MacDougall: Journalists are addicted to Twitter, and it’s poisoning their journalism

Valid points by MacDougall. Other observation, to be corrected as necessary by journalists, is the degree to which it cuts down on their time for more detailed investigation and reporting, thus resulting in less deep coverage of issues:

What’s the problem with the media?

Ping a journalist that question, and you’ll get back chapter and verse about the money problems facing newsrooms and the indifference of advertising-stealing platforms such as Facebook and Google.

Ask a random bloke on the street, however, and there’s a good chance the answer will be “bias” or “trust,” as in: “I don’t trust the press, they’re all biased.”

Ah, yes. The “fake” news. The “enemies of the people.” It’s not the best time to be repping the fourth estate.

The question now is how the press should fix their dismal approval ratings. A good start would be to stop being their own worst enemies. And a good place to start with that is ditching social media. It’s simply too easy for opinions to slip into posts that would never make it into news copy, leading to perceptions of bias.

Reporters should instead treat social media like the poison it is. For one, it’s not a representative sample of the public. Nor is the “shoot-first, think-later” mentality encouraged conducive to good journalism. Most importantly, social media reveals way too much of a reporter’s own bias to the people they cover and the people who read that coverage.

The ability of social media to reveal reporter bias has been apparent for years, but it’s shifted into overdrive now that Donald Trump has turned Twitter into grotesque political performance art, dragging an enraged global press corps with him, most of whom tweet their disgust or puzzlement at what the president does every day. And it’s affecting political journalism in every country. A day now isn’t a day without reporters broadcasting hot takes that risk tainting the coverage they ultimately provide.

And while it’s true most media organizations have guidelines or social media codes of conduct — most of which prohibit opining — they are largely self-enforced. Stretched editors simply can’t track their charges all day long on Twitter.

Forget about columnists, who are paid to give their opinion; it’s a mystery why straight news reporters would want to reveal anything about themselves or their views on public policy. Most politicians already think the press is biased — why risk confirming it for them in real-time?

Why, for example, would a freelance journalist want Conservative leader Andrew Scheer to know that his views on Scheer’s views on government are that they are a “ridiculous collection of straw men?” They might be, but good luck convincing Scheer’s people that anything you ever write will be a fair shake.

Sadly, it’s not just the smaller fish in the profession who blunder in this way; the problem reaches up much higher.

Lots of people heaped scorn on Maxime Bernier’s clumsy foray into multicuralism on Twitter before his split from the Conservative party, but did one of them really need to be the senior broadcast producer of Canada’s most-watched television news broadcast?

And then there was Rosemary Barton of the CBC, who suggested on Twitter that her network didn’t have a clue about Bernier’s motives for tweeting about diversity, even though reporter Evan Dyer inferred in his report that the one-year anniversary of the alt-right march in Charlottesville had informed Bernier’s timing, if not his thinking.

These examples are the kind of clever or knowing things journalists have always said to each other or their subjects. In private. Now they fire away for all to see. And for what? A bushel of RT’s and “likes”?

Ten years or so into the folly of social media, it should by now be clear that it’s the ranters and shouters who get the most clicks, not the neutral observer. Reporters should stop trying to play the game.

Ten years or so into the folly of social media, it should by now be clear that it’s the ranters and shouters who get the most clicks, not the neutral observer. Reporters should stop trying to play the game.

They should instead go back to being a mystery. To valuing personal scarcity over ubiquity. To ditching Twitter, and forgetting Facebook. Or, at least limiting appearances there to the posting of their work. They should also say “no” to shouty panel appearances alongside partisans.

Reporters might even find the lack of distraction focuses them on their work. And if a politician’s B.S. needs to be called out in real-time, reporters should have an editor or colleague peek over their shoulder to give them a sense check on tone. Because even super-fact checkers such as Daniel Dale of the Toronto Star can appear biased owing to the sheer volume of material they post to their channels. And most reporters aren’t dedicated super-fact checkers, they’re just smart people with opinions, ones the news-consuming public shouldn’t know.

Political journalism is at a crossroads. Reporters need to keep doing their valuable work. But do the work, full stop. Keep your opinions to yourself. More people will believe the good work you do if they have no idea who in the hell you are, or what you think about what’s going on.

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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