17 August 2009

Twits, Twirps and Tweets

Everyone has been asking if The Lizard raced in Leadville last weekend. No. Sadly, the Leadville 100 is another favorite ride that operates on a lottery system, and The Lizard’s number has not come up. Yet. Stay tuned for next year…

We did, however, do a sunrise ride Saturday, and then we headed north in search of sunflowers. (Mission accomplished!) Because The Lizard is such an avid mountain biker, he instinctively knew it was time for The Race to be winding down just about the time we arrived back home.

So off he surfed in an attempt to get the latest Leadville 100 results. Six-time champ Dave Wiens and seven-time Tour de France champ Lance Armstrong were duking it out for ore cart trophy honors.

Leadville is about as small a town as you can get and still be incorporated, and there is no USA Today or CNN outpost there. The Lizard couldn't find any race updates anywhere.

I took the helm (slow boat to China – we're still old-fashioned dial-up) and within seconds had three or four Twitterers posting regular updates. Only one was an official news provider.

This was our first experience relying on Twitter to get the news we wanted when we wanted it. I personally find the technology amazing, but Twitter is not something I've had an interest in pursuing for any reason. Until the day I wanted news I could obtain only from the sidelines.

I remembered back in the days when dinosaur tracks were still fresh mud, back when we filed Associated Press stories by dictating via telephones with rotary dials and shipping photos on the next Greyhound bus. I remembered basking in the adrenaline rush of "scooping" the competition.

My tiny hometown newspaper was printed and delivered each weekday afternoon, while two sort of nearby big dailies went to press in the middle of the night and were on subscribers' doorsteps first thing in the morning.

If something newsworthy happened in the morning, I'd have the story in the afternoon edition, well before my cohorts with fancier cameras, company cars and four times the news staff. That was a "scoop," and the resulting thrill was better than any bowl of ice cream, no matter how hot the desert heat.

The way we gather, report and read news has changed. I think that urge to be first with big news is far from dead, though. Everyday people are posting eyewitness accounts (or reposting eyewitness accounts of others) almost instantly, and professional news organizations are getting scooped on everything that matters.

A full four minutes after a cycling fanatic at the finish line posted Lance's record-breaking time, Velo News, with reporters in "the corral," finally offered results of its own. Twenty minutes later, the finish still hadn't been posted on any of the major news sites but was being "tweeted" and "retweeted" hundreds of times over across the world. Word truly did travel fast. Just not via established and reliable networks.

As a retired journalist, I cringed as I read retweets that morphed details. Lance's "soft" back tire became "shredded" as the day passed, cloudy skies became "pouring rain" without dropping their loads, and the winner was on the trail for a grueling 14 hours. (That last one still baffles me. How can you text the 6:28.50 record in the same tweet and still expect anyone to believe anything you type?)

The process reminded me of a game we used to play in elementary school. We'd stand in a circle, and the teacher would whisper a sentence into the first child's ear. Each of us would pass on the secret by listening as it was whispered into our ear before turning to whisper it into the ear on the other side of us. The final sentence typically bore no resemblance whatsoever to the original.

I could easily become addicted to being able to receive my news instantly, as it happens, no matter where in the world I am or where the actual event is taking place. There is a certain sense of joy in getting caught up in the Twitter trend that has taken the world by storm.

I just have to keep in mind the fact-checking procedures that were a way of life in another life have not been incorporated into this newfangled technology. Nevertheless, it was pretty darned cool to read about a big race in a town without television coverage and see finish line phone pictures seconds after they were snapped even though I was 111 miles away.

Classic Graham Watson-style photography,
courtesy Jeff Valliere

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