Adam Sharp ’96 is head of News, Government and Elections at Twitter. Joining the social networking giant as its first Washington, DC hire, Sharp, who is now based in New York, has driven its creative use for the past six years, advising campaigns, candidates, news organizations, and government officials. “We work with prominent voices on the Twitter platform, teaching them how to use Twitter to better connect with their constituents, readers, and viewers.”
The media has significantly changed form since Sharp’s Hotchkiss days, particularly in news and politics. “If journalism is the first draft of history, Twitter is the first draft of journalism,” says Sharp. “There has been a huge shift in immediacy and accessibility. When I was at Hotchkiss, wedged between the 1992 and 1996 elections, everyone got their news from the morning newspapers or evening news, reporting an event a day or so earlier. Now, rather than waiting for the filtered picture, you are embedded in it; you are there. You can participate and ask direct questions.”
Though he is quick to note he never could have predicted the advent of social media in the forms it has taken, Sharp recognized the need for immediate accessibility even while at Hotchkiss. “During the 1994 midterm elections held on a Tuesday, though we would usually do a weekly Hotchkiss Television (HTV) broadcast on Saturday nights, we had an election special ready for Wednesday Auditorium. Several of the major networks were saying the Texas race was too close to call, but we called it and got it right!”
Along with Robert Schaufelberger ’97 and others, Sharp was involved in developing the School’s first website. “We lived across the hall from each other in Coy and were both into computers. Robert led the website effort with graphics, and I contributed news. We began producing the HTV Daily. Published online and posted on the Headmaster’s board, our goal was instant coverage of sports, weather, campus stories, etc. - already reflecting the early shift in information delivery.”
After Hotchkiss, Sharp went on to Northwestern University, where he majored in journalism and minored in political science, receiving his B.S. He served in a number of roles at NBC News, working part-time during breaks and later helping to launch MSNBC. In response to the events of 9/11, Sharp built an emergency newsroom to cover the atrocities of that day and would later be involved in documenting the recovery process at “Ground Zero.” From 2004 until 2009, Sharp served as Deputy Chief of Staff for Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, serving through Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and spent two years at C-SPAN, where he led the digital editorial team.
In November 2010, drawing on his extensive background in politics and media, Sharp went to work at Twitter, leading the onboarding and training of Congress and the Obama administration, organizing the first “Twitter Town Hall” at the White House, leading teams for the conventions and debates in 2012 and 2016, and steering election efforts in nearly a dozen other countries. He spent a lot of time on Capitol Hill, showing members of Congress how to tweet. “When I started at Twitter, less than one in five in the Congress had a Twitter presence,” he says. “Fast-forward to today, and every Senator, 99 percent of the House, and half of the Cabinet members have accounts. This promotes a return to ‘retail politics,’ to the one-on-one connection, comparable with the old way of knocking on doors and asking for votes.”
About a month prior to the recent sit-in on the House floor staged by Democrats advocating for gun control legislation, his team held a training session that focused specifically on how to use Periscope, a live video-streaming platform acquired by Twitter. When C-SPAN lost access to cameras in the House, Sharp’s career paths and relationships intersected; Periscope was used as a means of broadcasting what was happening on the House floor.
Twitter is dominating the 2016 presidential race, and Trump leads the pack in the volume of tweets about him. “Trump writes his own tweets, bringing authentic personality to Twitter, and the average Twitter user is very good at detecting authenticity,” Sharp says. “The biggest mistake made by politicians is forgetting about that, with a tendency to get into ‘press release speech.’ Anytime a candidate uses Twitter to make himself or herself more accessible, it is a win-win for candidate and voter alike.”
Staying publicly neutral and keeping one’s opinions to oneself can be a challenge, according to Sharp. “I have a front-row seat to the democratic process, able to visit both locker rooms at halftime. When I work with candidates, whether I agree with them or not, I believe that bringing them deeper into the debate and making the discussion open and participatory for all is healthy for the overall system.”
Sharp credits his time in Lakeville for shaping a career path that has kept up with the ever-changing world of media and politics. “When I think about Hotchkiss now, the School best prepared me by not rigidly sticking to some script, trying to prescribe what it was preparing me for,” he said. “Hotchkiss taught the flexibility to maintain a broad direction of interest while figuring out and adapting to what was best for me as an individual.”