

A couple writers known for their pithy wisdom nearly always shared it in bursts of less than 140 characters:

Benjamin Franklin: Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both.

Aesop: It is with our passions as it is with fire and water, they are good servants, but bad masters.

Of course, I could go on and on. Virtually every advertising tag line (Just do it. Got milk?) would fit in a tweet, as would many lines from Shakespeare, Mark Twain and other literary giants, as well as lines from our favorite movies, songs and comedians. Not to mention such sages as Yogi Berra and Gertrude Stein. How many of your favorite “Seinfeld” lines would fit in a tweet?

Twitter leaves plenty of room to say something important. Most of us don’t take full advantage of that room, but you could say that about any communication forum.

If you’re interested in more tweetworthy wit, wisdom and inspiration, I’ve compiled other brief quotes by source (it may take me a while to post all the links). Please feel free to add more in the comments. I know I’ve just scratched the surface here:

A note on sources: I chose the quotes in this post primarily from memory, checking all of the quotes in this post in multiple sources (they all show up hundreds, if not thousands, of times on a Google search, so I won’t cite them all). The source I used most, including for most of the quotes in the related links, was BrainyQuote. Biblical quotes were checked using BibleGateway. I used the Bible translation that seemed to be the most-quoted for that passage, often the King James.

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I did an impromptu test/illustration today of how Twitter provides instant, helpful answers.

I was speaking to Pat Pisarik’s media convergence class at Loras College. I hadn’t planned a presentation on Twitter, but mentioned it in passing and someone asked a question about it and then someone else asked what tweets are and how Twitter works. I quickly opened Twitter and tweeted: Explaining Twitter in a Loras class. Tweeps, tell me how you’ve found Twitter helpful today.

The responses started coming in seconds:

@danielrandolph, a student in the class who was asking thoughtful questions, had the quickest response:  tweeting back to you in class.

I was not at all surprised to see @hidama from Coe College next in line, answering: “I just asked @urbanbigfoot the name of the hair salon he goes to – I wanted to suggest it to a friend. Now that’s useful.”

Next came @ellynangelotti of Poynter in St. Petersburg, Fla.: “Today we are using twitter in our live chat to solicit questions (none have come in yet) http://is.gd/v8ZF”  (I hope some came in.)

@gmarkham of Vancouver added: “twitter helps me stay in touch with smart journo/commentators; great alert system for breaking news; just plain fun.” (3 points in under 140 characters.)

From Wichita @lkelly chimed in: “I’ve received natl / local news alerts, offered restaurant recommendations for conf, learned friend was laid off, sent news tip.” (4 tips, 5 if you count national and local news alerts as 2.) She also retweeted my request, passing it along to another 218 followers.

From Cedar Rapids, @Vinnyschick joined: “I like getting concise, very current news so I can be on top of things without wasting time searching and perusing websites.”

You’d think someone who’s as good at headlines as Gazette copy editor @dvdlee wouldn’t need two tweets to answer me, but he did: “It was through Twitter that I found and shared the youtube video of New Yorkers running from low-flying AF1 backup plane.” And: “…and if I can plan/present things properly, I’d include a link on the first tweet: http://tinyurl.com/dxpkwh

@suzannetobias, also in Wichita, retweeted my request to another 857 followers and replied herself: “Local tweeps provided great updates during tornado and flood warnings here in Wichita on Sunday.”

@judylubben of Cedar Rapids, who doesn’t tweet a lot, tweeted that she still finds it useful to follow others: “I like being up to date on what is happening without searching all over to find out.”

@jaredtaylor, a South Texas journalist, tweeted: “we found somebody who said she was tested for swine flu today.”

@MomFromOz, apparently a Kansan, responding to @susannetobias and me, tweeted: “I got an opportunity to volunteer at ROKICT this weekend! Woot! That’s how I twit!” Not sure what ROKICT is, but she apparently had fun. (I gotta say, I spent a lot of time in Kansas, and I’m pretty sure those beach photos on her page were not shot in Kansas. She must have gone over the rainbow for her honeymoon.)

@JKonchar, who took my Edge Business Magazine Twitter class earlier this month, is already getting the hang of it: “Keeping up to date on News and what is going on in Iowa and all around us.”

Another one of my staff members, @mollyr, needed two tweets to respond: “I’m always using Twitter to garner sources, story ideas, direct people to my blog,” and “It’s become a real important writing tool for me.”

And in a direct message, @suebb, former managing editor of the Detroit News, replied: “Re Twitter helpful. 1st place for news more + more. Today, found out Detroit CEO going to USAT via Twitter.”

Most of those tweets came within minutes and I was able to show them off to the class, illustrating the swift nature of Twitter as well as getting great variety in my answers.

Chuck Offenburger, who gave me my first job in this business some 38 years ago before I started my senior year of high school, asked me a while back to help him get started in Twitter. About an hour after those swife responses, while I was driving back to Cedar Rapids, @chuckoburger (who used to teach at Loras, if memory serves) gave one of the best answers: “You can’t still be tweettalking the Loras class, but I’d have said Twitter today reminded me I can sing the Loras fight song.”

I couldn’t resist responding to the Iowa Boy: “Apologies to anyone who had to listen to @chuckoburger sing the Loras fight song. I didn’t mean to start that.”

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The challenge of mastering social media is that you never get there. You always have to learn something new.

My newest social-networking platform is SlideShare. This is a place to post presentations on PowerPoint and other slide-show programs. When I was training at the American Press Institute, people frequently asked for my slideshows. They were big and I seldom emailed them when people requested the slides for seminars where I traveled. For API seminars at our headquarters in Reston, Va., we burned slides and handouts to CD’s for par participants and they seemed to appreciate it. (more…)

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A few retweets can really boost your blog traffic.

I tweet a link to every blog post. I have nearly a thousand followers (987 as I write this) on Twitter, but most of them, of course, don’t click the link .(The truth is that only a small slice of your “followers” are truly following at any moment and only people who follow just a handful of people can catch up on all our tweets. Most of us see just occasional snapshots of our tweeps’ writing). I do, though, get a few dozen hits directly from Twitter most times when I tweet a link. That’s probably a good percentage and I’ll take it.

Most days my blog averages about 250 page views,  a bit higher if I posted that day (I post about 3-4 times a week). It’s modest traffic, but not bad for a niche blog by someone whose job doesn’t allow him to write very often. My busiest day (1,953 hits) was the day we reduced the staff at The Gazette. I wrote separate posts on the staff reduction and on my new title, which was announced that day. Those two posts became respectively the third- and fourth-most-viewed posts I’ve written since starting this blog in December. I hope not to write again about either of those topics.

Yesterday I had 852 views on the blog, the most I’ve had in the past month. Part of that was because I posted three different entries. Multiple entries always increase traffic.

But when I look at the referring sources, I can see that something else is driving my traffic. GazetteOnline usually is my leading referring source, even if I have tweeted a link to my blog. I’m featured on the home page of GO, and more people generally click to the blog from there than from Twitter or Facebook (where my tweets appear as my status updates). Twitter is usually my second-leading referral source on days when I’ve tweeted a link to something new.

Yesterday, though, I got far more links from Twitter: 177 referrals from Twitter and Facebook and only 28 from the GO home page (and a handful from other GO pages). Even today, though I haven’t tweeted a link since yesterday, Twitter remains my leading referral source and I already have more views by 7:30 a.m. than I did all day Thursday.

The reason: I was retweeted by 18 different people who together had 24,713 followers. (Jay Rosen alone has more than 13,000.) You can’t control retweets. People tweet a link to your blog only when they find something of value there. But Twitter is an unquestionably valuable tool for driving blog traffic. When I wrote the post that got my most traffic ever, explaining Lyle Muller‘s and my new roles at Gazette Communications, I thought it was a pretty routine post. I only wrote it because I needed to do my weekly column for The Gazette. But it got lots of retweets because lots of tweeps in our region and in the industry were interested in what was happening here and in turn it got linked from other blogs (links help drive traffic, too). It has 1,248 views and counting (may get a few more because I just linked to it again).

Friday’s primary post, Leading your staff into the Twitterverse, has 512 posts as of this writing, already 10th on my all-time list and it’s just been online almost 24 hours. I should add that the nine posts above it all got boosts from linking and retweeting, too.

If you want to build an audience for your blog, take the time to connect with some people on Twitter and be sure to tweet every new post. That alone will give you a bit of a bump. And when other people start retweeting, you’ll see your traffic take off.

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I’ll be leading a webinar for the American Society of Newspaper Editors, Leading your staff into the Twitterverse. This is the tip sheet I will suggest that editors read after the seminar. While this is geared for top newsroom leaders, some of the advice should be helpful to any journalists who are not experienced with Twitter. I encourage journalists using Twitter to add their tips in the comments. I also encourage you to check out two related posts, one with advice from another journalist and one with links you might find helpful.

Valid questions about Twitter use by journalists are welcome here as are critical comments by journalists about issues in the use of Twitter. For this post and the two related posts, I will not approve comments by non-journalists that simply complain about Twitter and my frequent writing about Twitter. Feel free to post them on another blog entry.

Journalists need to use Twitter. Even if you don’t understand its value or usefulness immediately and even if some of the content is frivolous, journalists can use Twitter for a variety of uses:

  • You can monitor the activities and discussions of people in your community or on your beat.
  • You can connect with colleagues and share ideas with them.
  • You can “crowdsource” stories by asking your followers for story ideas or information.
  • You can quickly find people who witnessed or experienced an event.
  • You can drive traffic to your content.
  • You can improve your writing as you learn to make points directly in just 140 characters. (I tell my staff that if a lead doesn’t fit in a tweet, it’s probably too long. It really helps me write better leads on my blog and columns.) (more…)

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As the Red River rises in North Dakota, Eastern Iowans are watching closely.

Cedar Rapids has tried to learn lessons in flood recovery and flood control from Grand Forks, N.D., which was devastated by 1997 flooding. Now Fargo and Grand Forks are facing the worst floods up there since 1997.

You can keep tabs on the flooding through a variety of Twitter feeds, hashtags and other searches: (more…)

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Reluctantly I must tell you that Leonard Pitts was clueless when he wrote about Twitter.

One of the highlights of 2008 for many of us in The Gazette newsroom was the October day when Pitts visited. He was speaking in Iowa City and I asked him if he would swing by Cedar Rapids and spend some time with our staff, talking about writing and journalism and the issues of the day (it was the week before the election). He graciously agreed and we had a delightful time. He has long been one of my favorite columnists and I now consider him a friend — the way you call someone who was friendly to you a friend, even if you only met once or twice (I actually met Pitts earlier at a conference in Wichita).

So it is with some regret that I write here that Leonard Pitts didn’t do his homework when he dismissed Twitter as a waste of time. (more…)

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Bad judgment is bad judgment.

Journalists have said stupid things in print and on television and that didn’t mean those media presented ethical problems for journalist. Journalists have said stupid things to sources in person, in emails and on the telephone and that doesn’t mean journalists should avoid using email, telephones or face-to-face conversations. Journalists will also say stupid things on Twitter or other social networks. When they do, the problem is the stupid thing you said, not the platform you used to say it.

(Before I go further, I should say that the “stupid things” someone said in the examples that follow involve foul language that I don’t use in this blog. Click the links below if foul language doesn’t bother you.)

A Twitter exchange that appears to be between National Post technology reporter David George-Cosh and marketing consultant April Dunford has drawn a stir on the Internet. (The Twitter feed identified as George-Cosh’s in accounts of the dustup indicates that someone might have hacked his feed.) (more…)

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This is a handout I use in Upholding and Updating Ethical Standards, an American Press Institute seminar underwritten by the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation. It doesn’t attempt to provide all the answers, but to ask a lot of questions for journalists and news organizations to consider as they use social networks for valid journalistic pursuits. I offer these questions for my staff and other journalists to consider. We will be discussing these issues in greater depth among our staff.

Social networks are a rapidly growing part of society and communication and journalists and news organizations need to connect with them as we gather content and build audience for our products. We also need to keep ethics in mind as we operate in this swiftly changing world. If you are an editor, you need to discuss with your staff members how they are using social networks and what standards and issues you think are important in dealing with networks. If you are a staff member, you need to tell your editors how you are using social networks and discuss any questions you might have about policies and boundaries. Some questions and guidelines to consider:

Consider everything public. Even though social-networking sites generally allow you some control over who sees your contributions, you should regard everything you post online as public. Some of your “friends” could pass along what you have posted. Once you post anything even to a closed network, you lose control of it. (more…)

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