Off Beat: Hashtag leads paper to wrong type of coverage

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It's one thing to write a good lead for a newspaper story, but it's another to conjure up a good hashtag. That's what we tried to do on Wednesday in preparation for an afternoon public hearing at Clark College.

The topic was a proposal for a controversial coal export terminal in Bellingham.

We needed a hashtag to create a microstream of sorts on Twitter while covering the hearings. That tag, a phrase with a "#" sign in front of it, allows people to filter their full feed into a smaller feed that can be more manageable, and it can lend itself to creating conversations online, albeit in bursts of up to 140 characters.

"How about #vanwacoal or #wacoalterminals?" someone offers up in a meeting to plan for coverage of the event.

"Nah, too long."

"Beyondcoal?"

"No, that's being used as a slogan by the anti-coal folks. We don't want to take sides."

"What about something generic like #wacoal?"

Heads nod as we agree that's the ticket to our success. Reporter Eric Florip posts a Tweet to promote our upcoming coverage.

Alas, we click on #wacoal to follow the hashtag and what do we find? There's already a stream of Tweets there and they're all centered around#coalwa.-- John Hill

Off Beat lets members of The Columbian news team step back from our newspaper beats to write the story behind the story, fill in the story or just tell a story.