Wednesday, May 20th, 2020

I realize a tweet is not a news report. I realize it is not an abstract, or a lead paragraph in a story.

But it is also not a container of clickbait. If you’re a news organization and you’re sending out tweets linked to stories, then you have a responsibility to tell enough of the story so the reader’s brain does not explode with “omg, where was this?”

Yesterday, ABC News tweeted:

DAM BURST: Residents who live along two lakes and a river in Michigan urged to evacuate after dam fails following days of heavy flooding across parts of the Midwest.

Two lakes and a river…in Michigan, a state with thousands upon thousands of lakes.

Later on the Twitter, we learned “a city was placed under an evacuation order.”

If I was the grizzled old man in the newsroom (and believe me, I’ve been working on my grizzledosity), I would walk up to the young underpaid person cranking out this handful of characters and yell “WHERE! WHO! WHAT! WHERE! WHEN!”

Specific place information should be in your tweet instead of a tease. A tweet should not be written as if Michigan is this far off abstract place that is being peered at from a great distance. People want to know. “A number were injured”—tell us that number or get as close as you can. “Opponents of the bill”—name them.

Specificity is part of the job. There are very rural places in Michigan. There are very large cities. Many of them are adjacent to “two lakes and a river.” One of them happens to be Midland, Michigan, a city I don’t know well at all except that I learned early on that the huge Dow chemical company was based there. And it’s located in central Michigan, close to where the thumb attaches to the rest of the mitten that is the mitten state.

Dangerous chemicals. A populous city that has a name. Y’know, ABC, there’s stuff to somehow get into your tweet.

It’s on the banks of the Tittabawassee River. And yeah, that is the city, the river, the chemical plant (a superfund cleanup site) and the dams involved (so far) were the Edenville and the Sanford.


I was happy to see this New York Times report had most of that in there, along with a lot of interesting detail. It’s very soggy in Michigan right now, and these were and are not the only dams at risk.