Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Of the Not Normal, We're Really Not Normal

Look, there was a thing going around the blogs yesterday about the twitters, which started when Nick Beaudrot said something smart. Or at least, it sounded smart to me. And then Ezra Klein and Matt Yglesias and Kevin Drum all said things about it. Beaudrot has a follow-up today.

I could get into it more, in which case I'd probably take a position about twitter working differently for different people, and not being for everyone. But here's the problem: Drum talked about "the verbal, well-educated, politically conscious social group that most bloggers belong to," but the truth is that Klein and Yglesias and Drum and, for a few years now, myself, aren't part of that group. We're in a different category: people who have to follow the news for professional reasons. And that's sort of different. In fact, there are lots of people who have to follow specific parts of "the news" for professional reasons, but plenty of others who really don't, and of those who follow the news for professional reasons, current events political bloggers are a particular, special subset. Different than, say, most reporters, or most interest-group representatives, or most politicians, or whatever (in my case: it's a lot different to follow the news as a blogger than the ways I've followed the news in the past for professional reasons, pre-blogging). And even then there are probably important differences between what each of us has to follow and how. It's just a totally different story from what a "verbal, well-educated, politically conscious social group" would have to do.

So the less-interesting upshot of all this is that it's not clear why most people should be particularly interested in how Klein and Yglesias and Drum use twitter, because their -- our -- needs are really different.

But the more important lesson that really can't be repeated often enough is that reporters, columnists, bloggers: we're not normal. Even worse: of the not normal -- the people who pay a lot of attention to politics -- we're not even normal in that group.

Which is fine; it's how it pretty much has to be. And the three people I'm talking about here happen to be unusually good at remembering it. That's part of why they're excellent at what they do.

Twitter, with its self-selected feeds, is particularly good at making you forget about it. It's very easy to think that "everybody" is talking about something, when really it's a handful of reporters and political operatives. Or that something is old news, when in fact only some 10% or fewer of those out in the electorate have even heard about it. That was always a risk, for example, for the traveling press corps following a presidential candidate, or with any group on any beat for that matter. But now things have evolved so that you don't really have to be in that very small group to be subject to their pathologies; it's really easy for reporters (and blogging political scientists!) to not only put themselves into those groups, but the groups now even come with their own (seemingly large, but actually still pretty tiny) audiences who reinforce the mistaken notion that the larger audience is actually fully plugged in.

Again, big point: anyone paying close attention to the news should pinch themselves fairly often and remind themselves that for most voters, "the news" is much more of a faint background buzz. As I've said before, think of something you don't pay attention to normally but accidentally learn a bit about anyway -- for me, auto sports works, since I read the sports section every day, skipping any auto racing stories, but you know you see the headlines anyway. And those in the even smaller group who live with the news as a professional obligation should pinch themselves twice.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.

Who links to my website?