Three Dot Journalism

Herb Caen BustA friend of mine asked me about the term three dot journalism the over the weekend realizing that I now had something else to explain to people besides Baghdad by the Bay. It was a term coined by Herb Caen to describe his style of writing and it stuck with him to the point that Herb Caen Way… in San Francisco even had the three dots after the name.

Asking my wife, the writer, for a bit of background information, she mentioned that the three dots [called an ellipsis to English teachers just to make you feel stupid, but had no other use] was a technique used by writers to separate the end of one thought they had written before starting the next thought. It was a sort of sledgehammer way of saying I’m done and now I’m moving on. I’m not sure if it’s used much anymore, but it was not long ago because on a Macintosh computer if you hold down the option and his the semi colon you’ll get … .

Herb’s columns had a lot of information on a lot of topics so it seemed fitting to separate them so people reading the column wouldn’t get lost. If you want to see an example of three dot journalism today you’ll have to ready Willie Brown’s Sunday column in the Chronicle. He’s taken to the topic like a pro. Say what you will about Willie, but he’s the closest thing we have to Herb Caen today. Yes, there is Carl Nolte who also writes for the Chronicle, but Carl is focused on the old times of San Francisco that Herb Caen wrote about when they were new. Willie is continuing on to write about current news and his somewhat opinionated take on it. I look forward to reading Willie’s column every week. Sometimes I even agree with him.

Herb Caen would talk about politics, then … then a trip to the symphony … then a guy who he ran into at lunch that asked him a question he had to think about until he got back to the office and wrote about it then … then something else entirely. Everything was different, every day was different, but the three dots held it all together. It was the glue that made it a newsworthy column and not just the ramblings of boy from Sacramento who was enthralled with the city of San Francisco.

Journalistic Twits

Twitter is all the talk of the town recently since they want to stay in San Francisco and San Francisco doesn’t want them to leave. This means SanFrancisco is Twitter’s bitch and has to give it up for them to stay. They’re doing this by giving Twitter significant tax breaks. All well and good if you’re a techie and see Twitter as essential. At times, San Francisco and it’s techies act a little more Victorian steam punk and and don’t see why they should get a break.

Well, I like electricity and I’m not a steam punk. I tried Twitter out long ago and couldn’t see why there was anything worth having an account where you essentially were sending out 140 character posts that essentially said, “Dig Me!”

Then the day came when I wanted to integrate Twitter into this blog and I discovered something new. A local community serving the local community. I find with Twitter that I can get more up to the minute news in San Francisco from people on the scene with their smart phones who photograph or video what they see and share it with others. A few days ago when Ocean Beach was hit with a tornado I was staying in from the rain and didn’t realize that there was a tornado touching down a mile from my house. Follow up tweets told me that West Coast tornados that touch down on water aren’t as strong as the ones you hear about in the midwest that rip houses apart and suck cows and diesel trucks up in the air hurling them at people all around.

When I’m out and about and happen to see something going on that is news worthy I share it with my community of followers on Twitter whether it’s a homeless guy sleeping on the streets in the Sunset or a car crash that snarls up traffic for others. These Twits like @obbulletin, @Njudah, @_laughingsquid and @SanFranciscoPro are reporting what they see. No opinion, just check out what is happening here. That’s what journalism is supposed to be as I was taught. If you want some funny opinion pieces I like to read what @DaBakedBaker, @BayAreaGreenway and @UppityFag [Hugh Jackman isn’t gay, he’s just singing and dancing with an orchestra in SF! #gay #fag] has to say because they admit that they’re stoned or drunk and are being funny, something opinionated journalism from Fox News won’t admit.

All these Twits [and I’m using that term affectionately] are beating the newscasters to the punch so much so that the guy who shot the video of the tornado got his footage used on local news and was interviewed to boot. That’s not too shabby a way to get your 15 minutes of fame. I really like the democritization of journalism that’s happening with Twitter when it’s done right. Yes there are a few haters on Twitter, but I don’t follow them. I do like to follow the local politicians who seem to fond of using foursquare to check in where they’re at so that people who don’t like them can hunt them down quickly. I do like @AlohaArleen who must have stayed up through the night after the earthquake in Japan to give everyone an early warning from here home in Hawaii when the tsunami hit. I do think Twitter can be done right. You just have find those people to follow.