18 December 2008

Using Twitter to Overcome Media Bias

Egad, another post about Twitter.

Well, not really. This is really an example of how informed and active people use social media channels to address perceived inaccuracies.

Everyone in the communications business should take a look at Tim "Ecopolitologist" Hurst's piece over at Red Green and Blue:
On Tuesday afternoon, as I was working on another piece about president-elect Barack Obama tapping Colorado Senator Ken Salazar for Interior Secretary—this time about how Salazar’s appointment to Interior won’t leave his successor much time to win over Colorado voters—I heard Jeff Brady report on National Public Radio that environmentalists were fuming over the Salazar appointment.
Except that they weren't. And Tim knew it.

Tim was kind enough to let me interview him a while back. He's a green wonk and one of the first places I go for environmental policy news and information. Tim wrote up a blog post analyzing the announcement and here's some of what he had to say:
Salazar’s knowledge and experience with public lands and water policy stretch back to his thirty years as a farmer and the eleven he spent practicing environmental and water law in a private practice... Salazar’s support for clean energy has also been well established. Renewable energy advocates are well aware of Salazar’s work to help pass extensions of the renewable energy production and investment tax credits; as well as his his leadership in getting the small-wind tax credit passed and signed into law.
An intellectually honest assessment of environmentalists' reaction to President-elect Obama's selection of Senator Ken Salazar to be Interior Secretary would conclude it has been largely if not completely positive. But according to Tim, that's not what NPR would have you believe.

One of the biggest myths in politics is "the media has a liberal bias." It doesn't. The media doesn't have a conservative bias either. The media has a negative bias. It likes to push controversy. Conflict makes a good story. Very few people will be fascinated by headlines that read "Fire Exinguished Promptly, Limited Damage." Instead, I'd expect a headline more like "Questions Raised About Fire's Cause" or something like that - inventing or hyping controversy where there really isn't much.

In this situation a group of environmentalists signed on to a letter supporting someone else for the position - but this doesn't mean those environmentalists would be opposed to anyone else.

So one of the first things Tim did was hit the social networks like Twitter to find what leaders in environmentalism were saying about the selection. Within minutes he had environmental leaders pinging him back. Tim also collected the statements of leading mainstream environmental groups on the selection and noticed they were all positive. So I found it interesting that Tim had this to say:
Now, I follow @NPRPolitics on Twitter and I know they follow me back, but I really don’t know if they caught any of this exchange, but the next time I heard Brady’s report on NPR, he said something like “many environmentalists are fuming,” and the third time I heard the report it was something along the lines of “some environmentalists are fuming.”
No clue if NPR actually hedged its report based on Tim's quick and thorough work. But the social channel proves, once again, that the media isn't lecturing us anymore.


Maria Surma Manka said...

GREAT post (both you, David, and Tim). The negative bias is so true...many stories seem to be about a controversy or a "trend" but if you actually read/listen and digest the story, there often isn't a lot of substance to it.

My favorite inflammatory stories are about how teens are becoming anti-social robots because of Facebook or video games. So many of the stories are based on "what ifs" or suppositions.

Anywho, nice work -

Cynthia Samuels said...

When I worked in news I used to hear people say journalists have "a vested interest in chaos." Probably, but it's SO not monolithic - some are amazing, resourceful and committed and some are provocative, and, sadly, lazy. Quick controversy is easier to write about, too. No subtlety required.

Happy New Year.