The 140-Character-or-Less Campaign

Twitter now has the power to drive a politician's message and news coverage

Take Ben Smith, the politically engaged editor in chief of the social site BuzzFeed. Smith averages 19.4 daily tweets and uses the information stream to stay in front of each day’s news cycle. For Smith and many like him, Twitter is more than a journalistic tool. “Twitter is not only driving the conversation, it is transforming the design of the modern newsroom,” he says.

But it isn’t just Smith and BuzzFeed that are doubling down on Twitter; newsrooms across the country have bent to the social network’s will. “It’s the best place right now to reach the central opinion makers and that conversation is really where you want to be,” says Smith.

For Ethan Klapper, social media editor, politics, for The Huffington Post, Twitter affords the 22-year-old a peculiar vantage point as he oversees the campaign trail far from the stump speeches and cross-country bus tours.

Klapper, like many young journalists, has been thrust into an elevated position due in part to his fluency monitoring the pulse of the chattering classes via the social medium.

“I often find myself getting home from work and opening up TweetDeck,” Klapper says. In fact, he rarely ventures far from the feed. “When it comes to the real-time news/debate element, Twitter reigns supreme,” the editor says.

While observers will disagree on the ultimate importance of the Rosen/Romney kerfuffle, everyone acknowledges it will be only one of many such instances for the Obama and Romney campaigns this season.

Republican digital strategist Vincent Harris, consultant for onetime Republican presidential hopefuls Gov. Rick Perry of Texas and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, figures that such skirmishes will escalate as the public demands them.

“People on Twitter like the drama of campaigns,” Harris says. “I think that’s why they’re on Twitter. I think they’d be bored if there wasn’t this constant chatter, and I think you’re going to continue seeing campaigns go to Twitter as a means to pick those fights.”

An increasingly hostile environment means more work for campaigns, always struggling to speed their reaction times and dominate the public opinion.

“In 1992, during the Clinton/Gore campaign, the idea of rapid response was responding within the news cycle,” Greenberger points out. “If you got hit at a morning news conference, you have to respond before the evening news. Rapid response is in real-time for the first time. So you have to adjust communications strategy accordingly. The velocity of this is new and it will take people time to adjust.”

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