In my Introduction to Journalism class, back when I thought my calling in life was to help protect democracy through freedom of the press, my teacher told us bluntly that print journalism is a dying business.
However, he pointed out the fact that journalists will never go away. At the moment, the Internet (the biggest culprit squeezing the life out of the newspaper industry) basically steals articles for free from newspapers. Someday, when all the newspapers are dead, Google and Yahoo! and other news aggregate websites will need to find the journalists who were recently laid off. Though employers may change, the craft will never die as long as humanity thirsts for the latest news.
I’ve been thinking much about the future of writing. One of my old Scoutmasters growing up was a ghostwriter. One of my college friends is a ghost blogger. And, as I was checking my Twitter feeds, will the future soon yield the ghost Twitterer?
Twitter is a huge internet phenomenon, equal to Facebook, MySpace and YouTube. It’s helped break news stories as well as spread panicky rumors faster than ever before. But there is still the perception that Twitter is just getting a hundred inane text messages a day on your cellphone about what your friends ate for lunch. For some people, that’s exactly what Twitter is, but for companies, they realize this is a huge business opportunity. Many companies now have their own Twitter feeds and will send product information, advertisements and general information right to people’s cellphones. It’s more efficient than canvassing a demographic, because those who are the most likely to act on your information are willingly signing up for it. They are literally asking you to spam their cellphone’s text message inbox.
Whenever I mention the idea of the professional Tweeter, however, a lot of people scoff. Will companies really have to hire professional Tweeters to write their own tweets? How hard is it for people to convey information in 140 characters? The answer is very.
One of the most difficult aspects of poetry is fitting to the form. Don’t believe it? Try writing a traditional petrarchian sonnet, “which falls into two parts: an octave of eight lines and sestet of six. The octave rhyme pattern is abba abba (two sets of four lines); the sestet’s lines are more variable: cde cde; or ced ced; or cd cd cd” (DiYanni, 746). Now make it actually sound good.
It’s the same thing with a commercial Twitter. You have 140 characters. That’s your form. Now write an advertisement about a Samsung HDTV. What do you write about in such a confining form? Do you write about the size of the screen? The resolution? The price? Which ones do you specifically select and sift until your 140 character advertisement is the most efficient but also the most effective writing to convey the right information and the right motivation?
Chances are, if asked to, the average person could not distill a lot of information into 140 words. That’s where the professional comes in. Technical writers are trained to explain information simply and efficiently. Marketers are trained to write statements that have a powerful rhetoric to motivate customers to the company’s advantage. Combine the two together and add a dash of a poet’s spirit, and you have the professional commercial Tweeter.
Is it really necessary to distill everything about our world into 140 character segments? Could this be a bad thing? Maybe. However, writing styles have always changed, from Dickens’ flowery language to Hemmingway’s more direct, sparse diction, and commercial writing was never meant to be literature anyway. Instead, our ability to disseminate and process information seems to become more and more efficient as time goes on. The internet has given the average consumer an edge in information, and as the old saying goes, knowing is half the battle. Twitter has given corporations and companies a direct conduit to the consumer, but applications like Twitter has also given a direct conduit between consumers themselves. Just as fast as companies can produce 140 character advertisements, so can one piece of information or scandal bring down the company as it flashes across the Twitter network.
And as far as our attention spans go, Harry Potter and Twilight have broken the golden rule that our generation hates to read big books. Writing (and subsequently, reading) will never truly go away, no matter how much the world may change.
Moral of the Story: The future of writing – the professional Tweeter. I called it first.