@danoshinsky, Revised.

Maybe this shouldn’t come as a surprise, as I have sent out upwards of 3,000 tweets, but I actually like Twitter. It’s one of the first things I check in the morning. It’s one of my best sources of political and sports news. It’s where I go to find time-wasters and, occasionally, good news stories to report on.

But I’ve been thinking for a few months about how I use Twitter, and it’s a bit selfish. I use it for a lot of things — it’s my RSS reader, my scanner for breaking news and my serendipity-generator — but I don’t think I’m putting enough back into Twitter.

A few months ago, I blogged about the idea of using specific days of the week to tweet about various things, but that idea quickly passed. I wasn’t ready to commit to a Twitter schedule.

I came back to the idea this week, though, about being a bit more targeted in my tweets. What’s the purpose of @danoshinsky? What am I delivering?

Here’s what I’ve come up with:

My Twitter day should be like any good story: it needs a definite beginning and a definite end. So I’ll experiment with this:

-My first tweet of the day will be a bit of morning inspiration. It might be a quote or a YouTube video or a link to an article. But it’ll be a thought for the day.

-My last tweet of the day will be a closing thought. It’ll be an observation, maybe something wise that I’ve learned or heard that day.

The stuff in the middle — interesting links and retweets — will stay pretty much the same. I’ll try to send out 3-6 of those a day. They’ll be interesting things that I’ve read or seen.

As usual: I’ll try to keep the personal stuff to an absolute minimum. I don’t have a smartphone, so you won’t be seeing too many Twitpics out of me. And only a handful of people really want to read my live play-by-play of sporting events. I’ll avoid it, if at all possible.

Your thoughts would be appreciated, either below in the comments or with an @ reply to @danoshinsky.

What Journalists Can Learn From Greg Gumbel.

At some point today, you will probably be watching college basketball. Your favorite team will be playing, and it’ll be a good game — maybe even a great game.

And then, for reasons unexplainable, this man will appear on your screen.

You will go nuts at the sight of this man’s face. He’s interrupted your game for no good reason, you’ll say, and there’s no amount of TiVo-ing that can make him go away.

Meanwhile, I, too, will go nuts, because I love Greg Gumbel.

Actually, it’s not that I love Greg Gumbel. It’s that I love what he represents: the Live Look-In.

You can argue for the ESPN Bottomline or the First-and-10 line. I think the Live Look-In (1) is the greatest sports invention of all time.

That’s why it’s the focus of the latest installment of “What Can Journalists Learn From….”

Be User-Friendly: I am a college basketball nut. I love college basketball. But more than anything, I love a great finish to a college basketball game.

CBS knows that their target audience is, essentially, me, the college basketball crazy who’d give up a month of Sundays to get the first day of the NCAA Tournament off work. So instead of making me work to find the best games, they just do it for me. Back at mission control, they’re monitoring all the action, and when something great happens in a game, they have Greg Gumbel deliver it to me. It’s college basketball nirvana — on demand. Except that I don’t even have to ask for it; I just know that if there’s a great finish going on, CBS will bring it to me. It’s the most user-friendly experience on TV.

Even better: I have placed my full faith in CBS to do exactly this. I trust them completely. My brand loyalty towards CBS college basketball is basically unbreakable, and I think most college basketball fans feel the same way. The experience of March Madness on CBS is that good.

Deliver the Best Content Available: There’s nothing in sports quite like the adrenaline rush of three or four NCAA Tournament games all coming down to the wire at once. Thanks to the Live Look-Ins, you’ll get to watch all of them. Better yet: if you’re watching a blowout, CBS will automatically switch you over to the best game available. You’ll never watch the tournament and worry that someone else is watching a better game than you. If it’s good, it’ll be on your TV. CBS filters out all the bad content and just gives me what I’m interested in: great basketball.

Don’t Make It Hard For Your Audience to Share: Here’s a bit of a twist on Clay Shirky’s sharing lecture from South by Southwest Interactive.

We love to share information and ideas. But nothing compares to the experience of shared emotion.

Which brings me to Drew Nicholas, and this shot from the 2003 NCAA Tournament.

I remember where I was (my living room) when he made that shot. I remember who I was with (my dad and my buddy, Shoe) and what I spent the next 20 minutes doing (jumping up and down uncontrollably). Across my block, I remember hearing what sounded like the entire neighborhood explode in cheers. There’s shared emotion, and then there’s ‘HOLY CRAP DID HE JUST MAKE THAT!!!’ kind of shared emotion.

As a Maryland fan, that shot’s one of my favorite NCAA Tournament moments, so you can imagine how I felt when I found out that AT&T had produced a 30-second ad featuring that shot for this year’s tournament. The ad shows a half-dozen fans, watching the game at home, online and on their cell phones, and they’re all going completely nuts. (2)

What’s incredible about that moment, looking back, is that it wasn’t just the entire state of Maryland watching. At that moment, every CBS station in the country had cut to the Maryland game. It wasn’t quite the audience of the moon landing, but when Nicholas hit that shot, America was watching.

Without the Live Look-In — if, like most sporting events, the highlight had been seen only regionally, and only the highlight played nationally — would anyone outside of D.C. even remember Drew Nicholas’ shot?

But the power of that memory isn’t in the shot. It’s in the knowledge that millions shared that buzzer beater with me. Great moments deserve to be shared — and good journalists will find ways to share them as widely and simply as possible.

  1. And its NFL cousin, the Red Zone Channel
  2. There’s also the flip side: fans of the losing team, UNC-Wilmington, are still mildly traumatized by the incident.

My Scoreboard.

Soon, I found myself keeping score. About to graduate, aimless, preparing for joblessness and possessing a degree worth about as much as the paper it was printed on, I realized — belatedly — that I wasn’t exactly a modern guarantee of potential.

I started searching for something tangible, something worthwhile to get me through my remaining months at school. As a college basketball obsessant, it’s no surprise that the end of the NCAA Tournament had something to do with it. With the games over, I felt a sense of emptiness. During the Tournament, a one-too-many-beers promise to follow a favorite team had suddenly turned into a road trip. (Dude, we’re going to Phoenix!) I had goals and aspirations and dreams. Most importantly, I had more games to watch.

But the Tournament ended, my team lost, Phoenix turned out to be a hell of a drive — who knew? — and I was facing the unthinkable: graduation. So it came to be that out of a month of non-stop basketball watching, I started keeping score.

It was innocent enough at first. I decided that I’d make up goals to distract me from my life as a writer of failed cover letters. These daily goals were my way of staying sane, of finding blips of success hidden amongst routine.

I started with a small one: every day, make someone laugh really hard. I wasn’t going to make milk come out anyone’s nose — you’d be surprised how rarely one sees college students consuming milk in public — but I could try. Do it once a day, and I could enjoy the scoreboard at the end of the night: Dan 1, Failure 0.

I liked coming out on the winning end so much that I added more categories to my day. The points started trending upwards, the scoreboard spinning like an odometer on a cross-country trip (to, please God, anywhere other than Phoenix). Being thankful for little things wasn’t hard; I could rack up a dozen points a day doing that. Being punctual was even easier. Soon, I was running up the score. 5-0, 10-0, 20-0.

It only got worse from there. I had started out seeking moral victories and joy in day-to-day moments, but the high from those little wins faded faster with each day. I craved even bigger wins.

In one day, I decided to start being more spontaneous and to start speaking Spanish more often. But I abused the system. Getting a haircut at a barbershop run by Spanish-speakers and discussing mullets fit both requirements. Or: Look! I’m ordering a chalupa without sour cream!

I decided to stop skipping breakfast, and I was earning easy points there, until I decided that I wanted to start sleeping later, which meant that I wasn’t waking up early to eat breakfast anymore. But the scoreboard took no notice. I’d only ever created one rule: complete the category and earn the point. There was no penalty for breaking the rules, because there really weren’t any rules.

The points piled on. I had created my own metrics for success, and by my own best standards, I’d become wildly successful.

With so many paths to success, I’d guaranteed myself blowout victories with each new day. I’d been giving myself points for reading books, for creating esoteric theories, for watching new movies, for blogging, for napping — all at odds! — but the scores kept going up, and it didn’t matter how hollow my victories had become. I found myself saying odd things in the morning, like, “Right here, in this moment, this is where the day will be won.” When had I started talking like a member of the Roundtable? When had I become obsessed with winning?

Then graduation came closer — first weeks away, then days, then looking back as I crossed the dais — and I wasn’t any closer to getting a job. But I’d still been finishing my day completely convinced that I’d spent it well. I was a success, but only in a world in which I controlled the definition of success.

A few weeks after graduation, I was lucky enough to take a job that I actually wanted. Everyone wanted to know: how much money would I be making? In a world where success can’t be easily measured, salary seems like the simplest way to understand value. But I’m not sure that’s what really constitutes success.

I’d like to think my daily scorekeeping — at least my initial efforts — came close to defining two key measures of success: chasing ambition and building a better community (one in which, I’d hope, success can be further nurtured). But I’ve started to realize that we can’t attach a number to success, and we probably shouldn’t try to.

So I’ve stopped keeping score. When I make a friend laugh, I’m not declaring it a personal victory. Happiness isn’t tied to some internalized competition. I’m not winning, but I feel sane.

Though part of me still thinks that I’d need a scoreboard to know for sure.

A Eulogy for Dexter, the Boykin Spaniel.

Like many people who I refer to as aunts and uncles, my Aunt Lois and Uncle Bobby aren’t actually related to me. They did, however, have the unfortunate privilege of living across the street from my family when I was growing up, and they had the poor sense to engage my mother in regular conversation. At some point, they were granted familial status, though I’m not sure exactly when.

In the time that they lived on Pollard Road, they had two dogs — one of whom I was apparently quite fond of, though he died before I’d even learned to walk — and another, named Dexter. Unlike all the other dogs in the neighborhood, all pure-bred from well-known lineages, Dexter was a Boykin Spaniel. Before he came to live with Aunt Lois and Uncle Bobby, he’d come from a long line of South Carolinian hunting dogs. Judging by Dexter’s ability to chase but never capture neighborhood squirrels, we didn’t think much of South Carolinian hunters.

Sometime around middle school, Uncle Bobby and Aunt Lois started wintering in Arizona, and they asked us to take care of Dexter. My mother, naturally, was delighted. I’m not sure what it was about Dexter, but she loved him. I’d always guessed it was Dexter’s coat, long and brown and curly, with the kind of poof not seen outside of one of my dad’s high school photo albums.

Dexter would stay with us for a few weeks at a time in the winter. Aunt Lois would drop off Dexter and his doggy bed, and then he would immediately decide to instead take up residence on our couch. He’d arrive smelling like an Herbal Essences commercial — Aunt Lois liked to pamper Dexter at a place called Bone-jour, a salon for suburban yuppies and their puppies — and he’d leave smelling of mud and filth and the salt that they use to de-ice roads. Mom loved Dexter, even when he smelled, and even though she usually made my dad walk him on the coldest days in winter.

Dexter died when I was in high school, and afterward, my mother was as sad as I can ever remember her being. I guess I don’t really remember how Aunt Lois and Uncle Bobby felt about his death; we often joked that Dexter had been “bark mitzvahed,” but we didn’t sit shiva for him after he died (1).

I haven’t thought too much about Dexter since, but today, my boss sent me down to take some photos at a local dog show. It’s about what you’d expect from a dog show in Texas: there was an American flag hanging over the premises, but it only had about 23 stars on it. The dogs at the show were enormous, which seemed to explain why I had one of the only non-RVs in the parking lot.

They had about eight large rings set up inside, with dogs parading around each. I stopped by a ring of small dogs, then taller ones that looked like miniature llamas. I rounded over to a ring in the back, where three brown dogs with floppy ears were being judged. I heard a voice.

“They’re Boykin Spaniels.”

I looked up from my behind my camera. A woman at a judging table was looking at me and pointing to an official dog show program.

“They’re Boykin Spaniels,” she said again, now pointing to the ring.

I looked back at the dogs. The middle of the three was being coddled by his owner. The dog had those floppy ears that hung like the flaps on a Russian man’s winter hat. He had that shaggy coat. And he had this brown ring around his pupils, just like Dexter.

I looked back at the woman. “I know,” I told her. “I used to have one just like them.”

She seemed surprised, and I asked her where the dogs were from. She placed her thumb over one of the dog’s names. I didn’t see the name, just his home state:

South Carolina.

I looked back at the middle dog, and I wondered whether or not he’d ever been quick enough to catch a squirrel.

  1. UPDATE: Aunt Lois and Uncle Bobby have written in to say that, yes, they did sit shiva, though there may not have been a full minion present.

What Journalists Can Learn From Abraham Lincoln.

It’s been a while since my last installment of ‘What Journalists Can Learn From’ — it’s the first in this Jewish new year, actually — but I’ve just finished reading Doris Kearns Goodwin’s excellent “Team of Rivals,” and I saw more than a few lessons in Abe Lincoln’s words. Three especially pertinent thoughts for journalists:

Pick your words carefully: Here’s something I didn’t know about the Gettysburg Address: Lincoln wasn’t the featured speaker of the day. That honor went to Edward Everett, who gave what amounted to two hours of play-by-play about the battle of Gettysburg. Then Lincoln came up and delivered his 10-sentence-long Gettysburg Address.

After the speech was over, Everett told Lincoln, “I should be glad if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion, in two hours, as you did in two minutes.”

There’s something to be said for brevity, for giving careful thought to each word. And for this, too: A man should start talking only when he knows what to say. (1)

Give the audience time to react: With any new initiative, timing is key. With any really good idea, the creator needs to give the audience time to understand and adopt the idea. Take Twitter, for example. The site was around for more than a year before it started to really gain traction. But when it caught on, its growth was exponential.

Or, consider this incredible fact about the Gettysburg Address: when it was over, no one clapped. Lincoln took it as a sign that the crowd didn’t like his speech. Really, they were too astonished by what they’d just heard to even react.

The point is this: push the limits with your ideas, and give them room to grow. The audience might really like your idea, but they also might need some time to show their appreciation.

Brace yourself for any result: Of course, it’s important to remember that plenty of good ideas fail. So take the advice that one supporter gave Lincoln before the Republican primary in 1860. No one knew whether or not Lincoln would be able to pull off the upset, as he had entered the convention as a long shot. Lincoln had Presidential aspirations, but he had no idea if he’d even get a chance at the presidency. So his so supporter’s words? “Brace yourself,” he said, “for any result.”

For the uncertain world of modern journalism, truer words could scarcely be spoken.