Journalists, please break the mold


I didn’t go to the Trump rally in my hometown last night. It wasn’t because I didn’t want to hear the Republican nominee in person; I did. But I didn’t want to be in the crowd. I didn’t want to hear my fellow citizens yell in all the wrong places and applaud at all the wrong things. I was a journalist for most of my life. Ilve had my fill of how mean and ugly people can be.

Some samples from last night’s rally:

You can read them all on Twitter here or, Storified here or Sexton’s piece in the New Republic here.

Devastating stuff.

Last week, I was thinking about writing a piece about the dangerous effect of self-publishing platforms like Twitter and Facebook. I was thinking specifically about Donald Trump’s Twitter presence and that he is the personification of the quote, “A lie can travel halfway around the world before the truth can get its boots on.”

Trump is running for president. His words have impact. They matter. With all the retweets — he has 9.09 followers — his tweets have circled the globe before Politifact and Snopes have turned on their laptops.

But I didn’t write that because I decided I was wrong. This is the cost of free speech. The ability to self-publish allows everyone to counter such bullshit.

That leads me to this question: Why did I read this tweet stream from a guy who isn’t from N.C. and isn’t a journalist, per se? His tweet stream was sure more compelling and told me more than anyone else’s I read. (Update: I should have made clear that were I still with the paper, I wouldn’t have tweeted all of what he did. Some were confusing, others were well into the area of political advocacy. But many seemed to be straightforward factual reporting. It is possible to report factually with a point of view.)

The rally in Greensboro was covered by dozens of professional journalists. I followed many of them on Twitter. But I didn’t get any sense of the atmosphere of the crowd and definitely didn’t read about the ugliness.

Oh, I know why. Trump is the story. Not everyone in the crowd acts that way. It’s too close to taking a position. People aren’t identified and we believe in IDing people. Sexton had a specific viewpoint he was going after; we don’t do that.

Got it. Been there, done that.

Here’s what I think. Do the Donald Trump speech story. Write it and tweet it. He has given a version of the speech he gave last night dozens of times in dozens of towns. He’ll do it again tomorrow. I won’t read it because I’ve read it before, but many people will.

But understand what’s happening to your media and your audience. Sexton delivered value because he told me what was happening in the crowd. He showed me the dark side of the Trump crowd that I occasionally see on TV, but he showed it in my hometown. In. My. Hometown. Someone else could have

And look, it’s an understatement to say I’m not a Trump supporter. But if a reporter had tweeted out mini-stories of people in the crowd not acting the fool, I’d have liked that, too.

You can be traditional and objective in the morning paper and evening broadcast, if you want. That’s probably what your older, dwindling audience wants. But if you want to be relevant live on social media, give people the new and the hard, uncensored truth. Deliver relevant, insightful news and commentary people haven’t seen or read before.

Opinion in tweets is more than OK; it is authentic. And it’s accepted — expected even — on social networks. Break the traditional mold. You’ve got nothing to lose.

5 thoughts on “Journalists, please break the mold

    • Thanks, Roch. I’d argue that I shouldn’t have to look away from Twitter and search for a blog, that the information comes to me where I am, not where she is.

      • Okay, sure. As long as you understand that you bear responsibility for what you bemoan.

        • That makes me smile. Blaming the user for not going to the right place is one of the things that got newspapers where they are. I assure you that users win that battle.

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