One of the great curses of contemporary journalism today is the pack.
In this case, the notion of a pack refers to the way that once a story is understood to be “important” or “relevant,” everyone in the mediaverse chases it, covers it, photos it, videos it, or presents it to your eyeballs one way or another. Back in ancient times — you know, 10 years ago — this chasing would have been aimed at driving newspaper sales and news broadcast viewings. The intent was to get you to buy a paper (and its associated advertising) or watch a cable or network news broadcast (and its associated advertising).
Now, of course, it’s all about pageviews (and associated advertising). The nature of digital media is such that if one can get one’s page to be the “base” page from which all subsequent coverage of an event draws life, your site can (hopefully) make money and be recognized as “mattering.” (This is why the people who break stories care so much that you link to their page when you reblog something: it drives traffic, and it recognizes the work the people did creating the content. Which is why you should link to the base pages, people!)
There are consequences to this kind of pack journalism, however. One became evident in the immediate aftermath of the Newtown, CT shootings: seemingly every site went viral with the wrong name for the shooter. (The guy’s poor brother saw his name plastered everywhere.) Another is the obsessive focus on what’s trending and what’s hot rather than what might actually matter. (The Daily Show offered an epic takedown of this kind of thinking in relation to investigative journalism that if you haven’t seen, you ought to watch.)
Alas, after several months of Twittering, I’ve concluded that more often than not, Twitter only makes this worse. Any time anything hits, it seems that everyone in the Twitterverse comments, retweets, snarks and otherwise participates in the conversation of the moment. Until the moment something else hits.
It’s like news for squirrels. Or Dug, the dog from “Up.”
There are exceptions to this, of course. Given that the US media have basically shut down their international news bureaus over the last decade or so, Twitter is a great resource when events break overseas. It can be useful in emergencies. But as a source of daily news, Twitter just amplifies the pack.
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