When Twitter began in 2006, few people knew about the service. The practice of writing weblogs, or "blogs" for short, had been around for a while, but Twitter's defining characteristic gave blogging the new and seemingly restrictive dimension of forced brevity. Instead of allowing users to ramble on at any length they chose, Twitter limited posts to just 140 characters.
Early critics wondered why anyone would want to read, let alone post, tiny messages visible to "followers." Many joked as boring as personal daily blogs could be, Twitter might be worse, allowing users to write about their daily routine of going to the gym or eating lunch. But in 2007, a small part of Twitter's potential suddenly became apparent when it became the hit of the South by Southwest music and technology conference in Austin, Texas. Attendees who signed up for the service began tweeting in real time about the sessions they attended and kept tabs on each other.
Since then, the number of active users has mushroomed from tens of thousands to more than 200 million people around the world, and while there are still tweets about what people had for lunch, Twitter has come into its own as a major source of online news, providing links to professional and personal websites with detailed coverage of issues as well as real-time streams of breaking news events.
While a portion of the traffic on the service does consist of random personal observations and conversations between mutual followers, news and information keeps many users glued to their Twitter feeds. Examples of news stories spreading rapidly through Twitter range from severe weather updates as tornadoes roll through an area or the miraculous river landing of a US Airways flight in the Hudson River, to the death of Michael Jackson and the shared experience of sporting events, generating thousands of messages per second. And as big news events such as the Arab Spring unfold, Twitter has played a major role in disseminating information that might never have reached beyond the borders of the countries undergoing rapid transformations.
“It’s difficult to quantify the impact that Twitter has on news dissemination not only here, but all around the world. Millions of people turn to Twitter as an instant source of information, especially in times of crisis,” said Mike Cavender, RTDNF Executive Director. “We’re proud to honor this organization for its support and defense of our First Amendment freedoms.”
Accepting the award will be Gabriel Stricker, Twitter’s Vice President of Communications. Also being honored at the event are Robert Decherd, Chairman, President, CEO, A.H. Belo Corporation; Candy Crowley, Chief Political Correspondent, CNN; and Lloyd Siegel, Vice President, NBC News Partnerships.
The honorees are expected to make remarks at the dinner, which is attended by more than 500 people. The black-tie event begins with a reception at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, March 14 at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, 1150 22nd Street NW, Washington, DC.
Tickets for the event are available by registering on the RTDNF website.
Funds raised at the First Amendment Dinner help support RTDNF’s work to promote excellence in electronic journalism through research, education and training for news professionals and journalism students. The foundation’s work is also supported by contributions from foundations, corporations, members of the Radio Television Digital News Association and other individuals.