Garry Trudeau On Journos “Smitten With The Idea Of A Personal Broadcasting System”

Alissa Krinsky
WebNewser Contributor

GarryTrudeau.jpg“Stand by for my next tweet,” Roland Hedley proudly tweeted with self-importance last month to his more than 2,900 Twitter followers. “Please retweet this alert to your followers so they can stand by as well.”

Using the handle @Roland_Hedley, the fictitious Fox News reporter — who made his debut in Garry Trudeau‘s Doonesbury comic strip in 1973 — recently has become obsessed with Twitter.

Hedley started tweeting in March (he’s an “insider; player; game-changer,” according to his Twitter bio), and even tweets while he’s supposed to be reporting on-air.

Roland.jpgThe clueless correspondent is described on the strip’s official website as “a man of many talents, none of them of any use to a journalist.” Hedley’s tweets, which Trudeau himself writes, are intended to lampoon the Twitter craze among the tvnewser set. And the tweets of real reporters (including Rick Sanchez, Chris Cuomo, and David Gregory) are not immune from Hedley’s needling.

In a rare interview — and his first on the subject — Garry Trudeau gives WebNewser his take on Twitter.

WebNewser: Do you think Twitter is silly? Or is it that tweeting by TV journalists in particular is silly?

Trudeau: The technology obviously isn’t inherently silly — it’s just a tool. A lot of serious people are using Twitter towards serious ends, especially the geeks who put it on the map.

But there are also vast numbers of users, including journalists, who are so smitten with the idea of a personal broadcasting system that the absence of meaningful content to broadcast doesn’t seem to concern them.

WebNewser: Are there any tvnewsers providing ‘worthwhile’ tweets?

(Roland Hedley/Doonesbury copyright 2009 G.B. Trudeau)


Trudeau: None that I can find. Some reporters inoffensively tweet links to a broadcast, column or blog they’ve produced; they likely don’t even do it themselves and they never respond to follower replies.

The serious journotwits, though, are at it all day — 30, 40 tweets between breakfast and bedtime. And as someone who follows a lot of these folks, I can assure you that outside of the occasional interesting link, there’s not much added news value.

It’s all about fan base maintenance and trying to pump up follower counts. But high follower counts are like Mardi Gras throw beads — worthless out of context.

What amazes me is that these folks have voluntarily elected to add a new hour-a-day habit to what presumably were pretty busy schedules to begin with. Many of them Twitter about their apparently exemplary parenting, so you do wonder why they don’t turn off their Berrys and recover that hour for the family — or at least make themselves a little more present for the people they’re actually with.

Look, all of us are narcissists to some degree, but most find it embarrassing enough to at least try to hide it. What Twitter and its social media cousins do is disable inhibition. We expect narcissism from our movie stars and politicians and teenagers, but it’s a little surprising to encounter so many otherwise personally modest journalists oblivious to how they’re presenting,

WebNewser: Care to name any tvnewsers whose tweets you find really annoying?

Trudeau: Not in particular (hey, I like TV news folks – married one! [former NBCer Jane Pauley]), but in general the most baffling are the reporters who solicit their followers for questions before interviews. Please. You’re supposed to be professionals. Do pilots and surgeons ask for suggestions?

If you can’t think of a few good questions, you and your producer are in the wrong business. It’s not about getting fresh, out-of-the-bubble perspectives, as they would argue: most questions sent in are obvious or inane. It’s really about flattering the followers, populist pandering.

WebNewser: Do you feel there’s any worth — journalistically — in tvnewsers tweeting?

Trudeau: For individual reporters, I don’t see the value in micro-blogging — yet. But having eyes-on from the flock could matter at political protests. I think the citizen journalism applications are much more promising.

WebNewser: What has the response been from the public — and from TV journalists — to Roland’s Tweets?

Trudeau: So far so good. Jake Tapper at ABC News has been egging me on. I just collected a bunch of them, comprising Roland’s G-20 coverage, for this week’s The New Yorker.

WebNewser: For how long do you plan to keep tweeting as Roland?

Trudeau: Well, I’m writing comedy, not journalism — my character is an idiot — but I guess I’ll keep it up for as long as it’s still fun. I originally started tweeting as Roland to compliment the strips on tweeting I did [in March], as a kind of performance art. It’s definitely become a time suck, so it’ll probably be a limited run.

Related: NYTimes – The Trudeau Parody Tweets That Went On Too Long

More: Roland Hedley responds to the NYTimes article in a tweet: “NYT calls me out 4 tweaking 2 tweets in NYr piece, making them ‘too long’. Need riposte. Has NYT ever run too long story?”

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