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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 knowyourmeme.com.

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Originally published in the Rutland County Express on Jan 12, 2012.

In a recent post on Slate.com   entitled, “Don’t Support Your Local Bookseller,” technology columnist Farhad Manjoo posed an interesting and somewhat convincing argument: in this world of Amazon, with our iPads and Kindles, independent bookstores are inefficient, inconvenient and expensive.

Manjoo writes, “Compared with online retailers, bookstores present a frustrating consumer experience. A physical store … offers a relatively paltry selection, no customer reviews, no reliable way to find what you’re looking for and a dubious recommendations engine.”

Needless to say, such an argument does not go unnoticed or unpunished. Calling bookstores “cultish, moldering institutions” is sure to irk a few ires. Refutations came pouring in from all sides — the literati, the buy-localistas and various other well-meaning, indignant Luddites (as Manjoo might like to characterize them).

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Originally published in the Rutland Herald on Oct. 9, 2011, and the Rutland County Express on Oct. 13, 2011.

It’s difficult to separate Steve Jobs, the man, from his work. Apple and Jobs are widely seen as inextricable — his personality and presence as central to the company’s brand as its products’ minimalist aesthetics, colorful ad campaigns and ubiquitous “i” prefix.

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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  landdowntown.com  , 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.

[Originally published in the Rutland County Express on 4/30/10.] Even if you’re not a member, you’ve likely heard of Facebook. Since its launch in 2004, the social networking Web site has become a global phenomenon with more than 400 million active users worldwide. That translates to more than 500 billion minutes users spend on the site in a given month (with most of that time likely being devoted to playing “FarmVille” and “Mafia Wars”)

But aside from being a monumental time-waster at work (“Which ‘LOST’ character are you?”) and a discreet way of keeping tabs on your exes (“Hey, who’s that dude with the fauxhawk in all those pictures on her Wall?”), Facebook is actually kind of useful.

It’s somewhat ironic that I’m writing a column in praise of Facebook; I will surely catch some flack from my friends. I am a relative latecomer to the Facebook scene. Don’t get me wrong; I was there before your grandmother was. Still, I was far from an early adopter. I remember back in college, maybe 2005 or so, when the site starting to set up networks on college campuses. Facebook was all the rage, and I remained firmly opposed to the trend.

In those early days, the site was little more than a clearinghouse for scandalous, drunken photos and rampant, petty gossip and cattiness. One night, a friend even went so far as to set up an account for me. All I had to do was confirm an e-mail to activate it. The next day, I deleted the e-mail and never looked back.

Since then, Facebook has graduated from college. Today, the site provides people of all ages the same opportunity to gossip and embarrass themselves, now with the added benefit of having awkward conversations about your activity with parents and relatives.

It’s easy to pick on Facebook. There is something both fascinating and troubling about the way people interact with it – the content and frequency of people’s status updates, the manner of photos they choose to post, the commodity of friendship, the overall way some choose to lay their lives bare to the entire world.

“Overshare” is a term that has gained a great deal of currency in the Digital Age. Somehow, we enthusiastically handed over privacy in exchange for an approximated sense of community.

But how does Facebook translate into our real community? For those of us who have a certain level technological literacy (and self-respect), sites like Facebook are not liabilities; they are resources.

I finally caved to Facebook a little more than a year ago as I started to see that the site was becoming a useful social marketing tool. Social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter allow for businesses and organizations to connect to their desired audience on a personal level that was never before possible.

Creating a “page” for a business or organization on Facebook takes only a few minutes, and the results are almost as rapid. (And it’s free.) Pages exist in two modes, depending on the effort its administrator is willing, or able, to put into it. Some pages are static: they are created, people become fans of it, and that’s it. Others are active and engaging, issuing regular updates, posting photos, and reaching out to fans.

The Killington Avenue Market and Deli in Rutland falls into the latter category. Co-owner, Becky Boggess sees the effect of their page every day.

“We’ve had a great response,” said Boggess, who posts specials and other news everyday. She notes that since the creation of the page, her customers will check there before picking up the phone to call. “I never forget to do it. It keeps things fresh.”

Up the road, Killington has been using social with marked results.

“Sites like Facebook and Twitter are playing a huge role in the leisure industry,” said resort communications and public relations manager Tom Horrocks in an interview with the “Rutland Herald” in March. “People follow their interests; they’re utilizing these resources to optimize their trips.”

At the grassroots level, local organizations use Facebook to quickly get information to their members. As co-chair of Sustainable Rutland, I have used our page to post information about events, keep our members updated about projects we’re working on and share interesting links. At the moment we have almost 400 fans, which the page allows us to interact with regularly. In conjunction with our blog, we have an effective, efficient and free outreach mechanism.

Likewise, Mike Coppinger, executive director of Downtown Rutland Partnership, often turns to the site to get information to the community. “In the summertime I do a Friday Night Live Facebook page talking about music and events that will be there every week.”

Indeed, music has a fairly strong presence on my feed. Rick Redington, Duane Carleton, Ryan Fuller, and several other local musicians use the site to announce shows and connect with fans.

But do individuals utilize Facebook beyond simply doing “irreparable damage to social skills on developing brains” as Connor McGinnis, 17, noted when I posted this question on my Wall?

Others were less cynical in the responses.

“I use it to find out about restaurant specials, music, farmers markets, farm stands with produce available and sales,” said Amanda Mormile of her account.

James Greenough, another friend, said that Facebook “creates an opportunity to find out about local events … It keeps you involved in your friend’s days.”

Val Pietrodangelo agrees. “It’s another way to find out what’s going on in Rutland,” she said.

One look at my Facebook feed supports all the above comments (even Connor’s). Ultimately, the site is what you make of it – a welcome distraction, an unhealthy obsession, a potential liability or an effective tool for making meaningful connections with friends, family, customers, and the community. It all depends on how you choose to use it.