How Twitter Is Ruining Political Journalism

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Dana Milbank writes about the way that political journalism works today:

Walk into the “filing center” at a presidential debate and you’ll see hundreds of reporters seated at tables doing two things: Watching the action on TV (reporters covering the debates aren’t actually in the same room as the candidates) and monitoring Twitter on their laptops.

….From the first minutes, journalists at the site and back at home monitor each other’s tweets, testing out themes and gauging which candidate is ahead, point by point: “First section kind of a wash” . . . “Romney very soft on Libya” . . . “Obama is condescending here” . . . “Zing!” . . . “No laughs in the press file for that canned Obama line.” Somewhere around the 30-minute mark, the conventional wisdom gels — and subsequent tweets, except those from the most hardened partisans, increasingly reflect the Twitter-forged consensus. Well before the end, the journalists agree on a winner, a loser and which moments — Big Bird, binders full of women, horses and bayonets — should trend their way into the news coverage.

….I don’t fault the journalists who engage in instant analysis….

Let’s stop right there. I fault the journalists who do this. Don’t get me wrong: I understand that professional reporters don’t live in a bubble. They attend the same events, they talk to each other on the campaign trail, and they read each others’ stories. This is inevitable, and it’s inevitably going to lead to a certain amount of bandwagoning.

But even if this is inevitable, it’s something that good reporters should at least fight. The last thing they should do is actively make it worse by obsessing over their Twitter feeds. So yes: let’s fault the journalists who do this. It’s insane. They should be doing everything they can to resist groupthink, not gleefully diving ever deeper into the looking glass. This is really a staggering dereliction of duty.

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You just sent an incredible message: that quality journalism doesn't have to answer to advertisers, billionaires, or hedge funds; that newsrooms can eke out an existence thanks primarily to the generosity of its readers. That's so powerful. Especially during what's been called a "media extinction event" when those looking to make a profit from the news pull back, the Mother Jones community steps in.

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