Finally, a Tweet expressed it all

Published 12:00 pm Wednesday, April 13, 2016

By Sid Salter

For old-school newspaper opinion/editorial writers, Twitter has always seemed anathema to what we tried to spend our careers doing — challenging people to talk and think about the important public policy debates that confronted us as citizens.

In the absence of topics that lent themselves to that sort of political or social analysis, newspaper columns can also be a source of humor or reflection or grief or celebration. Once in a while, such writing can produce moments, glimpses of illumination.

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Over the years, the column formats got shorter and briefer and more restricted by the collapse or available space or “news hole” in the newspapers. When I started writing newspaper columns more than 35 years ago, an average column would be around 850 words. Now, the space available in some newspaper will accommodate 575.

The other technological and social changes that impacted the old-school op/ed writers was the birth of the Internet and the evolution of social media in an ever-changing number of social media platforms. Now, everyone has a forum to express their opinions and those expressions are virtually instantaneous.

When I first came to Twitter, I found the notion of writing anything meaningful or impactful in 140 characters or less to be what I first thought would be a perpetual exercise in futility. After decades of writing longer-form analyses of public policy and the detailed play-by-play of Mississippi’s always entertaining political arenas, I remember telling a friend: “Say something in 140 characters? Heck, it takes me more words than that to clear my throat.”

But I have come to understand that as one who taught journalism at Ole Miss in the 1990s and at Mississippi State University in the last several years, the exercise of having students accustomed to the forced brevity of Twitter in writing newspaper stories and op/ed material is an invaluable tool.

Tight writing is good writing. The ability of writers to express complex, nuanced ideas using an economy of words is a skill tailor-made for modern communications and in a society that too often literally worships time, it’s a real requirement for success.

But I’ve never been particularly good at “Tweets” — not like Twitter masters like Jackson lawyer Will Bardwell. Will, an Ole Miss guy to the core, skewers my alma mater every chance he gets and generally keeps a running Twitter commentary during political or sporting events — and even when I don’t agree with some of his sentiments, Will usually cracks me up. Witty, smart, edgy and literate, Will can turn 140 characters into a powerful tool or even a weapon.

But last week, I finally composed a Tweet in which I actually took some pride as a writer. The Tweet expressed my personal opinion on a matter of public policy debate in the state I love.

The Tweet expressed my opinion in a manner more sure and certain than I could have done back in the late 1970s when I had 850 words to expend rather than a mere 140 characters.

Regarding House Bill 1523, I Tweeted: “Personal opinion: HB 1523 is a solution in search of a problem. Bad public policy. Unnecessary. Wrong. Mean-spirited. Unfair. Discriminatory.”

The reaction? Mixed bag. Some were offended, others were encouraging, but I think it got my feelings off my chest.

Watching the Democratic and Republican presidential primaries and the absolute orgy of anger and irrational behavior conducted in the name of “liberty” and “freedom” it has became obvious to me that the days of disagreeing agreeably over politics in America are approaching what is perhaps a permanent sunset.

As the HB 1523 debate continues to rage, it remains important to keep our eyes on the fact that our nation was founded by people seeking freedom of religion and freedom from religion. The separation of church and state is supposed to be a door that swings both ways, not in one direction only.

Those concepts, those principles, are not partisan. Or at least, they should not be.

Sid Salter is a syndicated columnist. Contact him at