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Minding Our Business


Bierbauer and horse

Musings on horseback

My intention was to spend a week without the Internet, phone, text, television or Twitter. My wife and I were on a ranch in southern Colorado where we have frequently gone to ride horses in the mountains and relax. Not the end of civilization. Quite comfortable, in fact. But purposefully remote.

A couple of years ago, though, the ranch had installed wireless access in the cabins, if only to drive the compulsive workaholics with their laptops away from the lodge. They were spoiling the rustic ambience.

I don’t travel with a laptop any more. My iPhone (no promotional fees have exchanged hands for this mention) provides e-mail, calendar, text, phone and, since my watch broke, a clock. On Friday morning, as we rode up above 11,000 feet, high in the San Juans, I carried the iPhone because it also has a camera.

When we stopped for lunch in a high meadow with forty-mile views, one riding companion, a veterinarian from Iowa, exclaimed: “Hey, I’ve got four bars!”

Giddy, no doubt from the altitude, we snapped each other’s pictures and e-mailed them.

Hours later and back at the cabin, having already weakened, I peeked to find I had some 200 accumulated e-mail messages. I answered three that seemed to have some urgency and hit the trail again in the morning. I didn’t tweet until we returned to Columbia.

The whistles and bells and tweets on our electronic devices have become commonplace. With our youngest son now in college, I’ve adapted to texting as the best way to keep in touch. I’ve been on Twitter for a couple of months, finding it not so much a social network as a headline news service. My old colleague at the White House, CBS’ Mark Knoller tweets a couple dozen times a day on the comings and goings of the president. A link takes me to fuller stories, should I want more.

Twitter seems to be bifurcated by the newsy and the inane. One well-known network news anchor even tweets when she’s signing off for the night and going to bed. Twitter’s not big with college students whose lifelines are Facebook and text messaging.

At this writing, I’ve got 74 Twitter followers. Larry King was all a-twitter the other day as he neared one million. Just his close, personal friends. Much of what’s on Twitter or YouTube and others should more properly be called marketing or self promotion, rather than networking. I tweet perhaps every two or three days to see if it tweaks any response. I might as well float messages in bottles down the Congaree River.

Or Colorado’s Conejos River. Every couple days a newspaper showed up at the ranch from Denver (it still has one paper) or Pueblo. On Wednesday, the Valley Courier—serving Alamosa, Antonito, Blanca, Center, Creede, Crestone, Del Norte, Fort Garland (where Kit Carson served), Hooper, La Jara, Manassa (where the “Manassa Mauler” Jack Dempsey was born), Mosca, Moffat, Monte Vista, Romeo, Saguache, Sanford (no, not that Sanford), San Luis and South Fork—arrived. The paper serves all those communities and crossroads in the San Luis Valley, as newspapers should and perhaps only newspapers can meet local interests.

And there on the Opinion page was a Robert Ariail (yes, our Robert Ariail) editorial cartoon of Gov. Mark Sanford (yes, that Sanford) declaring he would “not be railroaded out of office.” The idiosyncrasies of South Carolina politics (isn’t that a nice way to put it) seem inescapable. We spent a fair amount of time trying to explain it all to our friends from Colorado, Iowa and points west. We left and were back home before Congressman Joe Wilson lost his Congressional cool.

Even in this day when we lament the diminishment of news, we were reminded that news travels. It’s out there, no matter what means it takes to get it to you. Some of it was in the haze we learned was drifting eastward from California fires. Some was about the perplexity of public behaviors. Some about the perils of today’s still struggling economy for the tourism and hospitality industry. Some about the depressed horse trade.

But don’t tell that last bit to “Tuff”, the aptly named bay I rode up, down, on and off the mountain trails that week. He probably wouldn’t give a tweet, anyhow.


The Column

Charles Bierbauer

Minding Our Business is a column by Charles Bierbauer, dean of USC's College of Mass Communications and Information Studies and a former CNN and ABC News correspondent.

This column addresses issues faced daily by students, faculty, editors, news directors, public relations experts, and media managers about our professions.

We welcome feedback.

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