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Politics used to be a very controlled and almost theatrical process, with politicians and other political actors appearing in carefully scripted events — and the reporting and analysis of those events was also restricted to certain specific media channels: a couple of TV networks, one or two major newspapers, and so on. Now that we have blogs and Twitter and other forms of social media, how has that changed the nature of both the political process and the media reporting of that process? At paidContent 2012 in New York recently, I asked Talking Points Memo founder Josh Marshall and NBC News digital head Vivian Schiller for their perspective on that question and you can hear their answers in the video embedded below.
Marshall, the editor and publisher of the ground-breaking political blog network, said that social media has really just accelerated the process of breaking down those traditional barriers — a process that started with the arrival of blogs about a decade ago:
I see it as a progression over the past dozen or so years, of a more and more frictionless news cycle, and what we’re today calling social media has just accelerated that. The other major transformation is an increase in key vectors in the news — the way the New York Times used to be a dominant vector in how news was propagated, along with the big TV networks and other big metropolitan dailies. With the growth of blogs and the beginnings of social media, you have a more fluid and unstable ecosystem of news.
Schiller, who was previously CEO at National Public Radio before joining NBC’s news division, said that for a media entity like NBC, social media has a way of amplifying the stories that come up in other formats. For three weeks in a row, she said, comments that politicians — including Cory Booker, Jamie Dimon and Joe Biden — made on the TV program Meet The Press became a national story thanks to the power of social media. “Meet The Press is about as old media as you can get,” said Schiller. “But those events ricocheted around the world — that’s social media.”
Both the panelists also said that one of the positive things about social media and its role in the news and political ecosystem is that some events that are trivial or unworthy of attention can “burn out” more quickly when they are exposed to the glare of Twitter and the blogosphere, whereas they might have taken on a life of their own and dominated the discussion in newspapers or on TV networks before social media. And Schiller said despite the fact that Twitter and other forms of social media can be filled with a lot of worthless noise, overall the impact has been positive for both politics and the media as a whole:
Of course there’s a lot of garbage in social media, but there’s a lot of garbage in every form of media, from the beginning of time. But I think that all of the kinds of access and the ways people can interact with content, for politics, it’s all good.