David Carr's Sage Advice on Twitter

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magnet.jpg
I call it spidey-sense. It's the feeling that people might want to read about something, even though I have no evidence that I'm right. The New York Times' media reporter, David Carr, thinks picking up on these faint scents is a key to using Twitter effectively. Here's what he told Terry Gross on Fresh Air:

Sometimes you want to grab what is in the air, so to speak, and just put it out there... One time after [the Winter Olympics ended], I just said, 'I miss the Olympics.' That got re-tweeted almost more than anything I've ever written about ... it's just something that's in the air.

In the olden days, this might have been "news sense" or something, but that implies a consciousness of the importance of an item, idea, or story. I think what Carr is talking about is a little different. Spidey-sense isn't having well-regulated civic priorities. Rather, it's possessing a compass that points toward "interesting" for any possible reason. The feeling Carr's describing is almost a presentiment of a story, a magnetization.

To overthink it a little: there's a network of people who are interested in almost any topic. That network is dynamic. It spikes around obvious events (football, Super Bowl) but sometimes, for almost no good reason, it balloons without anybody noticing it (football, some random day in July). And it's at those moments when just putting it out there activates that whole network, and suddenly your media allows them to talk about something that had hovered just outside their consciousness.

For mediamakers, this must have always been the case, but what's interesting is that the signals we're reading today aren't exclusively those of our neighbors or coworkers, but come from our online social worlds. The air is bigger now.


Image: Library of Congress. That's the Monroe magnet.

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science Web site in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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