Thursday, April 16, 2009

Roundhouse Roundup: Twittering From Rome

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
April 16, 2009

First Gov. Bill Richardson became a convert to repealing the death penalty.

Now, traveling to Italy to take part in the lighting of the Roman Colosseum in honor of New Mexico abolishing capital punishment, Richardson has become a convert to a popular Internet toy that’s received lots of press in recent weeks — the Web phenomenon known as Twitter.

Call him @GovRichardson.

For the untwittified, Twitter is a free mini-blogging and social-networking program that allows people to post short (140-character or less) reports about what they’re up to. Users can follow news organizations, entertainment services, friends, family … and governors.

He’s not the only New Mexico politician on Twitter. U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luj├ín is there. State Rep. Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe was tweeting during the recent legislative session. Bernalillo County Sheriff Darren White and Albuquerque Mayor Marty Chavez also are on Twitter.

The idea for putting Richardson on Twitter first arose during the Legislature. “We originally thought about utilizing Twitter to provide a new and different way to alert the public about the governor’s action on bills,” Richardson spokesman Gilbert Gallegos said Wednesday.

“We typically get inundated with phone calls and e-mails from the general public about whether and when the governor will take action on a bill," Gallegos said. "In the past, we simply sent out news releases and posted information on the Web site as quickly as possible. So, Twitter seemed like a good option.”

Richardson didn’t get it set up in time for the session. So they thought they’d give it a try with the Rome trip.

Actually, Richardson himself isn’t doing it. His deputy chief of staff, Eric Witt, who traveled with the governor to Rome, is the official ghost-tweeter.

The first tweets from Witt came about 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, though they appear to have been written the day before, as they refer to events that were on Richardson’s Tuesday schedule. The Governor’s Office issued a news release about 30 minutes later and word began to spread across Twitterdom. By Wednesday evening, Richardson had 93 followers and had posted some 31 tweets, including four links to photographs of Richardson and Pope Benedict XVI.

“As for the future, we’ll have to assess whether it is worth the time to pursue this technology,” Gallegos said.

Some tweets from Rome: For the benefit of those not on Twitter, here are some of the highlights of the Witt/Richardson tweets:

“After 20 hours of sleepless travel, including a 5 hour layover in Chicago, we arrive at Rome hotel.”

“No time to rest — shower, change, then off to lunch with members of Sant’Egidio community, who are hosting our visit”

“Motor to travel reception. More than 25 writers and national press. Gov wows them with speech when he says NM abolished the death penalty”

“One writer asks me who I root for, Cowboys or Indians. I put on best Eastwood impersonations and say — ‘Depends on who’s feeding me.’ ”

“Monsignor lavishly praises New Mexico … not a dry eye in the house”

“After service we go to private dinner in restored cloister, hosted by Sant’Egidio.”

“In case no one told you, Italians like to eat a lot. Fortunately they are good cooks!”

“Midnight in Rome and we are back at the hotel. 35 hours after I first awoke for trip, my head hits the pillow. Early day tomorrow.”

Those are some of the ones that appear to have been written Tuesday. Here’s some from Wednesday:

“BTW, just an observation: in Rome, traffic lane markings and signals are not commands, they are suggestions & very few (people) are listening!”

“At Coliseum, large crowd is gathering. People from Senegal, Greece, Mali, England and of course L’Italia”

“Mayor of Rome arrives and warmly shakes Gov’s hand”

“Coliseum itself is magnificent — much larger and more impressive than expected.”

“Report comes in that there has been major coverage in Italian TV and Radio from our 1 pm (Italian time) news conference.”

“The sky is darkening over the coliseum, the crowd and the media have gathered.”

“Dozens of media trying to get to the governor — yelling questions and snapping photos. Flashes going off like popcorn. The band strikes up …”

That was the last tweet, for a few hours at least, out of @GovRichardson.
A Blue Demon fotonovela
Another form of communication: It’s not high-tech, but Attorney General Gary King is experimenting with an alternative means of communication: the fotonovela.

Fotonovelas basically are comic books that use photos instead of drawings. They especially are popular in Spanish-speaking countries.

The AG wants to warn people about door-to-door salesmen, so they’re publishing My Right to Cancel, or, in Spanish, Mi Derecho de Cancelar, which tells a tale of “how one family is misled by a door-to-door salesman in their purchase of educational materials for their children.”

“We have found that our Spanish speaking immigrant communities are frequently victimized by dishonest business operators who contact people through door-to-door sales pitches,” King said in a news release.

“The Immigrant Services Unit within my Consumer Protection Division came up with the idea of educating these consumers by using the popular fotonovela concept.”

If that fails, there’s always Twitter.