Making Sense of the Media
6:08 pm
Mon August 5, 2013

Scott Simon Live Tweets His Mom's Death: TMI or Personal Journalism?

Kelly McBride of the Poynter Institute's Sense-Making Project talks with WUSF's Craig Kopp about NPR host Scott Simon's tweeting from his mother's death bed.

NPR host Scott Simon has talked about his mom on-the-air before, and he's mentioned her in social media.

Credit Courtesy the Simon Family

But this was different. His mother,  Patricia Lyons Simon Newman, was in a Chicago Intensive Care Unit. Her son was by her side. They both knew she was dying. And Simon was tweeting about the experience to his over 1 million Twitter followers.

In a few days, Simon's mother was dead at the age of 84.

Was Simon oversharing an extremely personal story or showing how social media can be used to report on anything?

"I think Scott gives us the perfect role model of how we can share intimate moments through social media that really becomes storytelling and documentation rather than navel gazing," said Kelly McBride of the Poynter Institute's Sense-Making Project.

McBride cited a couple of reasons why Simon was perfect for such a sensitive tweeting experiment.

"This isn't the first personal moment he's tweeted about. He's talked about his daughter's adoptions, and he's talked about a lot of other personal moments on social media. So he's got some experience in this area," she explained.  "In addition to that, Scott's mom, she was a great subject as well because she was a really open, self-aware person. So, you had this perfect combination of a humble, powerful storyteller and then his showgirl mom in this dramatic event that stretched out over several days."

McBride said that one of the things that made Simon's death bed tweeting so effective was his ability to capture the sad, and the funny, in 140 characters or less.

"He was able to tap into the humor of the moment," she said.  "At one point he was quoting his mom and she said, 'I don't know why this is going on so long. I'm late for everything I guess.' What I take away from that is that selection is key. When you are trying to document an intimate moment and share it with your social circle, you really have to pick precisely the right moment."

McBride said Simon's tweeting during his mother's passing is just a sign of the social media times we live - and die - in.

"Social media's changing everything, not just how we die," McBride said.  "It's changing how we mark the most significant moments of our lives - birth, death, marriage, divorce, sending a child off to college, keeping vigil for a soldier off to war. This is how we mark the significant moments of our lives."