News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Max Jones

February 4, 2013

MAX JONES: Social media can actually serve a useful purpose

TERRE HAUTE — If you’ve spent any time at all on Facebook and Twitter, you know that so much of what we now call social media is mindless banter. Not that this is a bad thing. Sometimes I actually enjoy following the flow of conversation and looking at the pictures of people’s latest exploits and family gatherings.

But where social media ceases to be a recreational device and becomes an essential tool for gleaning information many people either need or want is where I see its greatest value.

I thought about this a few times last week as I found myself seeking immediate information about news or sports activities that hold my interest beyond the normal journalistic consumption that occurs in the life of an editor.

While traveling home from Chicago, I was disappointed that I wouldn’t be able to watch my alma mater, Indiana University, play its big basketball game against Michigan State on TV. All was not lost, however. Using Twitter, I was able to get game updates (not while driving, of course) from sports writers covering it.

A few days later, with ISU’s men playing a crucial road game at 15th-ranked Wichita State, I was able to track the game action on Twitter, almost in real time, by following Tribune-Star Sports Editor Todd Golden. I don’t know how he does it, but Todd is a master of tweeting constant updates on ISU’s games. Because of the skilled and colorful way he does it, it’s almost as exciting as watching the game live on TV.

When a game telecast is not readily available, as the ISU-Wichita State game was not for many people, having the Twitter feed was a fine second option. As the only sports journalist who routinely covers the Sycamores, Todd’s insights and description of ISU’s pulsating victory over the Shockers was about as much fun as you can have with a smart phone.

If you’re on Twitter, have an interest in ISU basketball and aren’t following Todd, you’re really missing something. Follow him at @TribStarTodd.

The miracle of social media, however, really hit home Thursday afternoon when news of the terrible chain-reaction crash on Interstate 70 near Plainfield began to break. Inside of an hour after the crash, social media lit up. And the best information came from official sources, such as the Indiana Department of Transportation and Indiana State Police.

The nice thing about getting tweets or Facebook notifications from official sources such as these is that you can trust the information. It will come as no surprise to anyone who follows social media that the things that get posted or tweeted can often be a bit, ahem, unreliable. Following sources such as INDOT or the ISP for information on crashes, traffic flow or road conditions during bad weather ranks for me as about the most valuable stuff you can get on social media.

What’s best is that these sources won’t be tweeting or posting trivial material. If they’re sending it out, you probably need to know about it, especially if you or someone you know is traveling the highways or byways.

If you haven’t done so by now, see for yourself. Visit either the INDOT or ISP websites and they will direct you on how to follow them on social media or sign up for cell phone alerts. It’s worth checking out.

You should also consider following the Tribune-Star and its journalists on Twitter and Facebook. Visit www.tribstar.com to learn more. There is a lot of good information flowing through those portals, and I promise we’ll try not to clutter your news or Twitter feeds with extraneous, useless drivel. There is already plenty of that around.

Max Jones can be reached at 812-231-4336, or by email at max.jones@tribstar.com. Follow him on Twitter: @TribStarMax.

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