Technology is almost always a double-edged sword, and Twitter is no different. It gives us insight from brilliant minds, and snarky hatred from trolls.
The latest criticism of the medium comes from the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank – who worries it is leading to conventional wisdom coverage:
I don’t fault the journalists who engage in instant analysis; the ones I named are among the best in the business. I use Twitter myself to monitor the congealing wisdom. But our political dialogue may lose something because of this pre-publication and pre-broadcast collusion. In this case, social media is discouraging people from challenging the CW.
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.
Milbank is right. In some ways, this is the latest example of the homogenization of America. Mass media connects us, but it also costs us some regional and cultural diversity.
This trend becomes even more concerning when it means the opinion leaders, themselves, are (as Milbank writes) engaged in a sort of informal “pre-broadcast collusion.”
It’s easy to understand how this happens. Nobody wants to look foolish to their colleagues, and if you’re an aspiring journalist there is a certain peer pressure to conform to the narratives pushed by your national contemporaries. This simply didn’t exist in the old days (when the pressure was more likely to come from local readers.)
If you’re not careful, the ultimate goal becomes to write something that won’t be mocked or ridiculed by your peers — whom you might want to work for some day (the same phenomenon likely explains why NFL coaches rarely go for it on 4th down.)
But while Twitter can lead to conscious clone behavior, the bigger danger is the insidious nature of the medium.
A lot of talented musicians make it a point to avoid listening to other people’s music during the writing phase, specifically so they won’t subconsciously imitate it. Similarly, journalists should be careful to avoid poisoning their own thoughts and intuition.
This is something to guard against — both for the good of their audience — and for the good of their long-term careers.
So here’s my advice: Let’s be honest, you’re not going to be a better Chris Cillizza than Chris Cillizza, so why try? You will succeed or fail based on your ability to compete in the marketplace of ideas. Your “unique selling proposition” is contingent on how you are different from everyone else — not how you are similar to them.
Nobody is suggesting journalists should bury their heads in the sand. But my colleagues would be wise to be cognizant of this phenomenon.