Couric and Stephanopoulos: Twitter and the Trivial

George Stephanopoulos, Katie Couric and other distinguished news figures were on the USC campus for the Walter Cronkite Awards on Wednesday to talk about the state of their professions, but it was impossible for the conversation not to steer to the crazes that have consumed most of media: Blogging and Twitter-ing.

Stephanopoulos, the host of ABC’s “This Week,”, pointed out that that he has gotten ideas for questions from Twitter, and “it is a way for you to have a better sense of what is going on out there in the country.”

Couric sent out a Twitter on Tuesday that she’d be going not just to USC, but to the taping of “American Idol.”

“I Twitter and blog very selectively,” she told a crowd of students, politicos and other journalists. “I don’t think anybody gives a rats ass whether I am about to eat a tuna sandwich. I don’t even care. Some of it is so inane and narcissistic and bizarre I don’t quite get it. I don’t know why anyone would want to read it, much less why I would want to write it.”

Where she has used it, however, has been before certain interviews or other occasions.

“I was at a lunch at the White House before [President Obama’s speech] before a joint session of Congress, with George and and all the anchors of the Sunday shows and the evening newscasts — and, by the way, I was the only woman there, which I thought was really pathetic — and I wrote about that because we could talk about it. It is not something I could ever have time to devote to on my evening newscast, but it was great insight, from George’s great questions to the President.”

As trivial as Twittering may sound, it underscores the lengths to which broadcast journalists — and political journalists in particular — are trying to stay on top of technology at a time when no one really has come up with a right way forward. There certainly was no magic formula on offer at the USC event, which was sponsored by the Norman Lear Center and also honored a handful of local stations and “NOW on PBS” for their political coverage.

CBS News has made a big investment in Couric Webcasts, allowing for extended interviews and commentary. But as was pointed out, many more people watched Couric’s interviews with Sarah Palin on YouTube and online (or “Saturday Night Live,” as Couric and her exec producer Rick Kaplan quipped) than watched the actual “CBS Evening News” broadcast. It was great promotional value for Couric, but it’s also all those many more people who weren’t watching the ads.

The Norman Lear Center’s Martin Kaplan cautioned Couric and other panelists that they can’t dismiss the work of independent bloggers just because they don’t have a brand name behind him or her.

“It doesn’t mean they don’t have something totally useful to bring to the party,” he said.

Couric responded, “I totally agree with that, but I think that for every one of those well informed, well-educated bloggers, there is someone spouting vitriol and opinion without portfolio, and it is misleading and his or her assertions and it doesn’t have the background to necessarily inform, doesn’t have any editors, doesn’t have anyone holding their feet to the fire to say, “Is this factual? Is this true? Did you second source this?’

“Obviously there are some very smart, useful bloggers, but I don’t know about you, I read the comments section on Internet sites and I am absolutely appalled by the level of ignorance. These are the kinds of letters that secretaries used to get in newsrooms and throw in circular files because they were complete lunatics. And now they live on in perpetuity, because they have a forum, and I think some of that is really damaging to civil discourse and our ability to have a civil conversation about certain issues.”

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  1. joan mcardle says:

    Katie has a good point, it better to not overuse the social networking sites.

  2. NOWSTA says:

    The valid point that Katie makes regarding filtering of the less valid voices needs to be kept in perspective. It is always the first point the established media makes when trying to defend their turf. They will shout “Freedom of the Press” when being legally forced to reveal their sources, and in the same breath warn of the dangers of freedom of the press when it comes to letting other voices be heard. Just because she has an editor, a reputation and a following doesn’t mean her reports aren’t biased. Anyone that follows the MSM knows full well they have their own agenda. They choose which stories to emphasize, they choose were to apply their resources. It scares the heck out of them that they are losing their ability to direct the dialog. There is strenth in numbers, if someone outside the MSM becomes popular it is probably because they are good at what they do. Books have been written about how large groups tend to make good decisions. I will always keep one eye on the MSM and the other will search for less biased truth.

  3. GBOB says:

    Twittering is a new word for DISTRACTION. Can people seriously be productive in their jobs if they are doing this all day? The web was bad enough.

  4. Kfreed says:

    It seems to me that the most relevant and factual stories these days are spawned by independent online journalists; later to be picked up by so-called “credentialed” news agents. I haven’t yet noticed a breaking news story that wasn’t a repeat of something I’d already read (weeks before) online. Certainly, the comments sections leave something to be desired, but at least there’s a dialog of some kind wherein the reader may formulate a response and I’ve sometimes read, among the vitriol, some truly enlightened comments. Speaking of the lunatics out there, I would suggest that Fox News rarely, if ever, fact checks anything… yet we still insist that the Fox rant cycle is something akin to actual “news.” So much for the value of the “brand.”

  5. Khurram says:

    Twitter is like a breath of fresh air on the Social Media scene. I have been on it for just a few weeks now and I have met several interesting people. It is a platform to network with people you would like to meet in real life. Check me out!!

  6. sue says:

    Couric makes an excellent point, that while there are thoughtful bloggers out there, there are a bunch of lunatics.
    …but what’s that they say about stones and glass houses???
    I echo everything said by dijetlo | April 15, 2009 at 05:11 PM

  7. E L says:

    Obviously, when it comes to understanding economics and politics, the major topic of the day, Katie doesn’t read the economic blogs like Krugman, Yves Smith, Calculated Risk, Simon Johnson, Martin Wolf, Tyler Durden, Felix Salmon and more, all of whom have a level of economic sophistication way beyond the level of the CBS Evening News or any other TV broadcast and beyond the level of interest in and understanding that Couric has of the subject, sad to say.

  8. Ken says:

    Ms. Couric is exactly right. The foul-mouthed mean-spirited rantings that make up most comment sections on Web sites serve no purpose at all. You can almost feel the spittle flying through the air; what is the point to all this? The nonstop, uncivil and rude attitudes do nothing for the common good, and do not contribute to a healthy and intelligent exchange of ideas. Remember when newspaper editors REQUIRED a name and address before they would print your letter to the editor? Maybe it’s time to restore common sense, civility and a sense of purpose to public forums. But don’t get me started.

  9. Boss Babe says:

    More impressed with Katie than I’ve ever been!

  10. dijetlover says:

    *never participate in the rants themselves

  11. dijetlover says:

    I’m sure that Couric has a few more journalistic accomplishments under her belt than the average blogger.
    “Let the nuts rant, it’s the citizens job to decide what constitutes a reliable source for information.”
    And of course, these magical “citizens” you speak of never rant… Couric’s point was that the blogosphere is making us pay more attention than we probably should be paying to voices that are otherwise even trashier, more sensationalized and shallow than the MSM. I don’t agree completely, but it’s not without merit.

  12. dijetlo says:

    “These are the kinds of letters that secretaries used to get in newsrooms and throw in circular files because they were complete lunatics. And now they live on in perpetuity, because they have a forum, and I think some of that is really damaging to civil discourse and our ability to have a civil conversation about certain issues.”
    Did you find those WMDs’ you were looking for Katie?
    How about the missing five billion from Afghanistan?
    Did you mention the economy was headed off the cliff before it did?
    Did you ever point out that the banks were insolvent before the government told you they were?
    The question that really comes to my mind, isn’t what’s wrong with the lunatics, it’s what makes you any more of an accurate source for information than they are? The MSM is little more than the government steno pool, if I were her, I wouldn’t even start down this road, but she’s the woman who calmly reported all these “facts” right up until it turned out she didn’t know her rump from a hole in the ground, so perhaps I’m relying on a level of judgment that doesn’t exist.
    Let the nuts rant, it’s the citizens job to decide what constitutes a reliable source for information. If Katie doesn’t make the cut, she isn’t really helping herself with these sour grapes.

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