September 7, 2011

NPR senior strategist Andy Carvin has become famous for his prolific tweeting of popular uprisings around the world. On Wednesday he talked about why he does it and how he keeps some balance in his life.

“The day Mubarak resigned I tweeted over 1,400 times; I admit that I have a problem,” Carvin joked Wednesday as he received a 2011 Knight Batten Award at a symposium in Washington, D.C.

He explained to the audience of journalists that his use of Twitter for reporting has two purposes: to assemble “an oral history” of the revolutions, and to spread and verify information.

Over time, many sources in the Middle East have come to see Carvin as “a DJ of the revolutions” — a hub where people on the ground would direct their own bits of information and find others’ reports to comment on or add to.

As a result, Carvin said, his “tweeps” do a lot of the work. They dig up information and help him translate and verify. Carvin’s job is to coordinate that conversation and decide what is important enough to focus on.

As just one person, how does Carvin keep up with all this activity?

He checks Twitter over breakfast, on the train, and periodically at work. But at home after work, “I shut off for a couple hours,” he said. He lets his kids use his digital devices or reads a book with them. He helps make dinner or puts them to bed.

After the kids are asleep, he goes back online for 90 minutes or so before getting some rest himself.

“I have to remind myself to unplug, but the people who remind me the most are the people who follow me on Twitter,” Carvin said. His followers will tell him when they notice he’s been going without a break or has been watching a lot of violent videos.

“It’s amazing how they have my back in terms of worrying about my mental health,” he said.

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Jeff Sonderman ( is the Digital Media Fellow at The Poynter Institute. He focuses on innovations and strategies for mobile platforms and social media in…
Jeff Sonderman

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