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Why I don't Tweet

Aug 23, 2017

Robyn Vincent is a journalist from Detroit who moved to Wyoming some years ago, where she is the editor of Planet Jackson Hole, which she has built into one of the nation’s more interesting and journalistically vibrant alternative newspapers.

I was honored to learn a few months ago that she follows and admires my work. She wondered, however, why I don’t tweet. She told me that if I did, I could have a considerably greater following than I do now.

Well, I was deeply moved by this. She is smart, savvy and half my age, and in the course of corresponding with her, she’s taught me quite a few things I didn’t know.

I also am well aware that I need to avoid becoming another old man squatting on a bench muttering that “everything was better in 1975.”

Well, no, it wasn’t better, not by a long shot – though at times, I have thought that there might be something to be said for an imaginary world somewhat like the one we had in 1990, in those optimistic days when the Cold War was finally ending, plus Google.

But that’s not the world we have.

We have one that is full of cacophony and clutter and a million voices, seemingly screaming all at once. Now, there is something to be said for red wine, chocolate and Twitter, when used in moderation.

Yesterday, for example, it would have been entirely appropriate for a reporter to have tweeted out the breaking news that a Michigan Court of Appeals panel had ruled that despite his recent plea-bargain promise not to run for any office for five years, former State Senator Virgil Smith can run for Detroit City Council now.

Ditto with the Windsor Star’s scoop that construction on the long-awaited Gordie Howe International Bridge Project will be delayed another year.

However, what I am in the business of doing these days is largely analysis and commentary, based on a lifetime of reporting and learning about politics, economics and history. I believe in focus, conciseness and brevity – that’s what journalism is all about. But I don’t want to reduce a complex, nuanced issue to 140 characters.

I know I could do so as sort of a daily advertisement for myself, tweeting out things like:

“Raising taxes for schools, infrastructure necessary if Michigan is to compete for good jobs in this century.”

That might get more people to pay attention to me. But many of them would read only the tweet, which would reduce analysis to a blurb.

What I have seen happen in our age of “all technology in your face, all the time,” is the reduction of politics and policy to a series of slogans. We have a leader who frequently attempts to make and announce significant policy proposals via Twitter.

He also uses the same medium to make fun of his opponents’ looks, sometimes at the same time.

I’m not trying to be pompous, but trivialization of major issues is not what I want to do, nor what Michigan Radio is all about.

So I’m resisting joining your twitter feed, even if it means I’ll forever be less well known than Kate Upton.

But if you send me a thoughtful email, or even letter, I promise to try to answer.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio’s Senior Political Analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.