UMass Journalism Students Twitter VP Debate

Hi all —

Students in three journalism classes took part in an exercise Thursday night to “Twitter” the vice-presidential debate.  Students in Steve Fox’s Multimedia Journalism and Politics, Journalism and the Web classes, along with Scott Brodeur’s Writing for the Web class watched and commented on the debate.  There insights can be found on this transcript.



About journalismprof

Steve joined the journalism faculty at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst in August 2007 and has been working to incorporate multimedia across the curriculum. Since arriving at UMass, Steve has developed three courses modeled after his multimedia journalism course. The courses allow students to work in teams in a newsroom-like environment where they work on packages -- using video, audio and photos to tell stories. He is also working with students on developing, a news Web site staffed completely by students. Steve has more than 25 years of experience as an editor and reporter for print and online publications, including 10 as an editor at He also edits part-time for with the NFL and college football network.
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One Response to UMass Journalism Students Twitter VP Debate

  1. Hollis Smith says:

    As both a student of Steve Fox and a fulltime participator in the world of US politics, I feel I am well suited to speak on this subject: Twitter is a massive failure.
    “Tweeting” or “Twittering” (what is the verb?) the vice presidential debates fell short of UMass journalism teacher’s hopes for a hip new teaching tool.

    The purpose of following the debates using Twitter was to let students see and respond to each other’s initial reactions to what the vice presidential candidates were saying. This, in theory, is a great idea, but there is much more too it. For starters, organizing more than one class of students, and expecting them to effectively “follow” one another so that everything they type can be read by everyone is a lot to ask. At least while using Twitter. By typing “#umassvp” before or after every Twitter response, a simple search will give you the comments made by students. So, if you are not following everyone (I am hard pressed to believe that anyone was able to follow every person participating) you can read the whole conversation via the search of that key word.

    The problem here is that, on debate night, EVERYONE is using Twitter, not just UMass students. The result: the website is flooded with users and the search feature could not keep up with everyone’s responses. No matter how many times you hit that refresh button (I had mine set up on a timer to refresh the page every 15 seconds) you were unable to see these comments in real time, and therefore responding to one another was close to impossible. In addition to having a page open for searching, the Twitter user also needed to have their Twitter homepage open so that they could type their responses.

    Essentially, students were directed to use Twitter as a makeshift chat room, which it is not. Since it was difficult to read everyone’s responses as they were being submitted, discussions did not take place until the debate died down and people began to logoff.

    Setting up an Instant Messenger chat room would have accomplished what Twitter could not, and most everyone already has a screen name. Most people in my class had to register with Twitter and had never used it before.

    Constantly updating one Twitter page while typing in another and trying desperately to keep my mind on the debate was not the way I planned on spending my evening.

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