The McCain Twitterview: Nice try, but no cigar

Chicago (IL) – Yesterday, George Stephanopoulos, a reporter from ABC, conducted an interview with Senator John McCain — only it was not your typical interview. It was a new type of interview, a short, 15 minute “Twitterview” conducted over 140 character “tweets” sent back and forth on the popular social networking and microblogging website Though it was a major move in the face of journalism, it has been criticized for its lack of depth.

The format itself was agreed to in advance, that all questions and answers would only be 140 characters max (no 500 word responses over several messages). This format had both positives and negatives. While the interview hit on subjects such as the AIG bailout, Pakistan and Iran, the short Q&A format didn’t allow for much elaboration and that was sometimes a negative. However, the interview was also part of an open forum inviting user participation during the week prior-to, which was a positive.

I’ve now read the interview transcript, and I’m going to lay it out there: attempting to conduct an interview with any level of seriousness utilizing 140 characters is nearly impossible. You can’t get good responses, and it’s impossible to discuss serious issues

— even though they clearly attempted.

In my opinion questions regarding the bailout and war need more detailed responses than the ones seen in the transcript.

Interviews are conducted so that individuals can learn and understand situations, products or an individual better. Understanding someone within the confines of 140 characters has now been shown to be nearly impossible.

Twitter is great for liveblogging news, such as the iPhone information tweeted yesterday, but an interview conducted via Twitter leaves much to be desired.

Politics is already confusing enough in today’s society. Candidates launch smear attacks, commercials deliver blips of information, and blogs are flooded and filled with more opinion and fact by those in the know or otherwise. It is important for journalists like Stephanopoulos to actually conduct serious interviews and get lengthy well thought-out answers to their questions. Additional follow up and further explanation are also needed. And Twitter is not the place for serious interviews on such serious matters.

Twitter opened its doors for this interview. Stephanopoulos requested information and questions from followers which he then asked the Senator. The entire experience was one designed to open the doors to the outside world so they could participate in the event. Still, it wasn’t quite right.

I think Twitter is a great communication tool for idle chatter, self promotion and live blogging events, but it lacks in handling intense subjects and issues. Twitter belongs in a social realm, not a venue where we need detailed responses and the ability to ask more questions. Follow-ups are key!

This experience has taken journalism backwards in time, which is a total dichotomy when you look at the future of the Internet, journalism and the way news is delivered in general. These things are all moving forward, and this experience serves as proof that while print publications may be on the decline, not all areas of journalism can move into the social aspects of the web.