Social Media

Originally published in the Rutland Herald on July 18, 2012.

Rutland County GOP Chairman Rob Towle’s offensive Facebook post has become a national news story and sadly has brought the ugly, racially charged rhetoric currently at play in parts of the Republican Party home to Vermont.

While the post was eventually removed after commenters from all sides decried it as racist and offensive, Towle’s half-hearted non-apology only drew more criticism. By Tuesday, Towle found some better words and apologized in earnest for his “bad judgment,” calling the post “stupid and insensitive.”

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Originally published in the Rutland Herald on July 5, 2012.

In their haste to report on last week’s Supreme Court ruling of the Affordable Care Act, CNN and Fox News Channel got one key part of the story wrong: all of it. This most recent failure underscores exactly what is wrong with the 24-hour cable news channels: Simply saying something — anything — is now enough. On Thursday, CNN and Fox performed the journalistic equivalent of a commenter writing “FIRST!” on an Internet message board.

This ratings-driven motivation comes at the expense of both organizations’ credibility and devalues the importance of factual journalism. Viewers would have been better served if the reporter had simply read the document or just held it up to the camera and slowly flipped the pages.

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A version of this story appears in the Feb. 9, 2012, edition of the Rutland County Express.

Town Meeting Day is right around the corner, and in Rutland that means a slew of seats on the city’s Board of Aldermen are up for grabs.

This year, five two-year seats are in play, with a sixth one-year seat being sought uncontested by current Alderman Christopher Robinson. Of the other five, eight candidates have thrown their hats into the ring, and with only half of those candidates being current board members, we are guaranteed to see at least one new face inside the rail come March 6. (And by the end of the second paragraph, I believe I have used up every electoral euphemism known to man.)

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In recent weeks, the Internet has been consumed with the latest meme. Inevitably, it has finally arrived here in Vermont.

For those readers less familiar with web jargon, a meme is a term used to describe a “concept that spreads via the Internet” (source: Wikipedia). It is often a cultural reference of some sort that is played out in numerous iterations by users. For a primer, visit

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Originally published in the Rutland Herald and Rutland County Express on 9/15/11.

Over the years, I’ve often had doubts about my generation. Amid the unceasing intellectual debasement of our culture, which increasingly — almost gleefully — rejects substance for style, I feared that our potential would be squandered, lost in a malaise of self-absorbed apathy.

With the advent of social and technological phenomena like Facebook, Twitter, and the iPhone, I worried that we would only slip further into this solipsistic vacuum, egocasting ourselves into irrelevance as we became ever more acutely able to filter the information to which we are exposed.

Each generation has a defining moment — a time when a single event changes everything and requires us to act, to unite and change the world, one hopes, for the better. Our collective response will, for better or worse, leave an indelible mark on the wall of history. Our grandparents had Pearl Harbor. Our parents had JFK’s assassination.

Ten years ago on Sept. 11, my generation had its moment. As I sat outside in near silence with some friends on Manhattan’s Upper West Side that night, frightened and numb, I felt the time had come.

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Once upon a time, I was a big fan of Seven Days — it’s a fairly edgy, often entertaining pub that, when I first started reading it, was a refreshing change from Vermont’s typically staid and traditional news publications.

Over the years, it has grown in popularity and coverage. It became more confident in its ability to cover real news and moved beyond the soft, feature-y stories that tend to fill free weeklies. And to a large extent, they’ve done a good job. But lately, I’ve been loving my patience.

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 [Originally published in the Rutland County Express on 2/10/11]

Oh, Twitter, why can’t I quit you?

It all started a little over two years ago when I signed up for an account, mainly out of curiosity. From the beginning, the site was being touted as something that would revolutionize how we communicate. Having been a relative latecomer to Facebook (I think I beat your aunt to it by a week), I wanted to get in on the ground floor.

For those of you unfamiliar with Twitter, it’s a social networking website that let’s you post messages, or “tweets,” of 140 characters of less to a page that people can then “follow.” You, in turn, follow pages of people, business or organizations that interest you, building a feed that delivers other people’s tweets to your page.

The Twitterverse is an odd place where narcissism is king. To be fair, that’s a fairly simplistic way to describe it, but on the surface, it’s true. Twitter is lousy with people who find it necessary to describe every mundane detail of their lives.

While some of these people might be famous, it doesn’t make their tweets any more interesting. It doesn’t matter if you’re Ashton Kutcher or Oscar from accounting; no one cares what you bought at the Circle K.

Fortunately, there’s also news and information. Journalists and news organizations have been using Twitter great effect. Heck, CNN — which at this point has pretty much given up, basically just has its anchors reads viewers’ tweets off a laptop for most of the day.

But look no further than the recent demonstrations in Egypt to see how important Twitter has become. Journalists and civilians have been providing real-time updates of events to the rest of the world.

Despite all this, Twitter has left me fairly underwhelmed.

Granted, it can be an amazing organizing and communication tool, but what use does it have for me personally? I’m not famous, I’m only a closet narcissist and I’m not looking to overthrow any autocratic regimes at the moment.

In Rutland, however, I see potential for Twitter to be beneficial for individuals, organizations and businesses.

Up the road, Burlington boasts one of the most vibrant Twitter communities in the country. Do a search for “#BTV” on Twitter (Burlington’s official tag on the site), and you’ll find an active stream of updates from all corners of the city and its surrounding area.

From up-to-the-minute reports on Burlington City Council meetings from “7Days” reporter Shay Totten to where the latest “tweet-up” is being held, Burlington has managed to make Twitter a key part of its real-life social network.

Lately, I’ve been making a conscious effort to be a more active tweeter (or is it twitterer?). I downloaded an application called TweetDeck, which lets me simultaneously post to my Facebook and Twitter accounts (one post to rule them all, as it were). My blogs are also synced with my social networking accounts. In a few keystrokes, I can update all my accounts and get back to more important things (like reading other people’s tweets).

In local news, Twitter is becoming increasingly frequent. Both the “Rutland Herald” and the “Burlington Free Press” tweet throughout the day. And nearly every WCAX reporter has an active Twitter account, including Molly Smith, a Rutlander who currently covers the city.

Rutland has only a handful of active Twitter users, and Smith is definitely one of the most active so I decided to get her take on the state of our Twitter community.

(For the sake of the story I suggested we have our interview on Twitter — a twinterview, if you will, 140 characters at a time.)

“I use Twitter for breaking news and entertainment and as a way to connect with people and converse about just about anything,” she said via Twitter.

And it’s not just a one-way conversation, she said. “I get a lot of feedback on my work (account). For example , when I asked if rescue agencies should charge for lost skier rescues.”

It’s no secret that Rutland isn’t particularly tech-savvy. Part of that is an age issue, to be sure, but Smith believes that once people get over the initial intimidation of a type of new technology, they will see how useful it can be.

“It sounds a lot more confusing than it really is,” she said.

So how could Rutland use Twitter?

While Smith believes that Twitter is easily accessible to anyone who is willing to take the time to understand it, she does view it as a younger person’s tool, stating that it is “an example of a way younger community members can establish a niche in the ‘old school’ Rutland economy.”

Indeed, the Downtown Rutland Partnership has been actively embracing social media, including Twitter, as of late. The organization’s about to be re-launched website, rut  , will be integrated with Facebook and Twitter where you can find daily posts giving shout outs to local businesses and other relevant updates like snow removal or Friday Night Live details.

Executive Director Mike Coppinger said he is planning to use the DRP’s Twitter account (@Downtown-Rutland) to promote local businesses and merchants by posting Twitter-only deals and contests.

As Twitter gains ground in Rutland, businesses themselves might want to take the DRP’s lead and start marketing their businesses in the Twittersphere.

In the meantime, individual Rutlanders shouldn’t be afraid to get their feet wet. Social media is an increasingly ubiquitous means of communication that should be embraced and enjoyed (in moderation, of course).

Certainly, it’s no substitute for face-to-face, human interaction, and critics are right to be wary of the dangers egocasting — the tendency to filter information such that it matches your tastes and reinforces your worldview — but like any new medium, the burden is upon the individual to consume it usefully and responsibly.

So check it out and help build a Twitter community for Rutland that is as unique and interesting as our real one.