Did Twitter Kill Media Diversity?

Dana Milbank (photo by Matthew Bradley)

Dana Milbank (photo: Matthew Bradley)

Remember how corporate media’s campaign coverage used to offer wide-ranging, diverse perspectives?

Me neither. But Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank apparently thinks that’s the way the world used to work, until Twitter came along and the press corps turned into one giant exercise in groupthink.

He writes today (10/24/12) that campaign reporters have one eye on the actual debates, and one eye on social media:

This was to have been the campaign when Twitter and other social media allowed new voices to enter the debate, delivering a more diverse array of opinion and helping candidates reach beyond the media filter. In reality, social media have had the opposite effect, causing conventional wisdom to be set, simplified and amplified, faster and more pervasively–and nowhere is that more evident than in the debate coverage.

This was not the way things used to be, apparently:

Not too long ago, the wire services, broadcast networks and newspapers covered major political events differently. Each outlet had its own take and tidbits. But now everybody is operating off the same script and, except for a few ideological outliers, the product is homogenous.

I can’t say that I actually recall ever seeing any campaign coverage that looked like that. The TV networks have long been hard to distinguish–the Sunday shows book the same politicians, the same small group of pundits are sitting in the chairs of the TV studios. And well before Twitter came along, reporters were logging many hours in post-debate “spin rooms,” listening to campaign surrogates deliver talking points.

Milbank laments that “social media is discouraging people from challenging the CW”–by which he means conventional wisdom. I think a lot of people would say it’s just the opposite. Social media has enabled people who feel cut off from elite media’s narrow discussion to push issues they care about into the discussion. And social media can, in some cases, spread real-time fact checks of political rhetoric more efficiently than traditional media outlets.

From the sound of it, Milbank’s complaint is that journalists use Twitter to monitor the reactions of… other journalists like them. Which is, I suppose, a problem in that it reinforces the kind of  groupthink that already exists in the press corps.

But the great thing about Twitter–or the Internet, really–is that you can sample from an array of other perspectives. Journalists who aren’t doing that, and not incorporating that diversity of views into their reporting, are making a choice. And you can’t blame that on Twitter.

About Peter Hart

Activism Director and and Co-producer of CounterSpinPeter Hart is the activism director at FAIR. He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra! and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly (Seven Stories Press, 2003). Hart has been interviewed by a number of media outlets, including NBC Nightly News, Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and the Associated Press. He has also appeared on Showtime and in the movie Outfoxed. Follow Peter on Twitter at @peterfhart.